May 3, 2021

Attending College While Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

Attending college while applying for Social Security disability benefits. You or someone you know may be applying for Social Security disability benefits while attending college. People living with disabilities may attend college for several reasons. You may want to try to learn new skills to find employment consistent with your limitations, or you may want to attend classes to occupy your time and structure your day.  If you are applying for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may ask you questions about how your conditions affect your ability to complete your college education.

Why does the SSA care if you go to college? Although there is no rule that says you cannot receive disability benefits while you are taking college courses, it is something that the SSA will consider when evaluating your claim. This is for several reasons. Even though students generally are not paid to attend college, they are completing some work-like activity. A student must complete assignments and maintain a level of organization. They must attend classes and demonstrate proficiency in the subject.

To determine whether you are disabled, the SSA will consider if your reasons for applying for disability are consistent with your actual capability to complete college course work.  For example, if you tell the SSA that your conditions affect your ability to interact with others, the SSA may question how you can attend classes with other students. As another example, if you tell the SSA that your conditions make it hard for you to sit for long, the SSA will wonder how you are able to remain seated during a class period. If the SSA thinks that you can attend college, they may assume that you can complete job tasks. This could lead to a denial of your claim for disability benefits.

However, you may still notice that your disabilities impact your ability to attend college. It is important for the SSA to know how your conditions cause you to differ from other students.  You may need accommodations to complete your college course work.  You may have special accommodations provided by your college’s disability services office. You may need to take a reduced course load, need additional time for testing, take classes online, or even need someone to assist you with taking notes. Documentation of these accommodations can show the SSA that your conditions affect your ability to complete college course work.  Even with these accommodations, you may still find yourself struggling.  You may have poor grades, poor attendance, need to alternate between sitting and standing in class, or struggle to interact with your classmates or educators.  Be prepared to tell the SSA what troubles you experience, because they are not there to see you in the classroom.  An experienced Social Security disability attorney can help you explain yourself to an administrative law judge and collect documentation of your accommodations. This could be vital in winning your claim for disability benefits.

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