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Student Loans

Guide to Paying for College for People With Disabilities

Getting a college degree is hard enough, but it presents a different set of challenges for people who have disabilities. If you have a disability, this guide can help you determine how to get financial aid, and access scholarships meant for people with disabilities.

In This Guide:

Applying for Federal Student Aid

Every student should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is the document that helps the government and your school decide how much financial aid to give you in grants, loans, work-study placements, and other types of financial aid.

Some FAFSA aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis, which means it’s important to fill it out as soon as possible. For the 2023-24 school year, the application opened on October 1, 2022, and for the 2024-25 school year, the application opened on October 1, 2023.

The FAFSA requires information like your name, date of birth, and address. It asks for details about your financial situation and your parents’ financial situation, including their assets and income. The income is based on the prior year or two years from your college start date. If you’re filling out the FAFSA in 2023 for the 2024 school year, the FAFSA will look at your 2022 taxes.

To be eligible, you must be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen and have a Social Security number. You also must have graduated from high school or have a G.E.D.

When you get accepted to a school, you’ll get an award letter, which outlines how much you’ll get in financial aid if you attend that school. The amount you will get at each school will vary depending on the cost of attendance at each school and the school’s resources.

Types of Federal Student Aid

There are several types of financial aid that could help you pay for college, including financial aid from your college. However, federal student aid will be a mix of grants, work-study, and student loans.


Federal Pell Grants

The good thing about grants is that they don’t have to be repaid. Pell Grants are given to undergraduate students with financial need – typically those with family incomes below $50,000. You can get a Federal Pell Grant for up to 12 semesters, or six years. For the current year, the maximum Pell Grant is $6,095, but the amount that most recipients get is much less than that. How much you’ll receive depends on your need.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

Only participating schools give out Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs), and they are awarded to students who have exceptional financial need. They are usually awarded to undergrads who are eligible for Pell Grants, but who have even more of a need than most Pell Grant recipients. The average FSEOG grant is around $2,000 per year.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant

If you want to become a teacher and are willing to work in a low-income school after you graduate, then a TEACH grant could finance your education. The grant is worth up to $4,000 a year, but you have to take specific courses to qualify. You then have to teach for four years within eight years of graduation or repay the grant as a direct unsubsidized loan.


Federal Work-Study

If you’re open to working while in school, one way to do that is via a Federal Work Study. The program provides part-time jobs for students with work related to their degree or with community service work. This is one example of FAFSA aid that is available on a first-come, first-served basis, so be sure to apply early for work-study positions.


Direct Subsidized Loans

If you have a significant financial need, you could qualify for Direct Subsidized Loans. The government subsidizes the interest on these loans while you’re in school, during your grace period, or if your loans are in deferment. Loan amounts and interest rates vary, but you can get up to $5,500 per year. The fixed interest rate is 5.05% for new loans.

>> Read More: Direct Loans Guide

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

If you don’t have financial need, you can qualify for unsubsidized loans. With these loans, you will still have to pay the interest on your loans or have it accumulate while your loans are in deferment, while you’re in school, and during your grace period. You can qualify for up to $20,500 over the course of your undergraduate degree. The interest rate is 5.05% for undergraduate students and 6.6% for graduate students for new loans.

>> Read MoreSubsidized vs. Unsubsidized Student Loans

Direct PLUS Loans

Direct PLUS Loans are specifically for parents of students (Parent PLUS Loans) and for graduate or professional students (Grad PLUS Loans). You can get Direct PLUS loans to cover the total costs of attendance related to your degree. The 7.6% interest rate is a bit higher on these loans, and how much you can borrow depends on your credit history.

Bottom Line

The important thing to remember when it comes to financial aid is that grants and work-study are forms of financial aid that you do not have to repay. However, you have to start repaying your student loans between six to nine months after you graduate. Some repayment programs allow you to repay your loans based on a percentage of your income. If you default, your wages may be garnished and your credit score could suffer.

