Students often pursue college degrees in search of rewarding, high-paying jobs. But higher education tends to require a large investment, leading many learners to seek financial aid opportunities.
As of 2020, the outstanding national college debt was $1.57 trillion, with college students averaging $37,584 in student loan debt. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports the student loan debt for doctoral psychology graduates is even higher, at a median of $80,000.
College students at any level, including those completing their master's and doctoral degrees, should also account for non-tuition costs, including books, housing, food, and transportation. Students living with disabilities may have additional expenses for medical devices, treatment, or medication.
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as any physical or mental condition that restricts or limits at least one major life activity. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 19.4% of undergraduate students and 11.9% of graduate enrollees in 2015 have a disability.
While the overall cost of education may seem overwhelming, resources, such as federal aid and scholarship money, can significantly reduce your overall student debt. Read on to find out more about available disability scholarships and how to apply.
How to Apply for Disability Scholarships
The ADA was passed in 1990 to make sure all people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as others.
This legislation ensures equal access to education for students living with disabilities. It also provides protection against discrimination and laid the groundwork for the disability scholarships available today.
Applying for these scholarships is similar to applying for other types of financial aid. The sections below cover different scholarship sources, sponsors, and application requirements.
Where to Look for Scholarships
With over 1 million scholarships available, students can pursue many avenues to help offset their college costs. The first step is to search for educational awards.
Look for specific scholarships that reflect your specific qualities or educational aspirations. For example, as a counseling student, you can review the APA's award page for various scholarships and grants.
You can also search for general disability scholarships or awards for students with specific conditions. Start with sites like Scholarships.com, Unigo.com, or CollegeScholarships.org, which dedicate entire sections to financial aid for students with disabilities.
Types of Scholarship Sponsors
Knowing the different types of sponsors can increase your scholarship opportunities. Any public, private, or nonprofit organization can offer scholarships, as can any association, foundation, school, or business.
Consider contacting local businesses, religious organizations, and community groups to determine if they sponsor any educational awards. You can also contact national disability organizations to inquire about any scholarships available for current or future college students.
Educational institutions are another excellent source for financial aid awards and resources. Contact your school's financial aid office to determine what scholarships it offers to students with disabilities. Additionally, if you need assistance in applying for any awards, consult the student disability services at your institution, and they may request a scholarship on your behalf.
To qualify for a disability scholarship, applicants must be living with disabilities or mental health challenges. These can include physical afflictions, behavioral or emotional restrictions, and cognitive disorders. While some organizations accept applicants with any kind of disability, others only consider candidates with a particular condition.
Disability scholarships have various eligibility and submission requirements. Some of the most common requirements are listed below. Exact scholarship requirements vary.
- Living with a disability
- Legal U.S. resident and/or residing within a specific state
- Enrolled in a U.S. university or college
- Enrolled in a specific number of credit hours, ranging from six to 15
- Minimum GPA requirements ranging from 2.5-3.5
- Short essay
- Reference letters
- Previous high school or college transcript
- Valid identification
- Proof of college enrollment
- Documentation of disability
Before creating an application strategy, consider your total annual cost. First, calculate your tuition, books, rent, fees, and any additional expenses. If you receive any loans or grants, subtract that amount from your total cost. The remaining amount is what you may need to raise in scholarships each year if you do not have access to other sources of funding.
Since students only receive a small percentage of the awards they apply for, send in applications regularly for as many scholarships as possible. In addition to submitting many applications, apply for every possible type of scholarship. Along with the specific counseling and disability scholarships, research awards for your ethnicity, gender, religion, hobbies, or community involvement experience.
Complete the research months — if not a year — ahead of time. Organize an application schedule, prioritizing the scholarships with the earliest deadline. Based on how much money you still need for college, decide how many applications to complete weekly or monthly. Keep in mind that some scholarships require essays, recommendation letters, and proof of disability, which may take time to procure.
One important thing to keep in mind is that scholarship awards can have an impact on your financial aid award. Your total student aid package, including loans, grants, and scholarships, cannot exceed the total cost of attendance. Be sure to notify your school of any scholarships you have been awarded for that school year. This award amount may be subtracted from your financial aid award.
Available Disability Scholarships
Start your search with the following list of undergraduate and graduate disability scholarships. Remember that this list only includes a sample of some of the scholarships available.
Shannon O'Daniel Memorial Scholarship
The Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana offers a scholarship to first-year students who are receiving treatment for epilepsy. Applicants must reside in Kentucky state or the Indiana counties Harrison, Floyd, or Clark.
Deadline: June 23, 2021
Baron & Budd Mesothelioma Cancer Victims Memorial Scholarship
To apply for this scholarship, students must submit a video or written essay about how cancer affects their lives. One candidate from each submission category receives the award each semester. While the name of the scholarship mentions mesothelioma, survivors of any type of cancer may apply.
Deadline: July 16, 2021
Auger & Auger Disabled Scholar Award
Students with any type of disability may apply for this scholarship and present an essay about the impact of the condition. Additionally, students must submit a transcript with a minimum GPA of 2.8.
Deadline: July 31, 2021 (fall), November 30, 2021 (spring)
ASD Ascend Autism College Scholarship
Anyone on the autism spectrum can apply for the ASD Ascend scholarship, as long as they can provide proof of the diagnosis. Winners may use the money for particular autism program fees or college tuition.
Deadline: Dec. 31, 2021
Both Dr. Guthrie and Dr. Koch worked tirelessly to give children diagnosed with phenylketonuria (PKU) hope for the future. The Guthrie-Koch scholarship honors their memory by providing a financial award to undergraduate students with PKU undergoing dietary treatment.
