Funding Your Education

School can be very expensive. It is not a topic that we enjoy thinking about, but you need to keep it in mind and investigate your options as early as possible. Your parents, guidance counselors, financial aid counselors, benefits planners, Vocational Rehabilitation counselors, and others will be able to provide you with support.

In this section, you’ll learn about different ways to get help paying for school.

Consider Cheaper Schools

There are many good options for education after high school. Some are very expensive, while others are much more affordable. It is fine to apply to expensive schools, but you should also apply to cheaper schools. You can decide which you want to attend after they have accepted you and made financial aid offers.

Types of Financial Aid

When you apply for college, you'll also have to apply for financial aid. The main financial aid application form is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some private colleges require that you fill out additional forms.

You and your parents will have to provide lots of information about your family's income and assets. Once you enter school, you will have to complete these forms every spring until you graduate.

Schools will read the information that you provide and make financial aid offers that include three basic components: grants, loans, and work-study. If you qualify, Vocational Rehabilitation may also help pay for your educational expenses.

Example:

You are accepted by a private college. Tuition at this college is $38,000 each year and a dorm room and food cost an additional $10,000 each year. Books and other expenses cost $2,000. There is no way you can possibly afford to pay $50,000 per year so you fill out the FAFSA, hoping to receive financial aid.

A few weeks later you get a letter from the college’s financial aid office. Based on your savings, the office calculated that you can afford to contribute $2,000 of your own money to help pay for school this year. They also calculated that your parents can afford to contribute $10,000. That leaves $38,000 that you and your parents can’t afford. The college offers you the following in financial aid:

Grants

Grants are money that you will not have to repay. They are the best type of financial aid because they are completely free.

Fine Print:

All types of financial aid come with rules that you must follow in order to continue receiving that aid. Some grants and scholarships, for example, require you to be a full-time student or meet other conditions like getting good grades. Many loans require you to start repaying them after you leave school, but not while you are a student.

Make sure to read all of these detailed rules. If you are unable to comply with any requirements due to your disability, try to negotiate with your school about them.

Loans

Loans are money that you will have to repay. In addition to paying back the money that you get with a loan, you will also have to pay back additional money, which is called interest. There are many different types of loans with varying interest rates. The higher the interest rate, the more money you will have to pay to the lender. If you have questions about this, Chat with a Hub expert. You need to pay close attention to the terms of any loan. In most cases, you will have to repay your loans over the course of many years after you have completed school.

However, in 2012, the federal government created a process to let people with disabilities apply to have their federal student loans forgiven, so that they wouldn't need to be repaid. This process is called the Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) Discharge. The program's FAQ page explains the three-year period your disability may be monitored before your loans are forgiven, and the taxes you may have to pay after the loans are forgiven. Learn more about whether you might qualify to have your student debt forgiven or call 1-888-303-7818 to speak with a customer service representative.

Private Loans:

Federally-funded loans have low interest rates, but your school or other financial institutions may offer you private loans instead. Be very careful about private loans; they sometimes have very high interest rates. To learn more about the differences between federal and private loans, click here.

Work-Study

Work-study is a program whereby the federal government and your school pay a portion of your salary if you work at certain jobs while you are a student. The program often makes it easier for you to get part-time employment. To learn more, click here.

Comparison Shop and Negotiate

The amount of financial aid that different schools offer can vary significantly. It is especially important to see how much money they offer in grants and how much they charge to attend the school. It may turn out that a university with an expensive tuition that offers large grants will be cheaper than another university with low tuition that doesn’t offer grants. An Ivy League school may actually be cheaper than public university, depending on their financial aid offers. That’s one reason to apply to several colleges: So you have the opportunity to look for the best offer possible.

If your favorite school does not offer much financial aid, you can contact their financial aid office and explain your financial situation. They may revise and increase their financial aid offer.

If you are already attending a college and it offers less financial aid than it did the previous year, talk to the financial aid office and explain your situation. They may be able to increase their offer so that you can stay in school.

Private Scholarships

Scholarships are another source of financial aid. Like grants, scholarships do not have to be repaid. Some scholarships provide lots of money, while others are small but helpful. The problem is a lot of people don’t know about the scholarships that may be available to them. Here are some ways to find scholarships:

  • Use the scholarship list on the Scholarships.com website.
  • Search for terms like “disability scholarship” in online search engines like Google.
  • Search for scholarships for people with your disability. For example, if you’re blind, try searching for “blind scholarship Minnesota.”
  • Don’t limit yourself to scholarships for students with disabilities.
  • If you’re still in high school, ask your school’s guidance counselor for assistance.
  • If you’re in college, check with your school’s disability services office and financial aid office.

Vocational Rehabilitation

During high school, you should apply for Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services. You can ask your guidance counselor to help you apply.

If you have finished high school, you should contact Vocational Rehabilitation directly to apply. They will review your mental or physical disabilities and determine whether you qualify for services. You may be placed on a waiting list to receive services.

If you qualify, your VR counselor will help you create an employment plan. If you need more education in order to fulfill your employment plan, they will help pay for this education. Even if you get VR services, you should still apply for the financial aid described above. The VR does not always pay for all educational expenses, especially if you attend a private college or university. Click here for more detail about the financial support the VR can provide for your education.

Example:

Sarah wants to become a veterinary technician. She meets with her local Vocational Rehabilitation office and they help her create an employment plan to achieve that goal. She enrolls in a two-year technical school and applies for financial aid. She qualifies for two grants, but that’s not enough to pay for all her expenses. So Vocational Rehabilitation agrees to cover the rest of her expenses, as long as she sticks with her employment plan.

To learn more about Vocational Rehabilitation, click here or Chat with a Hub expert.

Financial Aid Resources

  • The Federal Student Aid website offers information on funding education after high school, including details on the FAFSA and the types of financial aid you can get.
  • The HEATH Resource Center publishes many articles about higher education for students with disabilities as well as detailed information about financial aid and vocational rehabilitation.