Support for Students With Disabilities

In addition to general financial support through grants and loans, students with disabilities have access to numerous targeted programs for their education. Here are some of the top options:

CTP Programs

If you have an intellectual disability, you might want to attend a Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary program. This is designed for people who want to continue to learn and develop independence so that they can find employment. If you’re enrolled in a CTP program, you will be eligible for Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Work-Study Programs. These programs are often offered by colleges and career schools.

ABLE Accounts

Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts provide a tax-advantaged account for families to save for the education for students with disabilities. You can put up to $14,000 per year into the account for individuals who develop a disability or blindness before age 26. The earnings on your invested money aren’t taxed, and they can be used to pay for education costs, as well as the costs of assistive technologies and medical treatment.

Private Student Aid: Scholarships

Students with disabilities can also fund their education with private scholarships, which are basically free money. A scholarship indicates an individual or organization believes in you and wants to support you. It can be time-consuming to apply for scholarship applications, but can really pay off. Once you have a draft scholarship essay, you can easily tweak it for each new application.

Scholarships for Students With Disabilities

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Scholarships for Students With General Disabilities

The American Association on Health and Disability (AAHD) Frederick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability

This is an award for an undergraduate or graduate student with a disability who is pursuing a degree that is related to health and disability. Provide a personal statement and two letters of reference. The award is worth up to $1,000, and the deadline is Nov. 15.

Mays Mission for the Handicapped Scholarship Program

This award is for students with physical or mental disabilities pursuing vocational training. Students must score above 18 on the ACT or above 870 on the SAT. Students must be in a four-year undergraduate program and maintain a 2.3 GPA. The award amounts vary and the deadline is June 30.

Chicago Injury Center’s Annual Scholarship Fund for Disabled Veterans

This scholarship is for physically or emotional disabled veterans and can be used to study at a trade school, community college, or four-year college. To apply, you must write an essay about the challenges of being a veteran with a disability and describe how that has prepared you for your future career. You must provide proof of an honorable discharge and maintain a 2.5 GPA. Scholarships are for $200 to $1,000 and the deadline is June 1.

The Ability Center Scholarship

This scholarship is for undergraduate students with disabilities who live in the Toledo-area. The application consists of a personal statement and three references. It requires a 3.0 GPA. The award amounts vary, but the awards total $20,000. The deadline is March 30.

Michigan Foundation for Exceptional Children (MFEC) Scholarship

This scholarship is for students based in Michigan who have disabilities. Applicants must have aged out of special education or have graduated. The award can be used to buy special equipment, tutoring, tuition, or special transportation. To apply, you must write an essay about your career goals and leadership skills and submit three letters of reference. The award is for up to $1,500 and the deadline is April 26.

Buckfire & Buckfire P.C. Disability Scholarship Program

If you have a physical, mental, learning, or psychiatric disability, you could qualify for this scholarship to help you attend college or university. Applicants should include documentation of their disability and a transcript, as well as an essay about how they overcame adversity from their disability. The award is for $2,000 and the deadline is April 1.

California-Hawaii Elks Undergraduate Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities

If you’re a resident of California or Hawaii and you have a disability, you could qualify for this award. It specifically supports students who are obtaining an undergraduate degree or vocational degree if they have a physical, neurological, visual, hearing, or speech impairment. Awards vary from $1,000 to $2,000 and the deadline is March 15.

Auger & Auger Disabled Scholar Award

Auger & Auger law firm offers two scholarships per year to disabled undergraduate students. Applicants must write a personal essay about how they have overcome their disability to do something extraordinary and describe the lessons that they have learned that helped them prepare for college. The scholarships are for $1,000 each. Deadlines are July 31 for the fall semester and Nov. 30 for the spring semester.

