College can be expensive for anyone, but it can be especially costly for those with disabilities. Some classroom accommodations are paid for out-of-pocket, medical bills tend to be much higher, and even transportation costs can be greater than what a typical student would have to pay to get to and from class. These are just a few of the reasons why it’s so important for students with disabilities to have ample funding options available to them. This guide focuses on those options, with the goal of helping students with disabilities find the resources they need to pay for and succeed in college.
Finding financial aid to help cover school expenses is not always easy. This list of scholarships, which covers award amounts, qualifications and application deadlines, can help prospective students with disabilities fund their college educations.
Although scholarships are always excellent ways to find money for college, they aren’t the only option. Tuition assistance, medical tax deductions, and loan forgiveness from the federal government may also be available to qualifying students.
The federal government offers special assistance to those who enter a comprehensive transition and post-secondary program (CTP). Created in 2008, a CTP program is a degree, certificate or non-degree program for students with intellectual disabilities. Students may have to audit classes, participate in an internship or prove intent to pursue regular enrollment to qualify.
Those who have intellectual disabilities may qualify. They must meet all the federal financial aid requirements, except they are not required to have a high school diploma and do not have to be pursuing a degree or certificate.
First, see if the school you want to attend offers CTP programs. Then contact the school’s financial aid office for more details.
In some cases, students may be able to claim some of their education as a medical tax deduction, as long as that education includes elements that are specifically designed to help a student overcome his or her disability. For example, a student with ADHD who receives physician-approved private tutoring can potentially deduct the costs at tax time.
If the costs of attending school are considered a “qualified education expense” by the IRS, at least a portion of school fees or tuition might be eligible for deduction. Consult the school and a tax attorney to be certain of the requirements.
This is usually handled during income tax filing. Since each situation is different, it’s best to speak to a tax advisor about the next steps.
In some cases, those who become “totally and permanently disabled” after their college years might qualify for complete loan discharge, or a release from their TEACH Grant service obligations.
Qualified applicants have a documented permanent disability, as proven by documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (for service-connected disabilities), social security disability benefits or certification from a physician.
The U.S. Department of Education provides an application online, as well as detailed information on what it takes to apply. Go here to learn more.
Almost all students need help in paying for college. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that about 85 percent of students attending college sought federal financial aid to help cover costs during 2012-2013. As the cost of tuition continues to rise, that number is likely to go up. Here are a few reasons financial aid is particularly important for students with disabilities.
Students who have disabilities are often faced with astronomical medical costs. These costs can leave a family with little disposable income to put toward college. Financial aid that does not have to be repaid, such as grants and scholarships, can be vital.
Many students with disabilities require assistive devices in order to perform day-to-day activities. Whether it’s a hearing aid, wheelchair, prosthetic limb or speaking program, those who need assistive devices sometimes have to pay for them out-of-pocket, dipping into money that would otherwise go toward school.
Those with disabilities face much higher unemployment than others in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for the disability community was 12.5 percent in 2014. During that same time period, the unemployment rate for those without a disability was 5.9 percent. Increased college education opportunities can help those with disabilities avoid unemployment.
Those who have disabilities often have higher costs-of-living, particularly if they require adaptive devices or personal assistance. Though few studies have focused on the cost-of-living for those with disabilities, those that have noted an alarming trend of higher living costs that aren’t covered by government assistance1. This puts a financial burden on those who are already suffering from a lack of funds.
Some students need attendants or learning devices in the classroom. However, colleges are not required to cover these costs – that’s the responsibility of the student. For those who already struggle to afford tuition and school-related fees, these costs can push a college education out of reach.
Filling out financial aid forms can be a long and complicated process. Fortunately, there are numerous resources available to help students with disabilities and their families make sure applications are understood and filled out correctly.
The government knows that the FAFSA can be confusing. Therefore, they offer step-by-step instructions to answer questions along the way.
Sometimes financial aid forms can be easier with this tool, which allows students or parents to download their information from the IRS and insert it automatically into online forms.
Organizations, especially on the local level, are often happy to help students and parents who are trying to understand their financial aid forms.
These professionals are trained to help students figure out their best options for college, and they have a great deal of experience with financial aid forms.
Some charitable groups offer weekend sessions to help students figure out where to go for financial aid, how to fill out forms and more. Get in touch with a local college or university to learn where these might be available.
The first place that students should turn [to] in seeking help with their applications for scholarships is their college financial aid office and/or the career counseling office. There are many professionals in any college or university who have the training, expertise and knowledge to work closely with [students with disabilities], particularly when those students are seeking to fund their education through a strong internal motivation.
Students can also seek outside help from nonprofit organizations – the first place I would contact would be the United Way. They are well-positioned to know what community organizations may offer financial assistance to disabled students. The student should call the United Way and seek to partner with them to discover good scholarship matches.
Finally, students who want intensive and individualized help can hire an independent education consultant – particularly one with expertise with students with disabilities. I would not consult a financial advisor on this topic because their expertise is typically in the realm of investing, retirement planning, and insurance – not scholarships.
The most important thing parents can and should do is contact relevant organizations that are closely tied to the disability in question. For example, if a student has diabetes, the American Diabetes Association would be the first place I would contact; similarly, for a student disabled by any form of cancer, I would initially contact the American Cancer Society to see what funds may be available for the student.
Students with disabilities are very attractive scholars for many scholarship organizations because the unique needs, challenges, and opportunities [they] face generate overwhelming generosity from so many people and organizations. All things being equal, a scholarship committee would be tremendously impressed by a student with a disability who had overcome or is overcoming severe challenges while doing their very best in the classroom.
Continued research can help simplify the transition to college for students with disabilities and their families. The following list has numerous resources that provide a range of useful information, from more financial aid sources to tips on preparing for college life.
This comprehensive website, presented by “DO-IT” at University of Washington, is a great place to begin when searching for a variety of aid options.
This website is a one-stop-shop for everything persons with disabilities might need to know about technology, transportation, college readiness and more.
This organization dedicated to the disability community offers numerous resources, including information on financial aid and scholarship opportunities.
This section of the Federal Student Aid website is dedicated specifically to those with cognitive disabilities.
Part of the National Youth Transitions Center at George Washington University, this website offers important information for students, counselors, parents and more.
This clearinghouse of resources found all across the web also offers details on educational assistance.
The NASFAA is home to numerous links that will interest students and parents of students with disabilities.
Though designed for students in Canada, this site offers a wealth of good information for college students with disabilities anywhere.
This organization dedicated to helping those with learning disabilities offers a great deal of information on schools, grants and scholarships.
This page is a starting point for details on the services and benefits available to students with disabilities and other circumstances that make attending college difficult.