How to Receive Social Security Disability and Go to College

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Federal disability benefits are meant to help disabled people whose conditions prevent them from working. Benefits are calculated as a percentage of a worker's former salary, but rarely are they enough to pay for tuition at a 4-ear college. A number of college financing opportunities----such as loans, grants, and scholarships----are available to help people receiving disability benefits finance an education.

Things You'll Need

  • Computer
  • Internet access
  • Printer access

Receiving Disability Benefits

  • To determine whether you are eligible for Social Security Disability payments, you must complete two tests:

    1. Recent Work Test: Examines recent work history, determining the number of years a person must work within a given period before being eligible for disability benefits.

    2. Duration of Work Test: Examines lifetime work history, determining the total number of years a person must pay into the Social Security System before being eligible for disability benefits.
  • Send work test information to the Social Security Administration (SSA).

  • When sending your work test documentation to the SSA, include medical information and signed affidavits from doctors, The SSA makes decisions about disability eligibility and payment amounts within six weeks of their receipt of an application.

Disability and College Financing

  • Write to a disability caseworker at the SSA and explain how a specific post-secondary education will provide you, as a disabled worker, with new skills that will enable you to rejoin the workforce. Otherwise, the SSA may take school enrollment to mean that you are ready to return to work full time.

  • Search www.disability.gov for comprehensive college financing listings for people with disabilities. Read the Grants and Scholarships sections carefully; foundations often make special provisions for people with specific disabilities, such as confinement to a wheelchair or blindness.

    Similar education funding information is available at www.collegeboard.com.

  • Apply to all available scholarships. Application processes tend to begin in the fall. Applicants receive full responses by Spring.

  • Apply for financial aid through the college that you will attend. Most financial aid offices will help applicants strike a balance between grants from the educational institution and federal student loans that must be paid back over time.

Tips & Warnings

  • Do your research! Many scholarships target specific groups (people from Boston, people of Italian descent, and so on), so search under every category for which you might be eligible.
  • Be wary of private student loan organizations. These for-profit institutions tend to offer higher interest rates and less flexible payback plans than federal programs.
  • Never sign a paper you don't understand, whether it's from a college financial aid office or a federal loan officer. It may be useful to speak with a financial planner before agreeing to a college financing program.

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