Gabriel’s Foundation of HOPE College Scholarship

Gabriel’s Foundation offers scholarships for students who have a disability or who have a family member with a disability and want to do work that will benefit disabled people. To apply, write an essay detailing your personal career goals and submit two letters of reference. The awards are for $500 each and the deadlines are July 1 and Nov.1.

Wells Fargo Scholarship Program for People with Disabilities

Wells Fargo gives scholarships to help disabled people follow their dreams by pursuing an undergraduate degree. To apply, submit an online application. They have multiple awards for various amounts. The application deadline opens Nov. 28 and closes after Wells Fargo receives 700 applications or by Jan. 17. The program is currently closed and not accepting applications.

Scholarships for Students With Physical Disabilities Scholarship

This scholarship is for graduate or undergraduate students with a disability who require a wheelchair. You have to write an essay or visual poem around the theme of overcoming your personal challenges as part of the application. You must have a minimum 3.0 GPA. The awards are worth $500 and the deadline is May 1.

Karman Healthcare Scholarship Fund

If you’re a student with a mobility disability that requires a wheelchair or mobility device regularly then you can apply for this scholarship. You have to answer an essay on a rotating theme that changes each year. Karman Healthcare offers two $500 awards and the deadline is Sept. 1.

Mary Free Bed Guild Disability Scholarship

This scholarship is for people who have brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, stroke side effects, limb difference, or another serious neurological condition that’s treatable through rehabilitation. You must live in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area and have a history of volunteerism, and community service. To apply you must be enrolled at a college or university. The value of the award varies and the deadline is April 1.

Marianjoy Scholarship Program

This scholarship is for people with permanent disabilities or functional impairments. You must be a resident of certain Illinois counties. To apply, you must write a personal profile detailing your financial need, educational and career plans, extracurricular activities, and any honors or awards you’ve received. You must also submit two letters of reference. The award amount varies and the deadline is March 30.

Scholarships for Students Who Have Hearing Impairments

Travelers Protective Association (TPA) Scholarship Trust for the Hearing Impaired

This scholarship is for those who are deaf or have a hearing impairment. To apply, you have to submit an application in which you detail your hearing impairment and talk about how you would use the scholarship. The scholarships are for between $100 and $1,000 and they have quarterly deadlines of March 31, June 30, Sept. 30, and Dec. 31.

Millie Brother Scholarship for Hearing Children of Deaf Adults

If you are the hearing child of a deaf adult who is currently pursuing a graduate or undergraduate degree then this scholarship could be for you. You must submit an essay about your experience with deaf parents and your career aspirations. You need a college or high school transcript as well as two letters of recommendation. The amount of the scholarship varies but can be for as much as $3,000 annually. The deadline is the first Friday of April.

Alexander Graham Bell College Scholarship Program

If you have bilateral hearing loss and are currently an undergraduate or graduate student, then you could qualify for this scholarship. You must have experienced the bilateral hearing loss before age 4 and use listening or spoken language as your primary communication mode. The minimum qualifying GPA is 3.25. The award amount varies and the deadline also varies from year to year.

Graeme Clark Scholarship

If you received a Cochlear implant, then you can apply for this award. You’ll also need to have a track record of academic excellence and community or extracurricular involvement. The award is for up to $2,000 annually for four years and the deadline is Sept. 30.

Sertoma’s Scholarship for the Hard of Hearing or Deaf

The Sertoma’s Scholarship is for people who have significant bilateral hearing loss and are currently undergraduate students or high school seniors. You must have at least a 3.2 GPA, and complete an application that details your volunteer, and extracurricular involvements. You also must include a recent audiogram. The award is for $1,000 and the deadline is May 1.

Scholarships for Students With Visual Impairments

National Federation of the Blind Scholarships

This organization provides over 30 merit-based scholarships to blind college students. You must be legally blind in both eyes and be planning to go to school full-time. There is one scholarship out of the 30 that allows the student to go to school part-time while working full time. The winners are chosen based on academic excellence, leadership, and community service. The award amounts vary and range from $3,000 to $12,000. The deadlines also vary from year to year.

