Here you can find information about choosing a college or university, making your application, funding, mental health aspects, and further help from our charity.
Autistic students should be supported to start planning early for transition from school, and encouraged to attend open days where they can discuss courses and the application process with college and university staff.
Choosing a place of study
Colleges offer a range of courses, including AS/A Levels, Higher/Advanced Higher (either academic or work related), vocational courses, diplomas (often involving both practical and work experience), foundation skills and life skills.
Higher education is study at degree level or above, usually at university but can also be by distance learning, and sometimes through a Further Education college.
As well as choosing the right level of study, it’s important to think about other aspects of the place of study – the location, environment, social opportunities and support.
Is the young person happy to live away from home, or would they prefer to study locally? If living away from home, are there good transport links? Think about whether transport would be affordable for a student wanting to visit home regularly.
Environment and surroundings
Do they have any sensory needs that might affect how they would cope with environments such as the accommodation, eating and social facilities, seminar or lecture rooms, workshops or laboratories.
They should talk about any potential difficulties with the appropriate person at the college or university. That might be the course tutor, disability adviser or SEN or learning support team.
Making friends and meeting new people can be difficult for all students. However, those on the autism spectrum may find this more of a challenge, and may benefit from additional support.
In some ways, it’s easier to meet people and make friends than in school. Other students will be keen to make new friends also, particularly if they are living away from home. Colleges and universities usually have a large number of students with diverse interests, and so fitting in may not be as difficult as anticipated. Universities in particular have many clubs and societies that students can join, offering social opportunities in a more structured way.
In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, any education plans, statement of special educational needs or coordinated support plan will not be maintained at college or university. In England, an education, health and care plan (EHC plan) will continue through college, and should continue to be reviewed each year. An EHC plan will not be continued into university.
College and universities can sometimes arrange additional support and adjustments for autistic students, eg individual note-taking, mentoring or study skills support with a specialist tutor. If a student feels they need time in exams, or other support such as access to either a word processor or scribe, they can apply for adjustments through the Additional Needs team, disability adviser or SEN support team
These staff may not pick up on information about the young person’s needs from the UCAS or college application, and so may not initiate contact. The young person, or their parent, can contact these staff by phone or email, or at a disability information stand at a university or college open day. They can:
- ask what knowledge and understanding the education staff have of autism and related conditions
- ask what learning resources are available
- ask what support or extra equipment or resources are available to autistic students
- talk about their own strengths and difficulties.
Find out how autistic vlogger Daniel Jones has been supported in his starting university video.
More information about universities
Find out more about choosing a university at Which? University and University compare, and about student life at GO2UNI.net and The Student Room.
University and some college course applications are made through the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS). Admissions procedures will differ depending on the university and course, and some applicants may be asked to sit exams or attend interviews.
Applications for some courses at further education colleges are made directly to the college.
Autism is considered to be a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (and Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland) meaning that colleges and universities have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to their admissions procedure so that it’s more accessible to autistic applicants.
Read more about disability discrimination in college and university in Great Britain.
Funding arrangements will differ depending on which nation the young person lives in, and whether they decide to go to a further education college or to university.
Find out about funding for further education in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
Find out about funding for university in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
Those doing a higher education course, whether at a university or at a college, can apply for can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). This can be used to pay for extra support, equipment or travel costs. The student will need a letter from their GP that states when they were diagnosed and the impact that autism will have in their everyday life during their course . A simple letter from a GP stating their diagnosis or a diagnostic report is no longer acceptable.
Young people and their families may be entitled to claim some benefits whilst studying.
Transition and mental health
Starting college or university can be a particularly anxious time for autistic young adults.
They may find it useful to talk through their concerns with someone other than family and friends, such as a counsellor, or to other autistic people in our online community.
Having appropriate tools can also help to lessen anxiety. Brain in hand is an autism support app that gives support to help improve a young person’s confidence and make them more independent.
Our managing money online learning module may also help autistic students to feel less worried about going to college or university by helping them to plan better financially.
Read more about mental health and autism.
Further help from our charity
Our Transition Support Service provides support and information on the transition process.
Our Student Support Services help autistic students during their studies at college or university.
Our Welfare Rights Service provides advice on benefits and other support that autistic young adults may be entitled to.
Our Autism Services Directory can help you to find specialist colleges or other education services.
Last reviewed 22 August 2016