Paying for college is a complicated process for any aspiring student. It’s a process that raises a ton of questions: What’s a Pell Grant? Or a Perkins Loan? Do I have to pay anything back? For students with a disability, those questions are even more complicated.

The good news: A disability is not an impediment to a college education. There are plenty of resources for those who need help to apply and pay for it.

This guide, designed to work with assistive technology, can help find these resources. Aspiring students with disabilities can use our table of contents to find the best scholarships for them. At the bottom of the page, we also list some tips on how to get federal and private aid.

Table of Contents

Scholarships for general disabilities
Scholarships for physical disabilities
Scholarships for hearing impairments
Scholarships for visual impairments
Scholarships for learning disabilities
Scholarships for autism
Scholarships for health conditions
Different types of financial aid
Getting federal aid – Different types of federal aid
Getting federal aid – Filling out the FAFSA
Getting federal aid – CTP programs and ABLE accounts
Getting private aid
Know your rights
FAQ
About this guide

Scholarships for general disabilities

The following scholarships are open to aspiring students with non-specific disabilities:

The American Association on Health and Disability (A.A.H.D.) Frederick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability

The A.A.H.D. Frederick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability is awarded to a student with a disability who is currently pursuing an undergraduate or graduate school degree related to health and disability. Fields of study may include:

  • Public health
  • Health promotion
  • Disability studies
  • Disability research
  • Rehabilitation engineering
  • Audiology
  • Disability policy
  • Special education
  • Other majors that affect quality of life of persons with disabilities

Applicants must provide a personal statement and two letters of representation. Applicants must be enrolled full time in a graduate program, or full or part-time in an undergraduate program.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Up to $1,000
Deadline: November 15

Mays Mission for the Handicapped Scholarship Program

Mays Mission for the Handicapped, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that offers vocational training for disabled individuals in a variety of fields. Mays Mission also offers scholarships to students with physical and/or mental disabilities. Applicants must score 18 or higher on the ACT or an 870 or higher on the SAT.

Applicants must be enrolled in a four-year undergraduate study program, and provide proof of enrollment. Once they have been accepted, recipients must maintain a 2.3 GPA. Recipients must also submit grades each semester, and write an “update letter” to the mission.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Award amount varies
Deadline: June 30

Chicago Injury Center’s Annual Scholarship Fund for Disabled Veterans

The Chicago Injury Center offers a scholarship for veterans who have suffered a physical or emotional injury. Applicants must plan to or currently be enrolled in trade schools, community colleges, or any college or university in the U.S.

Applicants must write a 500+ word essay on challenges they have had to overcome as a veteran with a disability. Veterans must also detail how these challenges have prepared them to succeed in their course of study.

Applicants must maintain a 2.5 GPA, and provide proof of honorable discharge.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $200, $500, $1,000
Deadline: June 1

The Ability Center Scholarship

The Ability Center of Greater Toledo offers a number of scholarships totaling $20,000 to Toledo-area students with disabilities.

Applicants must currently be enrolled in a post-secondary (undergraduate or graduate) degree program. To apply, applicants must provide a 1-2 page personal statement and three references. Applicants must carry a 3.0 GPA.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Award varies, totaling $20,000
Deadline: March 31

Michigan Foundation for Exceptional Children (MFEC) Scholarships

The Michigan Council for Exceptional Children provides scholarships for Michigan students with disabilities. Applicants must no longer be eligible for special education and Section 504 programs, whether via graduation or reaching 26 years of age.

Awards up to $1,500 can support the following:

  • Transportation
  • Special equipment
  • Tutoring (includes tuition)

Applicants must reside in a school district in the state of Michigan and submit a written essay on their career goals, leadership skills, and other subjects. Applicants must also submit three letters of recommendation.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Up to $1,500
Deadline: April 27

Buckfire & Buckfire, P.C. Disability Scholarship Program

Buckfire & Buckfire, P.C. offers a scholarship for a college or university student of any age, with any type of disability. That can include, among others, physical disabilities, mental or psychiatric conditions, and learning disabilities.

Applicants must have completed at least one semester of classes at an accredited college or university. Applicants must also have a disability diagnosis from “any person qualified to make a diagnosis.”

