Can You Go to School While on Disability?

You may want to go to school while you are on disability. Whether you currently receive SSDI or SSI, or your application is pending, you need to know if you can go to school while on disability.

The Pekas Smith Disability Attorneys explain going to college and disability benefits.

Can Someone Go to School While on Disability?

Social Security disability programs do not prohibit attending school while on disability. However, attending school may impact your eligibility for benefits. Examiners may think that attending school is proof of your ability to work. Alternatively, going to school may allow for direct entry into employment that you can perform despite your limitations.

Can a college student still receive Social Security benefits?

A college student can still receive Social Security benefits. No rule says you can’t go to college if you receive SSI or SSDI. However, you should understand that scholarships and grants must be applied toward educational expenses to be excluded from income. In addition, if you go to school, it may impact the evaluation of your ability to work. Ask our disability lawyers to review your situation and learn more.

Disability While in College or Graduate School

SSDI is payable when a person is unable to work because of a medical condition. If you attend college, disability examiners may have a reason to reevaluate your eligibility.

College and Continuing Disability Reviews

Of course, being able to go to school and work are different things. Working full-time has different demands than going to school. With school, you can pick whether your classes are in person or online. You can choose the time of day and the number of classes you take. You can withdraw if you have medical problems or if things become overwhelming.

Claims examiners should understand these differences. However, you may still subject yourself to scrutiny and have to explain why your medical condition allows you to attend school but prevents you from working.

Social Security representatives may ask you to complete a Continuing Disability Review (CDR).

In the review, you may explain how your condition allows college but prevents you from working.

College and direct entry into employment

The other consideration for going to school while on disability is that your education may provide for direct entry into employment. With your education and degree, you may be able to work in a field that is currently unavailable to you given your education and skills. This may make you ineligible to continue to receive benefits because you are now able to find work in the economy.

Social Security examiners will evaluate the significance of your education and whether it provides for direct entry into skilled or semiskilled work. The education must allow for entry into an occupation with a minimal amount of job orientation.

See DI 25015.010F Education that Provides for Direct Entry into Skilled or Semi-skilled Work.

Will I lose my SSDI if I go to college?

You don’t automatically lose your SSDI if you go to college. However, attending college may impact the evaluation of your disability claim, and it may impact your ability to find work in the economy.

Can you attend college on SSI?

You can attend college on SSI. If you receive grants or scholarships that pay for your living expenses, the funds may count as income and reduce your SSI payments. However, grants used for tuition expenses are not counted as income.

Disability and Financial Aid, Grants and Scholarships

If you are considering attending college on disability, you need to know how it may affect financial aid. There are many financial aid programs – Pell Grants, FAFSA loans, scholarships and other programs that help students pay for school. You need to know how disability may impact your eligibility for these programs, and how receiving student aid may impact your SSI or SSDI.

Does a Pell Grant affect SSI?

A Pell Grant is not considered income, so it does not affect your SSI. Because both SSI and Pell Grants are income-based, if you receive SSI, you may also qualify for a Pell Grant.

See Federal Pell Grant Program 2023-2024 Payment Schedule.

Does financial aid count as income for SSI?

20 CFR § 416.1124(c)(3) excludes grants, scholarships, fellowships and gifts from income if the funds are used for tuition, fees or other necessary educational expenses. If financial aid funds are used for food or shelter, they count as income for SSI.

How does Title IV of HEA and BIA aid affect disability eligibility?

Student assistance received through Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) programs is generally excluded from income and does not impact disability eligibility.

Examples of programs falling under HEA and BIA include:

  • Pell grants
  • State Student Incentives
  • Academic Achievement Incentive Scholarships
  • Byrd Scholarships
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunities Grants (FSEOG)
  • Federal PLUS Loans, Perkins Loans, Stafford Loans, Ford Loans
  • Upward Bound
  • Gear Up (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs)
  • LEAP (Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership)
  • Work-study

Interest and dividends from funds acquired through these programs are generally excluded from income, for benefits paid after July 1, 2004. If you receive these funds, they won’t be counted as income to determine SSI eligibility.

See SI 00830.455 Grants, Scholarships, Fellowships, and Gifts.

Do private scholarships and grants count as income for disability?

If a grant, scholarship, fellowship or gift is used to pay tuition, fees or other necessary school expenses, they’re not income for disability. However, if funds are used for food, clothing or shelter, they count. If funds are spent for a purpose other than education, or the recipient no longer intends to use them to pay educational expenses, they become income.

Get Legal Help With Disability Claims

The Pekas Smith Disability Attorneys help people get and keep their disability benefits. Going to school while on disability can improve your life. Our law firm wants to protect your rights and advocate for your interests.

We invite you to contact our law firm to discuss your case and how we may assist. Call 602.962.2818 or message us now to discuss your case.

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