The Arthur E. and Helen Copeland Scholarships

This scholarship is given out by the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) and offers scholarships to one male student and one female student each year. To qualify, you must be an active USABA member, blind, and a student at a two- or four-year university, college, or technical school. The application requires a cover letter and biography as well as an essay about the importance of sports. The awards are for $500 each and the deadline is July 31.

The I.C. You Foundation Valor Achievement Awards

This scholarship is also awarded by the USABA to a female and male student each year. You must be legally blind and enrolled at a college, university, or technical school. You should have a minimum 2.5 GPA. You need to provide a cover letter with your biography and describe your involvement in the USABA. The essay topic is detailing why sports was important in your life. The awards are for $500 each and the deadline is July 31.

Lighthouse Guild Scholarship

This organization gives out two scholarships to blind students headed to college or graduate school. One is for high school seniors and the other is for those who are headed to graduate school. To apply, you must prove that you are legally blind, provide three letters of reference, and write two personal statements on your education and personal goals as well as on how a teacher has influenced you. The awards vary but are for up to $10,000. The deadline for applications is March 31.

The McGregor Scholarship Program

If you live in Iowa and you became blind or visually impaired before you turned 21, you may apply for this award. You need a minimum 2.5 GPA and must submit an essay that details your goals and how the scholarship will hep you. The application is due April 30 and the award is worth up to $2,500 per year, or $1,250 per semester.

Scholarships for Students With Learning Disabilities

Gemm Learning Dyslexia Scholarship

This scholarship is only offered every two years and is available to those with dyslexia or auditory processing disorder who are going to college. You must write an essay about living with your disability that gives insight into your learning struggle. The award is for $1,000 and the deadline varies.

The DREAM Institute HEAP Scholar Award Scholarship

This is a scholarship for Oklahoma students who have physical disabilities or learning disabilities and who are going to Oklahoma state colleges or universities. The award is meant to help cover tuition, room and board, books, and other costs. You also get to participate in an orientation workshop that will help you get ready for your academic life. The amount and the deadlines vary. The award is not currently available.

Scholarships for Students With Autism

Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship for Autism

The Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship is for students with autism or who have a family member with autism. You must write a 500- to 1,000-word essay on a topic related to autism and send in your transcript. The award is worth $1,000 and the deadline is July 31.

Autism Delaware Adults With Autism Scholarship

This scholarship is for students with autism who are going to college in Delaware. To apply, you need to send in a cover letter detailing your experience with autism and include a letter of recommendation. The awards can vary in amount but are generally for $1,000. The deadline is April 16.

Organization for Autism Research (OAR) Scholarship

This organization offers two scholarships for students, one that supports students who are attending two- or four-year universities and another that supports students attending two- or four-year universities as well as trade or technical schools or other programs. The applicant needs to prove their autism diagnosis, answer three short essay questions, and provide two letters of recommendation. The awards are for $3,000 and the deadline varies.

Scholarships for Students Who Have Health Conditions

Patient Advocate Foundation’s Scholarship for Survivors

If you’re under 25 and have been diagnosed or treated for cancer or a chronic or life-threatening illness in the last five years, then you might want to apply for this award. Include a 1,000-word essay about your diagnosis and provide both letters from your physician and recommendation letters. The award is for $3,000 a year for up to four years, and the deadline varies each year.

Baer Reintegration Scholarship Program

If you have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder, you may apply for this scholarship. Applicants need recommendations and must provide an essay. The award amount and the deadlines vary each year.

The Hydrocephalus Association Scholarship Program

If you have hydrocephalus, the Hydrocephalus Association offers 11 scholarships each year. You must be at least 17 years old, complete an application, and provide a letter of reference. While scholarships aren’t renewable, you can reapply each year. The scholarships are worth $1,000 and the deadline is April 15.