Applicants must include documentation of their disability and a transcript of their most recent semester in their application. Applicants must also submit a one-page typed essay describing how they overcame adversity caused by their disability, and what they learned from their experience.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $1,000
Deadline: April 1

California-Hawaii Elks Undergraduate Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities

The California-Hawaii Elks Major Project, Inc. provides a number of scholarships to students who are residents of California or Hawaii, and who have one of the following:

  • Physical impairment
  • Neurological impairment
  • Visual impairment
  • Hearing impairment
  • Speech language disorder

Funds are only used to cover academic expenses, which includes tuition, books, lab fees, and on-campus room and board.

Applicants must obtain Elks sponsorship by contacting an elected Elks Lodge officer in the state of California or Hawaii. To qualify, applicants must be a senior in high school or have passed the GED. Applicants must plan to obtain an undergraduate degree at an accredited community college, vocational school, or four-year college.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Awards vary from $1,000 to $2,000 each
Deadline: March 15

Auger & Auger Disabled Scholar Award

Auger & Auger Attorneys at Law offer two $1,000 awards per year to disabled students pursuing an undergraduate degree. To qualify, applicants must either be a current graduating high school senior accepted to an accredited school, or an undergraduate student at an accredited institution. Applicants must also have a minimum 2.8 GPA.

Applicants must write a 500-1,000 word essay on one of the following topics:

  • Overcoming their disability to do something extraordinary
  • How lessons learned from living with their disability have helped them prepare for college and post-graduate plans.

Applicants must also provide an unofficial copy of their transcript.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $1,000
Deadline: Fall Semester – July 31, Spring Semester – November 30

Gabriel’s Foundation of HOPE College Scholarship

Gabriel’s Foundation of HOPE offers several $500 scholarships to students who:

  • Are living with a diagnosed disability
  • Desire to work in a field that will benefit people with disabilities
  • Have immediate family members living with a disability

Applicants must include a one-page essay explaining their school and career goals, as well as a one-page autobiography. Applicants must also provide two letters of recommendation.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $500
Deadline: Two annually — July 1 and November 1

Wells Fargo Scholarship Program for People With Disabilities

The Wells Fargo Scholarship Program for People with Disabilities is designed to help people with disabilities obtain the education or training necessary to succeed in the career path of their choice.

To qualify, applicants must have an identified disability and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must be a high school senior or graduate who plans to enroll, or is already enrolled, at an accredited two-year or four-year college or university. Applicants can pursue full-time or half-time study. Scholarships are also renewable.

Previously, Wells Fargo accepted online applications through November 28, or until 700 applications had been submitted. If the program is currently closed, you can choose to be notified when it reopens.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Multiple awards
Deadline: January 17

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Scholarships for physical disabilities

The following scholarships are available to students with physical disabilities. That can include past or present mobility, dexterity, or stamina issues. This section does not include blindness or deafness — those are covered under visual and hearing impairment, respectively.

1.800.Wheelchair.com Scholarship

This scholarship funds up to two $500 awards each year. Applicants must be in their final year of high school, or enrolled at the graduate or undergraduate level. Applicants must submit an essay and a visual poem (combined total of 500-1,000 words) on the theme of overcoming personal challenges. Applicants must also maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Applications are only accepted via postal mail (excluding express mail).

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Two $500 awards
Deadline: May 1

Karman Healthcare Scholarship Fund

Karman Healthcare offers two $500 scholarships for students with a mobility disability who use a wheelchair or other mobility devices on a regular basis. Applicants must currently be enrolled at an accredited college or university in the U.S., and maintain a 2.0 GPA.

Applicants must submit an essay answering a rotating theme every year. (The 2018 theme: Describe the biggest accomplishment as a result of your mobility disability.)

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Two $500 awards
Deadline: September 1

Mary Free Bed Guild Disability Scholarship

The Mary Free Bed Guild offers a scholarship to students with a diagnosed physical disability related to a:

  • Brain injury
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Stroke
  • Limb difference
  • Any other serious acquired or congenital neurological condition treatable through rehabilitation

Applicants must be currently enrolled in or accepted into, an accredited college or university as at least a half-time status, with at least a 2.5 GPA. Applicants must also be a permanent resident of certain counties in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area. The ideal applicant may have spent time in volunteer, community service, or other extracurricular activities.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Award varies
Deadline: April 1

Marianjoy Scholarship Program

The Northwestern Memorial Foundation Marianjoy Scholarship Program awards scholarships to students with permanent physical disabilities or functional impairments. Applicants must be permanent residents of specified Illinois counties. Applicants must also be high school seniors (by diploma or GED), or be enrolled half-time or full-time at an accredited two-year or four-year university.

