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Postsecondary Scholarships

Scholarships for Autistic Students

The Organization for Autism Research’s scholarship program awards $3,000 scholarships to students across the autism spectrum. We are pleased to invite applications from persons with an autism diagnosis (DSM-IV or later criteria) pursuing full-time, post-secondary, education in any of the following: four-year undergraduate college or university, two-year undergraduate college, trade school, technical school, vocational school, or cooperative life skills program.

Since 2007, the OAR Scholarship Program has awarded a total of $1,552,500 to 503 highly deserving autistic students.

Applications are due Monday, April 24, 2023.

Current status: OPEN

Online Application

Background

In 2007, OAR introduced the Schwallie Family Scholarship to support the undergraduate education of qualified autistic students. Schwallie Family Scholarships are supported through generous gifts from the family of the late Ed Schwallie, one of OAR’s founders and its only Board member Emeritus.

We added the Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship in 2013 to further benefit students attending two-year degree programs, as well as any of the growing number of certificate and life skills/transition programs. Board member and Scholarship Committee chairwoman, Lisa Hussman, championed the initiative, which is supported annually through gifts from the Lisa Higgins Hussman Foundation.

In 2021, the Synchrony Scholarship for Autistic Students of Color was established through a partnership with Synchrony’s Disabilities Diversity Network as part of their national “Education as an Equalizer” initiative.

The Schwallie Family Scholarship

Supports students attending two- or four-year universities. Schwallie applicants typically pursue degrees at four-year universities. Students attending two-year universities with the intention of completing a four-year degree also typically apply to the Schwallie Scholarship. Many applicants with a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome choose to apply for this program.

The Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship

Supports students attending two-year universities, life skills or postsecondary programs, or vocational, technical, or trade schools. Hussman applicants typically make up the pool of talented students who face daily challenges related to autism and attend programs that assist in skill-building, job readiness, and other transition-related skills.

Synchrony Scholarship for Autistic Students of Color

Supports students attending any type of undergraduate postsecondary education: two- or four-year colleges; life skills or postsecondary programs; or vocational, technical, or trade schools. Applicants must belong to an underrepresented racial/ethnic minority group. (Please note that autistic students of color are eligible to apply to any of the three programs for which they qualify, but they can only apply for one of them.)

Scholarship Timeline

Eligibility

Any individual with an established autism diagnosis and who will be attending an accredited post-secondary institution of higher education in the United States for the Fall 2023 and Spring 2024 semesters is eligible to apply. However, students who have already received a bachelor’s degree are not eligible, and the scholarships do not support graduate or postgraduate studies.

Eligible individuals need to be accepted for enrollment or enrolled on a full-time basis (minimum 6 credits) or be working toward certification or accreditation in a particular field (e.g., studying to be a paralegal, chef, etc.). Past recipients of an OAR scholarship or immediate family members of any person serving on OAR’s Board of Directors or Scientific Council are not eligible to apply.

For the Synchrony Scholarship for Autistic Students of Color, only applicants from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds are eligible to apply. This includes applicants who are Black/African American, Indigenous (Native American, Native Alaskan), Hispanic/Latino, Asian American/Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern/North African, or Multiracial.

Please contact us if you have any questions about your eligibility for the different scholarships.

Application

We exclusively use an online application system. Applicants will select the Schwallie Family Scholarship, the Synchrony Scholarship for Autistic Students of Color, or the Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship. Our scholarship application contains basic contact information, date of diagnosis, proof of enrollment, and three short essay questions. Students are expected to complete the applications on their own.

In the case of applicants for the Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship whose written communications skills may be more limited, we require two letters of recommendation. The first letter of recommendation must come from a teacher, counselor, coach, or other non-relative. The second letter must come from a parent or guardian in the form of a personal letter of support.

For Synchrony Scholarship applicants, one letter of recommendation from a non-relative is required.

For Schwallie Family Scholarship applicants, a letter of recommendation from a non-relative is not required. Nonetheless, it is highly recommended as an additional source of information for the Scholarship Review Panel.

Proof of Diagnosis

Due to the sensitive nature of medical information and the volume of applications we receive, the application process assumes the applicant has an autism diagnosis from a licensed medical professional. Once we identify finalists, we require each applicant to submit copies of the medical documentation that established their autism diagnosis. This is not part of the application process. Before applying, however, each applicant should review the proof of diagnosis criteria to include:

  • Clearly stated diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder
  • Diagnosis conducted by a licensed medical professional
  • Information about testing or evaluations conducted by the medical professional (ie. CARS, ADOS, Vineland, psychiatric examination)

Please refer to this checklist to ensure that your documentation contains all the information OAR needs.

Note: Based on the timing of changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria for autism spectrum diagnoses, applicants may have received their diagnoses based on the criteria for either the DSM-IV or DSM-5. Either is acceptable. There is no need for an applicant diagnosed under DSM-IV to obtain a subsequent diagnosis under DSM-5 criteria. Applicants with DSM-IV diagnoses of Asperger syndrome, Childhood disintegrative disorder, or PDD-NOS are eligible to apply.

Review

The Scholarship Review Committee is comprised of members of OAR’s Board of Directors, and augmented by selected parents of children with autism and self-advocates. Each complete application is reviewed. Incomplete submissions are disqualified.

Reviewers base their evaluation and recommendations on the personal story as conveyed by the applicant in the essay responses. More specifically, they seek to understand: challenges that have been overcome, future aspirations, the importance of the chosen field of study, and how the scholarship will help achieve academic, career, and personal goals.

Scholarship FAQs

The scholarship program is intended for autistic students who are pursuing undergraduate education at an accredited post-secondary institution in the United States. Students who have already received a Bachelors degree are not eligible for these scholarship opportunities, and these scholarships do not support graduate or postgraduate education.