180 Medical Scholarship Program
To apply for this scholarship, enrollees must experience spina bifida, ostomy, a spinal cord injury, neurogenic bladder, or transverse myelitis. The 180 Medical group only offers the monetary award to those who are currently seeking medical care for one of the above conditions.
Deadline: June 1, 2021
Foundation for Science and Disability
The Foundation for Science and Disability (FSD) offers a prize to students with disabilities studying a math, science, medicine, or computer science field. If you are pursuing your MS in counseling, you can submit the application, an essay, and two letters of recommendation. Winners may use the prize money for their research.
Deadline: Dec. 1, 2021
Lighthouse Guild Scholarship
The Lighthouse Guild offers support to individuals with vision loss so they can achieve their goals -- including completing a graduate program. Candidates must submit documentation from a qualified doctor diagnosing legal blindness, three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.
Award: Up to $10,000
Deadline: March 31, 2022
Scholarships for Undergraduates and Graduates
InfuCare RX Bleeding Disorders Scholarship
Any student that suffers from Hemophilia A/B, Von Willebrand Disease, or rare factor deficiencies that has already received an acceptance letter for their school of choice may apply. All applicants -- except doctoral students -- must present proof of a 3.5 GPA from the previous year.
Deadline: May 15, 2021
Pfizer Soozie Courter Hemophilia Scholarship Program
Pfizer awards one graduate student and 16 undergraduates the Soozie Courter Scholarship. To apply, you must suffer from either hemophilia A or B. All applicants must turn in an application, essay, healthcare provider form, transcripts, and two recommendation letters.
Deadline: June 11, 2021
The Patricia Pownder Connolly Memorial Scholarship
The Mental Health America (MHA) group of Greater Tarrant County awards this scholarship to students studying mental health or counseling. While this particular MHA scholarship does not require students to present proof of a mental illness, the essay portion asks about any experience with mental health issues.
Award: Up to $5,000 for fall and spring scholarships. Up to $2,000 for summer prize
Deadline: June 15, 2021 (fall), Nov. 15, 2021 (spring), March 15, 2022 (summer)
ABC Law Centers Cerebral Palsy Annual Scholarship
All applicants must be diagnosed with cerebral palsy. In addition to the online form, students need to include a transcript with a GPA of 3.0 or higher and an essay or creative project. Winners may use the money for tuition or other endeavors, such as charity projects, internships, and research.
Deadline: July 31, 2021
The Disabled Student Scholarships
The Morgan & Morgan Disability Care Center offers a scholarship to students with any type of disability. The application requirements include a transcript with at least a 2.5 GPA, a letter of recommendation, a short essay, and a class schedule confirming at least 12 credit hours in the coming semester.
Deadline: Aug. 1, 2021
Graeme Clark Scholarship
Cochlear offers the Graeme Clark scholarship to students who have received the Nucleus Implant. Candidates must earn a minimum GPA of 3.0 to apply. Additionally, Cochlear offers the award for up to four years, so the scholarship winners must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA for that period of time.
Award: $2,000 annually for up to four years
Deadline: Sept. 30, 2021
Buckfire & Buckfire, P.C. Disability Scholarship
The Buckfire & Buckfire law firm accepts applications from students with any type of disability as long as they present documentation of their diagnosis from a qualified medical professional. They also request an essay, college transcripts, and a completed application form.
Deadline: Oct. 1, 2021
Other Financial Aid
Other types of private and federal financial aid are available to help students fund their college education. These awards include loans, grants, fellowships, and work-study awards.
Students with an intellectual disability may receive federal funding if they are accepted or enrolled in a comprehensive transition and postsecondary program (CTP). Other requirements are that students must maintain satisfactory academic progress and meet other federal aid eligibility requirements.
For students living with other disabilities, the following types of financial aid may help offset your college costs:
- Federal Loans: Federal student loans in the form of DIrect Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans can cover a large percentage of college costs. Students must begin making payments toward their loans six months after they graduate.
- Work-Study: A work-study program allows participants to earn money and gain valuable work experience. Colleges and businesses can participate in the Federal Work-Study Program, which provides students with part-time employment while earning their degree.
- Grants: Similar to scholarships, grants do not need to be paid back. However, while sponsors often choose scholarship winners based on merit, grants are awarded based on financial need. Additionally, students may need to pay back grant money if they do not maintain minimum GPA or enrollment requirements.
- Fellowships: Fellowships offer funding to graduate students in exchange for research or study in a particular field. Fellowships can span a few months to a couple of years and students can receive thousands of dollars to apply towards educational costs.
- Private Loans: Like federal loans, you must pay back any private loans. These loans originate from credit unions, banks, schools, or state agencies. Typically, private loans are less flexible and have higher interest rates than federal students loans. You may also need to make monthly payments while still in school.
If you have already graduated from college but recently became disabled, consider the Total and Permanent Discharge (TPD) program offered by the federal government that exonerates you from paying back the loans.
Consider other sources of financial aid:
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of scholarships exist for students with disabilities?
Many types of scholarships cater to students with disabilities at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Scholarship awards available to all students with disabilities or for individuals with particular conditions, such as hemophilia or blindness.
Are there private grants for individuals with disabilities?
What financial support is available through student disability services?
The financial support available at student disability centers varies among schools. While all colleges provide disability accommodations, some may offer various disability scholarships.
When should I start applying for disability scholarships?
You should apply for disability scholarships as soon as possible. Start researching your options early, about a year before the semester begins, so you can complete the application requirements and gather any documentation needed.
How do I qualify for a disability grant?
Requirements for disability grants vary by sponsor. For federal financial aid that is based on income, like the Pell Grant, you must complete the FAFSA. Other disability grants are offered by national organizations, associations, and corporations. These awards often include additional requirements, such as proof of a particular disability.
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