To apply, candidates must submit a one-to-two page personal profile stressing:

  • Financial need
  • Educational goals
  • Career plans
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Any awards or honors

Applicants must also include a transcript and two letters of recommendation.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Award varies
Deadline: March 30

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Scholarships for hearing impairments

The following scholarships are available to students with hearing impairments or to students who have family members with hearing impairments. Hearing impairments include deafness, bilateral hearing loss, or mixed forms of hearing loss.

Travelers Protective Association Scholarship Trust for the Hearing Impaired

The Travelers Protective Association (TPA) provides financial aid to people with deafness or hearing impairment. Recipients will benefit from specialized treatment or education, and should be unable to provide the funds for themselves.

Candidates must submit an online application detailing the nature of their hearing deficiency as well as any prior medical treatment and how they intend to use their funds. Applicants must also attach a copy of their most recent federal income tax return. Applications must be submitted by adults, or by the guardian of a minor.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Between $100 – $1,000
Deadline: Quarterly — March 31, June 30, September 30, and December 31

Millie Brother Scholarship for Hearing Children of Deaf Adults

The Millie Brother Scholarship is a twice-yearly scholarship awarded to the hearing children of deaf adults pursuing undergraduate or graduate study. Students must submit a two-page essay describing how their experience with deaf parents has shaped their life and goals, as well as career aspirations.

Applications must include an official high school or college transcript (if the applicant is currently enrolled), as well as two sealed letters of recommendation from teachers.

Applicants can apply for both scholarships, but a separate essay is required for each submission.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Award varies; average of two $3,000 scholarships given annually
Deadline: First Friday in April

Alexander Graham Bell College Scholarship Program

The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing offers a number of scholarships for certain students with bilateral hearing loss who are pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree full-time.

There are a variety of merit-based scholarships available in different categories, but on average applicants must:

  • Have bilateral hearing loss diagnosed before the age of 4
  • Use Listening and Spoken Language as your primary communication mode
  • Be enrolled in or planning to attend a mainstream university and work toward a four-year undergraduate or graduate degree

Applicants must maintain an unweighted 3.25 GPA, and include their transcripts in their application. Applicants with hearing aids must include a recent unaided audiogram. Applicants with cochlear implants (CI) must include a recent CI report. Check the scholarship guidelines for more detailed information.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Award varies
Deadline: Varies per year, check the official website for opening and closing dates

Graeme Clark Scholarship

The Cochlear Graeme Clark Scholarship is awarded to Cochlear Nucleus Implant recipients who are undertaking university studies. Applicants must have a Cochlear Nucleus Implant and maintain a 2.75 GPA. Applicants must be enrolled in (or planning to attend) an accredited college, university, or technical school.

Winners are selected on the basis of:

  • Academic achievement
  • Extracurricular activities and community involvement
  • Commitment to Cochlear ideals of leadership and humanity

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $2,000 annually for up to four years
Deadline: September 30

Sertoma’s Scholarship for the Hard of Hearing or Deaf

Sertoma’s Scholarship for the Hard of Hearing or Deaf is available to students with clinically significant bilateral hearing loss who are pursuing a four-year bachelor’s degree. The scholarship is open to high school seniors as well as college students. Applicants must maintain a 3.2 GPA.

Students must include two recommendation letters with their application. The application also requires descriptions of any volunteer, interscholastic, or extracurricular activities, as well as a personal statement. Applicants must attach a recent audiogram (no older than two years) from a hearing health professional to qualify.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $1,000
Deadline: May 1

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Scholarships for visual impairments

The following scholarships are available to students with visual impairments. Some scholarships on our list require that applicants be legally blind — defined as a medically diagnosed vision score of 20/200 or less in their better eye.

National Federation of the Blind Scholarships

The National Federation of the Blind annually offers blind college students the opportunity to win one of 30 merit-based, national-level scholarships.

Applicants must be legally blind in both eyes, a U.S. resident, and planning to pursue a full-time postsecondary course of study in the U.S. One scholarship may be given to an applicant employed full-time while attending school part-time. Winners are selected due to merits of their academic excellence, community service, and leadership.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Award varies; 30 scholarships available ranging from $3,000 to $12,000
Deadline: Varies per year, check the official website for opening and closing dates

Alamo Council of the Blind Scholarship

The Alamo Council of the Blind Scholarship Program aims to provide college assistance grants for academically qualified legally blind students residing in Bexar County, Texas, or adjacent counties. The Ideal candidate is seeking to pursue academic, professional, and/or technical-vocational careers.

