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Student Loans

Guide to Paying for College for People With Disabilities

Earning a degree or certificate from a college can enhance your job prospects and salary potential. If you have a disability, you might be curious about specific programs designed to assist you in funding your education.

We’ll discuss the types of federal student aid available to people with disabilities, guide you through applying for financial aid, and highlight beneficial resources as you navigate this journey.

Types of federal student aid available to people with disabilities

Understanding the many financial aid options can be challenging for all students, including those with disabilities. To receive the most benefits and minimize the repayment burden, it’s crucial to understand the different types of federal student aid available and the order in which to apply for them.

The order of aid types in the following table prioritizes those that don’t require repayment, which can reduce financial stress postgraduation. Grants and scholarships are ideal: They provide funding that doesn’t need to be repaid. 

Work-study programs offer financial benefits and valuable work experience, but they require time and labor. Loans, while essential for many, should be considered last due to their repayment obligations.

Type of aidRepayment required?
Work-study programs


Federal grants are a vital resource for students with disabilities because they provide financial aid you don’t need to repay. The most well-known is the Pell Grant, but others, such as the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), are also valuable.


Similar to grants, scholarships require no repayment and can slash the out-of-pocket cost of college. Numerous scholarship opportunities are designed to assist students with disabilities. 

The scholarship examples below represent just a few of the many available options:

ScholarshipWhat to know 
Anne Ford ScholarshipUp to $10,000 granted to a graduating high school senior with a learning disability who plans to enroll in a full-time bachelor’s degree program
Allegra Ford Thomas ScholarshipUp to $5,000 granted to a graduating high school senior with a disability planning to enroll in technical training, vocational, 2-year community college, or other specialized programs
BMO Capital Markets Equity Through Education ScholarshipUp to $10,000 available to graduate or undergraduate students with disabilities pursuing relevant degrees and interested in a career in financial services
Microsoft Disability ScholarshipUp to $5,000 for high school seniors living with disabilities, aimed at supporting their higher education attainment in technology-related fields
Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leaders AwardUp to $2,500 scholarship & $7,500 for a project; aims to support emerging leaders with disabilities by providing funds to advance initiatives that increase opportunities for the disability community

Each of these scholarships offers unique benefits. They’re designed to make higher education more accessible and affordable for students with disabilities, empowering them to achieve their academic and professional goals.

Work-study programs

The federal work-study program offers part-time work to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students with a financial need. It is available to both full-time and part-time students. Each school’s financial aid office administers it. 

Through the work-study program, you can get many different types of jobs, including jobs on and off campus. It’s helpful to choose a job related to your area of study. You’ll earn payment for your work at least once a month. 

You can get the money you earn from the work-study program or ask your school to apply the funds to your educational expenses. 


We recommend considering federal student loans after grants and scholarships because they must be repaid. However, they carry fixed, potentially lower interest rates and better repayment options than private loans, including the potential for loan forgiveness if you meet specific requirements.

Loan amounts for undergraduates can range from $5,500 to $12,500 per year, depending on the year you complete your educational journey and your dependency status. 

Graduate and professional students may be eligible for as much as $20,500 each year through the direct Unsubsidized Loans program. If you need more funding, higher loan amounts might be available through PLUS loans based on your school’s cost of attendance (COA).

How to apply for federal student aid

To apply for federal student aid, you’ll first need to fill out a FAFSA form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). You can complete the FAFSA online by visiting the Federal Student Aid website

You can expect it to take less than an hour to complete the FAFSA, and you may need to provide information such as the following: 

  • Your personal information (e.g., legal name, birth date, taxpayer identification number)
  • Personal information for your parents or spouse
  • Details about your income (e.g., gross taxable income from your prior tax return)
  • Asset information (e.g., bank balances)

The information you provide in the FAFSA can determine your eligibility for all types of federal student aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans. You’ll complete a new FAFSA every academic year, and your eligibility will be reevaluated. 

Even if you don’t have a financial need, you might be eligible for financial student aid, so don’t let this deter you from filling out the form. Plus, some financial aid is first-come, first-served because funding is limited. We recommend completing the form early every academic year. 

Are private student loans available for people with disabilities?

Student loans—federal and private—are available to all who qualify, regardless of their disability status. Most federal student loans don’t require income or credit qualifications. With a private student loan, your lender will need to evaluate whether you can repay it.

Like any loan, you can expect your private student loan provider to evaluate your credit and income. The lender will use this information to evaluate how likely you are to repay the loan. If you don’t have any income or established credit, you might not qualify for the loan on your own. 

Many students have not established credit and don’t earn enough income to repay their student loans. To help students get the financing they need, most student loan lenders allow students to apply with a well-qualified cosigner. 

In this case, the student loan is approved based on the cosigner’s creditworthiness. No matter how you get approved for a private student loan, ensure you’ll be able to repay it. If your future job will provide the income to repay the loan, a loan can be a valid way to fund your education. 

What our expert recommends

Erin Kinkade


I recommend that the family identify the benefits available in their state of domicile for children with disabilities. Benefits could be available at the state level in addition to federal, along with those from the education institution of choice. One item I frequently discuss with parents and guardians is that there are multiple ways to fund their child’s education and to make sure they pursue all available avenues. I do this specifically if the parents’ or guardians’ retirement lifestyle and goals are in jeopardy if they fund their child’s education. This applies to all children, disabled or not. In addition, if a parent or guardian knows they want to pay a portion of their child’s education, just like retirement, begin saving early to reap the benefits of compounding growth and market appreciation.

Where to find support paying for college with a disability

For students with disabilities, finding financial support to pay for college can be complex. But you can find many ways to get the support you need to achieve your higher education goals. 

Some of the places you can go to find support paying for college if you have a disability are:

Financial aid office

The financial aid office at any college is an excellent starting place for guidance on federal and state grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study programs. These individuals are experts in financial aid and are often skilled at finding resources for students from varied backgrounds. 

Disability services office

The law requires institutions of higher education to support students with disabilities. The disability services office at your college or university is an excellent place to start looking for support. 

The disability services office can help you establish any learning accommodations you might need and connect you with other resources at the institution or with third-party organizations. 

State vocational rehabilitation agencies

State-run vocational rehabilitation agencies assist individuals with disabilities in achieving their educational and employment objectives. To help remove barriers, they may offer financial assistance for college expenses, which could include tuition, textbooks, and essential technology.

Comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs

Many states offer comprehensive transition and postsecondary (CTP) programs to help students with intellectual disabilities participate in higher education and prepare for gainful employment. 

In many cases, CTP program participants also receive funding from federal aid through grants or work-study programs. Learning about any available CTP programs in your area can also give you insight into how you might get support paying for college. 

National disability organizations

Organizations such as the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Federation of the Blind, and the National Association of the Deaf offer scholarships and other funding opportunities tailored to specific disabilities. 

These organizations also provide valuable guidance on navigating financial aid tailored to individual needs.

National Center for College Students with Disabilities (NCCSD)

The NCCSD is a resource hub for information on disability services available in postsecondary settings across the United States. Its website offers robust access to research, best practices, and discussion forums to assist in the planning and funding of college education.