Scholarships and GrantsPlanning and Funding Your Child’s Education—Post-Secondary Schools,
Part 3

Scholarships and Grants

This type of aid is based on merit (academic achievement or community service) or financial need. When your child gets a scholarship or grant, it is like receiving free money—you don’t have to pay it back. There are all sorts of scholarships and grants available from schools, disability-specific organizations, individuals, and faith- and community-based organizations. 

Federal Pell Grants are based on need and are awarded through the FAFSA application. The amount of any other student aid you might receive does not affect the amount of a Pell grant.

The following resources offer helpful information on how to find scholarships and grants and prepare your child for college.

Council for Opportunities in Education
COE  advocates and supports federally-funded programs that assist underrepresented students, including students with disabilities, in pursuing and completing post-secondary education. They publish a complete directory of these federally funded programs called TRIO and GEAR UP, where you can locate a program in or near your city and state.

Student Aid on the Web
Call 1-800-433-3243 (Voice) or 1-800-730-8913 (TTY)

FastWeb, LLC
444 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 3000
Chicago, IL 60611

FinAid! (includes information on student aid for students with disabilities)
Call 1-724-538-4500
PO Box 2056
Cranberry Township, PA 16066-1056

College Board
Call 1-212-713-8000
College Board45
Columbus Avenue
New York, NY 10023

Disability-Specific Scholarships and Grants

Various organizations offer financial aid specifically to students with disabilities. Your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) team, your local Parent Center, and disability-specific organization may be able to direct you to sources of financial aid.

If you’d like to investigate some online financial aid options on your own, here a couple of places to look:

Disaboom. This is an online resource center that covers many topics specifically for individuals with disabilities. A comprehensive list of disability-related scholarships is available on this site. Check out this list at 

The HEATH Resource Center. This is an online clearinghouse of information on post-secondary education for students with disabilities. The site provides teaching modules on a variety of topics related to post-secondary education and life beyond education. They include: financial aid, awareness of post-secondary options, college application process, financial literacy, and self-advocacy.

HEATH Resource Center
2134 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052-0001

Federal Work Study (FWS) Programs

These federally funded programs are based on financial need, providing part-time, on-campus jobs to your child. Money earned can be used for educational expenses. Not all post-secondary schools participate in this program. Students are considered for federal work study awards through the FAFSA application.

Often times, working while attending school helps students appreciate their education even more. If your child has an opportunity to become part of a work study program, you’ll want to talk about ways your child will juggle school assignments and job responsibilities. Potential employers will appreciate your child’s efforts and hard work in properly managing time.

Federal Student Loans

Should scholarships, grants, and work study not be able to provide the post-secondary funding you need, you may want to apply for a federal student loan. They are low-interest and deferred-interest government loans that must be paid back. Deferred-interest loans are based on financial need. All federal student loans don’t have to be paid back until your child graduates from or leaves college. Also know that you are not required to borrow the full amount of the loan your child qualifies for. Be certain to borrow only what you need. Student loans can be used in combination with other forms of aid. For example, if your child qualifies for a scholarship, grant, or work-study program, it may not be enough to cover all college costs. He or she could also qualify for federal financial aid. 

A special note to parents of children with intellectual disabilities (ID): Although the HEOA provides students with Intellectual Disabilities access to Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), and Federal Work Study, it did not extend that eligibility to Federal student loan programs. For more information, see Financial Aid for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.

Types of Federal Student Loans

Federal Stafford (Direct) Loans—Subsidized and Unsubsidized. Based on financial need (subsidized) and unmet educational costs (unsubsidized), these loans are available for undergraduate and graduate programs. As of 2010, all Federal Stafford Loans are administered by the Department of Education’s Direct Loan Servicer. The loan amount varies each year, and they must be paid back to the federal government beginning six months after the student ceases enrollment.

Federal Perkins Loans. These federal loans are also based on financial need but made available through the post-secondary school. The loans must be paid back to that school beginning nine months after the student ceases enrollment.

Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS). Allows parents with good credit histories to borrow money on behalf of their children

For more information on the types of federal student loans available, loan terms, and how to apply for them, visit

State Vocational Rehabilitation Programs

Your state Vocational Rehabilitation agency may offer student financial aid to individuals with disabilities who qualify for VR services. Before your child can qualify for this aid, he or she must first be found eligible for VR services. You also can explore financial aid through other sources, as the VR agency will require you to use that aid before it provides any of its own. A key factor that VR counselors consider is how closely linked the post-secondary course of study is to a student' specific career goals, as identified in their VR Plan for Employment. Note: not all state VR programs provide funds for tuition. In addition, because of limited funding, many states have waiting lists of eligible individuals waiting to receive VR services. 

Social Security Administration Work Incentives—Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS)

Your child can set aside part of his or her Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to offset college expenses under the Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS). To get a PASS, your child must have a clearly defined work goal and know what post-secondary program is needed to achieve the goal. 

The PASS program is not just for setting aside money for post-secondary expenses. Your child could use the program to set aside money for any training, supports, or services needed to achieve a work goal, including starting his or her own business.

Speak with your local Social Security Administration office to get more information about PASS and to fill out an application. 

Other Student Aid Sources

Your child may be able to fund some education expenses through community service programs such as AmeriCorps. In these programs, your child would perform community service work for a certain period of time. Upon completion, your child would receive an award that can be applied to education expenses. Depending on the program, your child might earn a small stipend during the service period. AmeriCorps is committed to actively recruit individuals with disabilities. 

Call 1-202-606-5000 (Voice) or 1-202-606-3472 (TTY)
1201 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20525

Financial Aid for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) provides opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities (ID) to apply for federal financial aid for comprehensive transition and for post-secondary education. Federal financial aid is based on need, which is mostly based on income. Families interested in applying for financial aid can do so through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The types of financial aid opportunities for students with ID that are available through the FAFSA application are:

  • Pell Grants. A federal program that provides need-based grants to low-income students.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG). A federal student aid program that provides assistance to the neediest students with priority given to those students eligible for the Pell grant.
  • Work Study Programs. Students finance their education through work at on-campus jobs.



Next Section: Your Child's Employment