The application includes a 200-500 word autobiographical essay. This essay should include a sketch of the applicant’s goals, what they have done to achieve them, and how the scholarship can help them obtain those goals.

Applicants must maintain a 2.5 GPA, and include a copy of their current transcript and two letters of recommendation in their application.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Award varies
Deadline: July 15

The Arthur E. and Helen Copeland Scholarships

The United States Association of Blind Athletes offers the Arthur E. Copeland Scholarship annually to one male student and the Helen Copeland Scholarship annually to one female student.

Applicants must be active U.S.A.B.A. members, legally blind, and enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, university, or technical school as a full-time student.

Applications should include a brief cover letter and personal biography detailing the applicant’s involvement with the U.S.A.B.A., as well as a 300 word essay about the importance of sports in their life.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $500 each
Deadline: July 31

The I.C. You Foundation Valor Achievement Award

The I.C. You Foundation Valor Achievement Award is awarded to one male and one female athlete annually. Applicants must be legally blind, enrolled in a two or four-year college, university, or technical school, and a current USABA member. Applicants must have a minimum 2.5 GPA.

Applications should include current college or university, a brief cover letter and personal biography detailing the applicant’s involvement with the USABA, as well as an essay of no more than 300 words about the importance of sports in their life.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $500 each
Deadline: July 31

Lighthouse Guild Scholarship Program

The Lighthouse Guild Scholarship Program aims to help outstanding and deserving legally blind students attend college and/or graduate school.

The Lighthouse Guild offers two scholarships: The College Bound Scholarship is a one-time only scholarship designed for high school seniors who will be college freshmen in the upcoming school year. The Graduate School Scholarship offers one or more scholarships for students pursuing any postgraduate degree.

For both scholarships, applicants must submit proof of legal blindness and U.S. citizenship, documentation of academic achievement, and three letters of recommendation. Applications also require two personal statements of 500 words or less on a candidate’s educational and personal goals and the influence of an outstanding teacher.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Multiple available; up to $10,000 each
Deadline: March 31

The McGregor Scholarship Program

The McGregor Scholarship Program provides financial assistance for blind and visually impaired students in Iowa seeking postsecondary education.
To be eligible, applicants must be blind or visually impaired prior to reaching the age of 21 and must be an Iowa resident for at least 12 months prior to the application date. Applicants must maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA and have graduated high school or be a GED recipient.

As part of their application, applicants must submit a 300-500 word autobiography that explains their goals and how the scholarship award can help achieve them.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $2,500
Deadline: April 30

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Scholarships for learning disabilities

The following scholarships are available to students with learning disabilities, including dyslexia and processing disorders.

Gemm Learning Dyslexia Scholarship

This bi-annual scholarship is available to students with dyslexia and/or auditory processing disorder (APD) who will be attending an undergraduate program in the coming semester. Applicants must present proof of enrollment to qualify.

Applicants must also submit their story in the form of a 500-650 word essay on the topic “Living with Dyslexia” or “Living with Auditory Processing Disorder”. Essays should be educational and/or inspirational, while giving a unique insight into what life is like with a learning struggle.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $1,000
Deadline: Varies per year, check the official website for opening and closing dates

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Scholarships for autism

The following scholarships are available to applicants across the autism spectrum. Other available candidates include those with a family member diagnosed with autism, or those pursuing an autism-related degree.

Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship for Autism

The Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship is open to high-achieving students who have been diagnosed with autism or have a family member who has been diagnosed with autism. To qualify, applicants must currently be enrolled or accepted into an accredited university or college for the coming semester.

Applicants must include their most recent official or unofficial transcript with their application. Applicants must also write a 500-1,000 word essay about one of a number of topics relating to autism.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $1,000
Deadline: July 31

Autism Delaware Scholarship Network

Autism Delaware offers three different scholarships for Delaware residents:

  • The Daniel and Lois Gray Memorial Scholarship offers financial aid for students at the University of Delaware pursuing a degree related to autism.
  • The Autism Teacher Certification Scholarship offers financial aid for Delaware educators working to get an autism certification.
  • The Adult with Autism Scholarship offers financial aid for Delaware residents with autism who want to pursue secondary education.