Qualifying students must be accepted for enrollment or enrolled on a full-time basis. Past OAR scholarship recipients are ineligible to apply for another scholarship. Any student with an autism spectrum diagnosis is invited to apply, so long as they are attending a four-year college or university (undergraduate), a two-year college, a life skills program, or a trade, technical, or vocational school.

Students may only apply for one of the three scholarships in one year. If the applicant does not receive a scholarship, they may re-apply the following year, either to the same scholarship or a different one, providing that they meet the eligibility requirements.

SCHWALLIE: The Schwallie Family Scholarship is for students attending a two- or four-year college at the undergraduate level on the path to a four-year degree.

HUSSMAN: Those applying for the Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship attend two-year colleges, life skills or postsecondary programs, or vocational, technical, or trade schools.

SYNCHRONY: Applicants for the Synchrony Scholarship for Autistic Students of Color may be attending any kind of postsecondary educational institution at the undergraduate level and must belong to an underrepresented racial/ethnic minority group: Asian American/Pacific Islander, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino/a/e, Indigenous (Native American, Alaska Native), Middle Eastern/North African, and/or Multiracial. (Please note that autistic students of color are eligible to apply to any of the three programs for which they qualify, but they can only apply for one of them.)

Please contact us if you have any questions about your eligibility for the different scholarships.

Students attending a two-year program or college should select the scholarship that best aligns with their goals. If a student intends to pursue a four-year degree, the Schwallie Scholarship is likely a better fit than the Hussman Scholarship. In contrast, a student who is not intending to continue on to further education after completing the two-year program may find that the Hussman Scholarship is a better fit than the Schwallie Scholarship. Students of color attending a two-year program may apply to any of the three scholarships. Students may not apply to multiple programs. If you are unsure which program is the best match for you, please contact us.

No, the scholarships support students at the undergraduate level only.

All scholarships are worth $3,000 per awardee.

The OAR Scholarship Program is very competitive. With approximately 40-60 scholarships available each year, the program draws far more deserving and talented applicants than scholarships it has to award. In 2022, we received nearly 800 applications for 63 available scholarships. Applicants who do not receive a scholarship may re-apply as long as they are still enrolled in undergraduate studies.

During the open application period, you can find a link to the online application at the top of this page. When you apply, you will be required to sign up with your e-mail address and create a password for your account. Please be sure to remember this password, as it is the only way to go back and make edits and submit your application. Once you have signed up (or logged in if you are returning), the system will take you directly to the most updated version of your application.

Aside from basic personal and contact information, the application requires a few key documents in order to be considered complete:

Proof of enrollment. Usually an acceptance letter or a class schedule to upload as an attachment. If you only have a hard-copy document, use a scanner to create an electronic copy.

The date of your initial autism diagnosis. Please note that you do not need to supply proof of diagnosis in order to apply. Only those individuals who are selected as finalists will be required to produce documentation.

Responses to three essay questions. Please refer to the application for details on each question. The Schwallie and Hussman applications require you to respond in writing (you can dictate your responses to someone else to type for you). The Synchrony application accepts responses submitted in writing as well as audio recordings and slideshows.

Letter(s) of recommendation.

  • Students applying for the Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship must obtain two letters of recommendation, one from a non-relative and another from a parent or guardian. Applicants will need to upload the letters of recommendation in PDF format ahead of the deadline.
  • Applicants for the Synchrony Scholarship for Autistic Students of Color must include one letter of recommendation from a non-relative. Applicants will need to upload the letter of recommendation in PDF format ahead of the deadline.
  • Applicants for the Schwallie Family Scholarship may submit one letter of recommendation if they choose. Please note that a letter of recommendation is of high value to the OAR Scholarship Review Committee. Please also note that Schwallie applicants may only submit one letter for consideration. If more than one letter is received, the additional letter will be deleted. Applicants who choose to include a letter will need to upload it in PDF format ahead of the deadline.
  • For more detailed information about the letter of recommendation, read “How do I submit my letter of recommendation?” below.

No. The entire process is conducted online.

The application deadline is in early May each year, which should provide most students with enough time to decide which school or program they will attend. OAR advises applicants to wait to upload an acceptance letter until they have made a final decision.

Applicants can work on the other parts of their application as they await their acceptance letters and/or make their enrollment decisions. When filling out the Application Form, without entering the name of the postsecondary institution or uploading proof of enrollment, click “Save & Continue Editing.” Use the sidebar on the top left side of the screen to navigate to other sections of the application.

Please utilize the “Forgot Password” feature on the application portal. If you are unable to reset your password, please email scholarship@researchautism.org for assistance.

Applicants will need to upload their letter(s) of recommendation themselves. It is the responsibility of the applicant to initiate the recommendation process early so that the recommender has enough time to return the letter to the applicant ahead the deadline. Letters of recommendation must be uploaded in PDF format.

All letters of recommendation must contain:

  • Signature of recommeder
  • Contact information of recommender
  • Letterhead

Recommendations received after the deadline will not be considered.

No, all letters must be submitted through the online application.

Proof of diagnosis is based on the criteria from the two most recent versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, either the fourth (DSM-IV) or fifth (DSM-5) edition. This must be from your original or an updated diagnosis. Please refer to this checklist to ensure that your documentation contains all the information OAR needs.

If you are unable to find what you are searching for or have additional questions, please contact scholarship@researchautism.org.

To learn about other scholarship opportunities for students on the spectrum, please refer to the links below.

For a list of more scholarship opportunities for students on the spectrum, please visit the US News Scholarship Coach or Affordable Colleges.