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11 Types of Postsecondary Education Options

At a Glance

In this blog post, we'll cover 11 types of postsecondary education options for autistic students.

We'll cover some familiar options (e.g., college and community college) to some less familiar.

These postsecondary education options are applicable to students across support needs and goals.

When we talk about postsecondary education options, the reality can look different for everyone based on needs, where they live, resources available, personal goals, and more. 


Yet all too often autistic students are put into boxes based on a particular skillset, level of academic achievement, or agreement by the student’s IEP team. While any given recommendation may or may not be well founded, the core problem is the implicit assumption that there are fairly rigid tracks for autistic students based on levels of “capability.” 


Our hope is that anyone reading this toolkit will come away with the mindset that there are multiple options available based on skill set, goals, and support needs and that there is value to weighing the pros and cons of all of them. 


Of course, in describing a wide range of postsecondary options, you may find that some are not available in your personal context. That is part of the impetus for making sure people know the range of options available! The last thing we want is for someone to find a reason why the one postsecondary option they were presented isn’t going to work out and feel like the only choice is to give up. As we discuss potential options, we will be listing some of the advantages and disadvantages of each so you can compare with what is relevant to your life.

1. Four-Year College

A traditional academic route for high school graduates that is necessary for some careers but is sometimes treated as the default option when other options may be equally useful or valid to a particular person.

2. Community College

Similar to a four year college in its focus on education, community colleges typically confer two year degrees, are more likely to have students commute, and may be considerably more affordable than two year colleges. Some students start out at community college and eventually transfer to a four year college to pursue a particular subject or career.

3. Technical School

Technical school is sometimes used interchangeably with community colleges and in some cases they might exist in the same spaces! There are, however, some noteworthy differences between the two types of education options. In a nutshell, technical school has a more direct focus on career skills and can often be completed in a shorter time. Although technical school can sometimes overlap with trade school, it is generally more focused on the administrative side.

4. Trade School

Trade school is also sometimes used interchangeably with community college, and sometimes with technical school as well! Although the most important distinction is what is offered by the program you are interested in, trade school more generally focuses on physical tasks ranging from carpentry or metalwork to dental assistant.

5. Cooperative Education Program

Cooperative education programs are a way of addressing the challenge of paying for school by incorporating paid work into a student’s education curriculum. It is intended to be a “structured method of combining classroom-based education with practical work experience.”

6. Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (TPSID)

TPSID represents programming based around helping autistic students adjust to self-advocacy in a campus setting and receives limited federal funding with programs across the country.

7. Certificate Program

Certificate programs can run the gamut of difficulty and qualification requirements, but generally refer to programs that upon completion confer a certification to perform a particular skill in a professional capacity.

8. Job Training

Some adults who wish to enter the workforce and do not wish to go with a college or technical certification program may want help learning to complete some of the day to day tasks associated with their job. Sometimes a special job training session or coach is the right answer!

9. Life Skills Program

Life skills programs are not necessarily different from technical skills programs and can sometimes be taught in the same places. The primary difference is that life skills programs focus on the type of skills that will help with independent living as opposed to landing or performing the day to day tasks of a particular job. They are often advertised as pre-college programs and share a lot of overlap with TPSID.

10. Apprenticeship

Apprenticeship programs, as defined by DisabilityIN North Carolina, combine “on-the-job training and related classroom instruction” to simultaneously hold down a paying job while laying the foundation for a career. Some structural similarities to the Cooperative Education Program in combining work with education, with a greater emphasis on jobsite learning.

11. Comprehensive Independent Living Program

Shares some overlap with life skills programs, but with a focus on autistic adults who are in or want to be in independent living situations. Has a particular focus on independent living related skills as opposed to other types of life skills or job skills.

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