Requirements for each scholarship vary. However, all three require a cover letter detailing an applicant’s direct or indirect experiences with autism, a letter of recommendation or support, and a current resume or college transcript.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for these scholarships.

Amount: Typically $1,000 each
Deadline: April 16

The Organization for Autism Research Scholarship Program

The Organization for Autism Research (OAR) offers two scholarships to students across the autism spectrum:

The Schwallie Family Scholarship supports students attending two or four-year universities. The Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship supports students attending two or four-year universities, life skills or postsecondary programs, or vocational, technical, or trade schools.

To qualify, applicants need to be enrolled on a full-time basis or working toward certification or accreditation in a particular field. Applicants must have an established autism diagnosis.

Scholarship applications include basic information, date of diagnosis, proof of enrollment, and three short essay questions. The Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship application requires two letters of recommendation, one from a non-relative and the other from a parent or guardian.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $3,000
Deadline: Varies per year, check the official website for opening and closing dates

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Scholarships for health conditions

The following scholarships are available to applicants either recovering from or currently fighting a life-threatening accident or illness.

Patient Advocate Foundation’s Scholarship for Survivors

The Patient Advocate Foundation provides scholarships to individuals under the age of 25 who have been diagnosed or treated for cancer, a chronic or life-threatening debilitating disease within the past five years.

To qualify, applicants must be pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher, and complete a 1,000-word maximum essay on how their diagnosis has impacted their lives and future goals.

Applications must also include two letters of recommendation from non-related persons, written documentation from a treating physician, and a copy of the first two pages of the tax return for the individual claiming the student as a dependent.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $3,000 annually for up to four consecutive years
Deadline: Varies per year, check the official website for opening and closing dates

Baer Reintegration Scholarship Program

The Baer Foundation and the Center for Reintegration partner to offer a scholarship covering all or part of an education, ranging from G.E.D. to Ph.D., for persons currently receiving medical treatment of an illness including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder.

Applicants must complete an application package including a form, essay, and recommendations.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Award Varies
Deadline: Varies per year, check the official website for opening and closing dates

The Hydrocephalus Association’s Scholarship Program

The Hydrocephalus Association’s Scholarship Program provides financial assistance to capable and promising young adults living with the ongoing challenges and complexities of hydrocephalus.

The Hydrocephalus Association offers eleven scholarships to young adults. Though each scholarship varies in requirements, they all share the same basic criteria and funding amount.

Applicants must have hydrocephalus, be 17 years of age or older, and scholarship funds must be used for educational purposes. Applicants must submit a complete scholarship application and one letter of recommendation from a non-relative.

Scholarships are non-renewable, but applicants can re-apply if they were not selected in a previous year.

Click here to visit the official website and apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $1,000
Deadline: April 15

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Different types of financial aid

There are four different types of federal student aid: grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study programs.

Grants are funds for education that do not have to be repaid. They are often offered by the state or federal government.

Scholarships are like grants in that they do not have to be repaid. But scholarships are usually offered by private institutions. As a result, requirements are based on a wider variety of factors.

Loans are money students borrow to attend college. Students can find loans from both government and private lenders. Loans must be repaid, and students must repay loans with interest.

Work-study programs allow students to earn money that helps pay for school. Jobs can vary, but are often located on-campus, and can be federally funded.

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Getting federal aid – Different types of federal aid

Federal aid often includes grants, loans, and work-study programs. Specific types of federal student aid include:

Federal grants

Pell Grants: The maximum amount for these grants varies from year to year. Like other grants, Pell Grants do not have to be repaid. Students can receive Pell Grants for up to 12 semesters — roughly six years of college.

Pell Grants are usually awarded to undergraduates who have not yet earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): While the federal government is responsible for distributing Pell Grants, participating schools administer FSEOG. These grants are awarded to students who have an exceptional financial need. Those who are already eligible for the Pell Grant have higher priority.

The maximum Pell Grant for the 2018-19 award year (July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019) will be $6,095. Like Pell Grants, FSEOG are usually awarded to undergraduates who have not yet earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant: Students interested in teaching can earn up to $4,000 per year with a TEACH grant. Recipients must sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve, promising to become teachers and to serve in a low-income school following graduation. In addition, recipients must pursue specific kinds of courses to maintain the grant.

