Organization for Autism Research

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OAR Scholarship Program


Read about our 2015 Scholarship recipients!

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.


Background In 2008, the Organization for Autism Research (OAR) introduced the Schwallie Family Scholarship Program to support the post-secondary, undergraduate education of qualified individuals with an autism spectrum diagnosis. As of December 1, 2014, OAR has awarded a total of $476,500 to 156 students from across the country through this program. Supported initially through gifts from the family of OAR Board member, Ed Schwallie, the scholarship fund has also received generous support from the Lisa Higgins Hussman Foundation in each of the last five years.

In 2013, OAR announced an expansion of the scholarship program to benefit students with more severe autism diagnoses by establishing the Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship Program. 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. For these awards, eligible students may be attending any of the types of institutions that fall under the Schwallie Family Scholarship Program criteria, as well as one of the growing number of certificate and life skills / transition programs.

2015 Scholarship Program OAR's scholarship program provides non-renewable $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 for students attending two or four year universities
  • The Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship to support students attending life skills programs, or vocational, technical, or trade schools

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 2015 / Spring 2016 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.

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.  In the case of applicants for the Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship whose written communications skills may be more limited, OAR will allow a parent or guardian to provide a personal letter in addition to the required letter of recommendation from a teacher, counselor, coach, or other non-relative. 

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, programs and outreach associate, at 703-243-3466 or

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