Organization for Autism Research

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OAR Scholarship Program


The application period for OAR's Scholarship Program is closed.

Please check back in December 2015 for details regarding the 2016 Scholarship Program.

For more information, please read the paragraphs below and
visit our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.


BackgroundIn 2008, the Organization for Autism Research (OAR) introduced the Schwallie Family Scholarship to support the post-secondary, undergraduate education of qualified individuals with an autism spectrum diagnosis. Schwallie Family Scholarships are supported through generous gifts from the family of former OAR Board member, Ed Schwallie.

In 2013, OAR announced the Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship Program, an expansion of OAR's scholarship program that benefits students attending any of the types of institutions that fall under the Schwallie Family Scholarship Program criteria, as well as any of the growing number of certificate and life skills/transition programs in the country. OAR Board member and Scholarship Committee chairwoman, Lisa Hussman, championed the initiative, which is supported through a generous gift from the Lisa Higgins Hussman Foundation.

As of December 1, 2015, OAR has awarded a total of $584,500 to 191 students from across the country.

2016 Scholarship Program OAR's scholarship program provides $3,000 scholarships to students across the autism spectrum. OAR is pleased to invite applications from persons with an autism diagnosis (DSM-IV or later criteria) pursuing full-time, post-secondary, undergraduate education or vocational-technical training in any of the following:

  • Four-year undergraduate college or university
  • Two-year undergraduate college
  • Trade, technical or vocational school
  • Cooperative life skills programs

Applicants must choose between one of the following options:

  • The Schwallie Family Scholarship: Supports students attending two or four year universities. Schwallie applicants typically pursue degrees at four year universities and have a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome.
  • The Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship: Supports students attending two or four 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.

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 2016 / Spring 2017 semesters is eligible to apply. Eligible individuals need to be enrolled on a full-time basis or be working toward certification or accreditation in a particular field (e.g., studying to be a paralegal, chef, etc.). Past recipients of a Schwallie Family Scholarship or immediate family members of any person serving on OAR’s Board of Directors or Scientific Council are not eligible to apply.

Proof of Diagnosis:  Due to the sensitive nature of medical information and the volume of applications OAR receives, the application process assumes the applicant has an autism diagnosis from a licensed medical professional. Once OAR identifies finalists, it requires each one to submit copies of the medical documentation that established the diagnosis.  This is not part of the application process.  Before applying, however, each applicant should review the proof of diagnosis criteria:

  • Paperwork should clearly state a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder
  • Diagnosis must be conducted by a licensed medical professional.
  • Information about testing or evaluations conducted by the medical professional must be clearly stated (ie. CARS, ADOS, Vineland)

**Based on recent changes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria for autism spectrum diagnoses, OAR will be asking all scholarship finalists to verify that they meet criteria for either a DSM-IV or DSM-V diagnosis. Please refer to this checklist to ensure that your documentation contains all the information OAR needs.

Application OAR exclusively uses an online application system.  Using a drop down box, applicants will select either the Schwallie Family Scholarship or the Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship.  Students are expected to complete the applications on their own.

The OAR scholarship application contains basic contact information, date of diagnosis, proof of enrollment, and three short essay questions.

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

For Schwallie Family Scholarship applicants, one letter of recommendation may be submitted if the applicant chooses to do so.

Please refer to our Frequently Asked Questions for details.

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.

The review proceeds in two phases: (1) Initial Review and (2) Final Review.  Approximately 10 percent of applicants advance to the Final Review.  From there, the Scholarship Review Committee identifies intended scholarship recipients and a ranked list of alternates should a primary candidate subsequently not qualify for any reason. 

Reviewers base their evaluation and recommendations on the personal story as conveyed by the essay’s original content: 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.

Note to Applicants, Parents, and Counselors:

This is a highly competitive program.  Last year, OAR received nearly 500 applications competing for 40 available scholarships. OAR encourages any interested person to apply. At the same time, we caution anyone submitting an application against incorporating this scholarship into any financial plans for post-secondary education until notified of selection.

Please refer to our Frequently Asked Questions page for further details.

If you are unable to find what you are searching for here or on our FAQ page, please contact Wendy McKinnon at 703-243-3466 or

The OAR Scholarship Program application is available thanks to the
Online Scholarship Software provided by WizeHive.