Recipients must teach at least four academic years within eight years after completing their course of study. If they fail to meet this requirement, the TEACH Grant must be repaid as a direct unsubsidized loan.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: Students who had a parent or guardian die in Iraq or Afghanistan as a result of military service after the 9/11 attacks are eligible. Recipients must have been 24 or younger or enrolled in college at least part-time at the time of the parent’s or guardian’s death.

In addition, recipients must not be eligible for Pell Grants on the basis of their expected family contribution but must meet all other Pell Grant requirements. The amount of the awards is slightly lower than that for Pell Grants.

Loans

Federal Perkins Loan: These loans are available to students with exceptional financial need. Interest is set at 5%. Loans can total up to $5,500 a year for undergraduate students and up to $8,000 a year for graduate and professional students.

Participating schools serve as the lenders for a Perkins Loan. The amount students can borrow depends on financial need, other sources of aid, and availability of funds at participating schools.

Direct Subsidized Loans: Students with financial need qualify for these loans. For direct subsidized loans, the U.S. Department of Education will pay the interest on your loan while you are:

  • Enrolled in school at least half-time
  • In your grace period (the first six months after you leave school)
  • In deferment (postponing loan payments)

Loan amounts vary depending on grade level. Interest rates also vary, and can be found by visiting the StudentAid.gov website.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Students designated as having no financial need qualify for these loans. Students will owe all interest, which can be capitalized and added to the principal of the loan while recipients are still in school or during periods of deferment. Students can qualify for up to $20,500 depending on grade level and other financial aid.

Direct PLUS Loans: There are two recipients of Direct PLUS Loans: graduate or professional students, or parents borrowing on behalf of a dependent undergraduate student. Grad PLUS or Parent PLUS loans can cover the total cost of attendance, excluding any other forms of financial aid.

Work-study

Federal Work-Study: Students can earn money in part-time jobs on or off campus. The program often encourages community service work or employment related to the student’s course of study. This aid is often on a first-come, first-served basis. Workers are paid at least minimum wage.

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Getting federal aid — Filling out the FAFSA

The first step in anyone’s financial aid search is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The government uses the form to determine whether applicants qualify for grants, loans and work-study programs, and many colleges also require it for their need-based or merit-based financial aid.

Since some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis (such as Perkins Loans or work-study programs), it’s important to complete the application soon. Click here to learn more about the FAFSA at the U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid website.

Qualifying for assistance hinges on many factors, including need. To reach the basic level of eligibility, you must:

  • Have graduated high school or have your G.E.D.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen and have a Social Security number
  • Male applicants must be registered with the Selective Service.

Most students qualify for some sort of aid, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which encourages everyone to submit a FAFSA.

Based on the results of the FAFSA and other factors (such as grades and extracurricular activities), the colleges a student applies for will send information detailing awards for the applicant, including grants, scholarships, work-study and more.

How is that decision made? The FAFSA asks for your name, Social Security number, date of birth, address and other information, and it asks about your financial situation, as well as that of your parents (if you are a dependent student).

The notification from the school is called an awards letter. The awards letter outlines what types of aid you’re eligible to receive. The timing of when you’ll get the awards letter varies by school.

How much aid you are offered depends on a number of factors, including the following:

  • The cost of attendance for each school.
  • The amount your family is expected to contribute to your education.
  • Your year in school
  • Your enrollment status – whether you’re a full-, half- or part-time student.

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Getting federal aid — CTP programs and ABLE accounts

Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) programs are higher education programs designed for students with intellectual disabilities who “want to continue academic, career, and independent living instruction to prepare for gainful employment.” Students with intellectual disabilities who enroll in CTP programs may be eligible for certain types of student aid.

Included are Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and federal work-study programs. However, not every school offers a CTP program, nor is there a CTP program in every state. For a complete list of CTP schools approved by the U.S. Department of Education, click here.

ABLE accounts (Achieving a Better Life Experience) are tax-advantaged accounts designed to help the families of students with disabilities save for education. Individuals with an onset of blindness or disability before the age of 26 can qualify for an ABLE account, and contributions can max out at $14,000 a year.

Although contributions are not tax-deductible, investment earnings are untaxed as long as funds taken from the account are used for qualified disability expenses. Qualified expenses include education costs, room and board, and transportation, as well as assistive technology and medical treatment.

