College Preparation for Autistic High School Juniors

Published: Monday, 20 April 2015 Written by Dawn Marcotte


Junior year is a very busy year for most college bound students. Students who were not really thinking about the specifics of getting ready to go to college are suddenly faced with the reality of a long list of things that need to happen in a fairly short amount of time.

According to Peterson's (one of the premier college preparation companies in the country) the following list of items needs to be completed during junior year in high school:


  • Stay involved in extracurricular activities
  • Organize college information
  • Begin narrowing down your college choice
  • Prepare for standardized tests
  • Learn about financial aid


  • ·        Prepare a challenging academic schedule for senior year
  • ·        Start a scholarship search
  • ·        Contact people to give recommendations
  • ·        Apply for summer job/ internship
  • ·        Schedule visits with top college choices


  • ·        Continue to visit top choices for colleges
  • ·        Get advice from college students
  • ·        Organize financial aid information
  • ·        Start on application essay
  • ·        Make early decision preparations

When I read through all of this I was overwhelmed and a bit frustrated. Very little of this applies to my autistic daughter who still struggles with executive function skills. So I decided to do a bit more research and came up with some recommendations I thought are more applicable to autistic teens who are considering college. I have divided the tasks into those most likely to be performed by parents and those for the student.

Winter - Parents


  • ·        Check with the school on when standardized tests are given - some schools do this on a specific date for all 11th grade students. Once the date is determined plan a study schedule. This is an excellent opportunity for students to practice scheduling, organization and study skills. Verify any accommodations needed for taking the test are approved.
  • ·        Create a process for tracking college information.  This could be electronic, paper files or whatever works for you and your student. Make sure the process allows you to go back and review important information. I have attached a checklist template at the end of this article.
  • ·        Work with your teen to make a list of possible colleges if they don't already have one. Be sure to check on support services that are available through 3rd party suppliers as well as directly from the school.
  • ·        Gather financial information in preparation for financial aid - this includes tax returns and records of any other financial assets (stocks, bonds, annuities etc) Make copies. You will be adding more information to this file.
  • ·        Check with the high school on any financial aid seminars they may have.
  • ·        Check with local financial planners for any financial aid seminars available during the year.


Winter - Student

  • ·        Practice study skills - effective study habits are vital in college.
  • ·        If a specific subject is a problem, check on getting additional help - grades are important!
  • ·        Study for the ACT or SAT - some schools may provide help with this.
  • ·        Choose an extracurricular activity to join if you aren't already involved in something. It doesn’t have to be through the school, but being involved in more than just school is important. This is also an excellent place to practice the social skills needed in college. If nothing currently exists, consider starting a new group around your special interest.
  • ·        Practice handing all assignments in on time, every time. This means knowing what is due and when. Creating a process that works for tracking work now will only make college easier - college doesn't have IEP's
  • ·        Start making a list of people you can ask for letters of recommendation
  • ·        Practice asking teachers/adults for help in school as needed
  • ·        Practice asking peers for help - this will be an important skill in college

Spring - Parent

  • ·        Review classes for senior year to ensure all college requirements are met - high school graduation requirements may not meet college entrance requirements. Ensure your student completes 4 years of math, 4 of English, 4 social studies and 4 years of science.
  • ·        Contact the high school for local scholarship information. Begin gathering information about possible scholarships with application due dates and requirements. There are many online websites with helpful information. Google College Scholarships for Autistic Students, College Scholarships for Special Needs Students and College Scholarships for Disable Students. High schools may also have a list of local organizations and businesses that provide scholarships.
  • ·        Schedule visits with colleges - you will want to visit the top 1 or 2 colleges several times before a final decision is made.

Spring - Student

  • ·        Contact people to request recommendation letters
  • ·        Get a driver's license if you don't have one (not required if public transportation is available)
  • ·        Apply for jobs/internship or volunteer opportunities for the summer
  • ·        Find forums/social media/ local  groups with autistic college students and ask questions ( and
  • ·        Focus on finishing school with good grades
  • ·        Review study skills and organizational skills for improvements
  • ·        Write a first draft of application essay - review with English teach or guidance counselor
  • ·        Practice asking teachers/adults for help in school as needed
  • ·        Practice asking peers for help - this will be an important skill in college

Summer - Parent and Student

  • ·        Visit colleges. If a college is of particular interest it is a good idea to visit several times and reach out to current students as well as faculty and administration. Consider support services, culture, availability of interest groups and housing.
  • ·        Work on admissions essay - it may need to be modified for each college selected.
  • ·        Research additional scholarships and financial aid -
  • ·        Prepare for submitting applications to scholarships and grants - some may require students to complete an essay or provide other information.

Life Skills

Another component of going to college is having the life skills needed to live independently. Being able to do laundry, make a meal, go to the grocery store, get a haircut or check a bank balance are all important.

Even if these skills have been mastered at home it is important to practice them away from home too. Some students may be able to go to the local grocery store without help, but be overwhelmed with a new store because items are not in the same place. It is a good idea to practice life skills away from the normal locations.


  • ·        Take the laundry to a laundromat or to a friend's house to see how different machines work.
  • ·        Visit a variety of grocery stores to practice finding food in different locations.
  • ·        Practice using public transportation to get to new places - many large schools have on site public transportation for students
  • ·        Practice asking for help by eating out occasionally and making your teen ask the server a question
  • ·        Practice using a bank card for purchases and tracking a balance

Practicing skills that have been mastered in new locations will really help enable students to generalize what they know more effectively. For those skills that have not yet been mastered, continue to work on them. Once a school has been chosen it is a good idea to visit the school and practice these skills there as well.

Junior year can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time for both parents and students. It is important to break tasks down into small steps and handle each step in order. Work with school counselors and any special education staff available to create a plan that works for your student.


Is your student ready for college? Request our college readiness guide today to help them prepare.


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