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Getting private aid

Federal aid isn’t all that’s out there to help you fund your education. You can win private scholarships — money you don’t have to repay — by putting forth a bit of effort.

Your high school is a good place to begin your search. Ask your college counselor for guidance on finding and applying for scholarships. Another good resource is teachers; ask whether they will help review your application, provide reference letters or critique your essay.

Your college also may have more information about scholarships. Some colleges automatically consider you for scholarships, while others may require you to fill out more forms to be eligible for smaller scholarships.

Scholarship search engines allow you to take matters into your own hands, since you can search for awards based on your qualifications. You can search based on interests, extracurricular activities and more.

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Know your rights

Be sure to keep up-to-date about your rights as a student with a disability. The following represent key government legislation related to the education of students with disabilities, specifically relating to colleges:

Note: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Individual Education Program do not apply beyond secondary education.

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FAQs for Students with Disabilities

To help you from feeling overloaded by the details of the above laws, we’ve put together a Q and A to break them down more simply:

What do the laws mentioned earlier mean for college students with disabilities?

Put generally, the ADA and Section 504 protect students by ensuring institutions cannot discriminate on the basis of disability. The specifics cover admissions, programming (including extracurricular activities), housing, and other services. Overall, institutions must provide necessary adjustments or accommodations for students with disabilities who need them.

Which institutions do these laws apply to?

The ADA applies to all public and private institutions, with the exception of those affiliated with religious organizations. Specifically, Title II of the ADA relates to state-funded schools (including universities, community colleges, vocational schools, etc.), while Title III covers private colleges and vocational schools.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to any institution that receives federal dollars for any program or service — whether that institution is private or public.

Which students qualify for accommodations under these laws?

In order to receive academic or other accommodations from an institution, students must identify themselves to the institution as having a disability and may need to provide documentation.

The laws protect those with physical, sensory and health-related disabilities, psychological disorders or attention disorders, and some learning disabilities — anything that might prevent the student from participating fully in the life of the campus community.

Students are not required to inform colleges of their disability if they would prefer not to do so, but this means they will not be eligible for accommodations.

How do these laws affect college admission?

Post-secondary institutions covered under these laws may not deny admission to any qualified candidates on the basis of disability.

What are some of the accommodations post-secondary institutions must make?

These accommodations fall into a number of categories; some follow, with examples of each.

  • Architectural: Construction of new buildings must be accessibility-compliant; classes or programs must be relocated to an accessible building if necessary
  • Academic: Substitution of certain courses in programs; extended time for testing; early enrollment options
  • Communication-related: Interpreters, assistive listening systems, captioning, audio recordings, Braille and large print materials
  • Housing: Comparable, accessibility housing for students with disabilities must be provided at the same cost, quality, and variety as to other students

What if I acquire a disability after graduation? Do I still have to repay my loans?

If you become disabled or impaired after graduation and you’re repaying federal tuition assistance, you might be eligible for a total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge. A TPD discharge applies to the following federal loans:

  • Direct Loan
    • Includes Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans
  • Perkins Loans
  • TEACH Grant commitment
  • Federal Family Education Loan (FEEL)

To apply for a TPD discharge, you must provide the U.S. Department of Education with information that documents your total and permanent disability. For specific information, check out StudentAid.gov’s page on TPD discharges.

Forgiveness of private student loans may be more difficult to resolve. Private loan forgiveness varies per lender and per loan. The first step is to speak with your lender — many organizations are willing to work with you if you come to them in good faith. Even if you can’t get your loans completely forgiven, lenders may be willing to forgive part of the loan, or at least offer a lower rate.

If all else fails, look for other lenders that may be more flexible. It’s possible you could consolidate your existing loan to a new lender.

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About this guide

The Fully Accessible Guide to Paying for College for Students with Disabilities was created by the college and career experts at Bankrate.com. The purpose of this guide is to provide disabled students with comprehensive information about how to pay for college as well as scholarships and other information that is specifically helpful for students with disabilities.

Our assistive guide was developed to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities. The content was created for complete interpretation by all readers including those with visual, hearing, and other physical disabilities. It was built to work with voice assist and other assistive technologies.

This guide was published in conformance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which can be found at http://www.w3.org/TR/2008/REC-WCAG20-20081211/, and meets Level A conformance guidelines. Currently, we only claim conformance for the content specifically found on this webpage:

This guide was built using the following web content technologies: HTML and CSS.

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