College Scholarships for Students With Disabilities

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According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of tuition, fees, and housing at four-year institutions was $28,775 for the 2019-2020 academic year. The average cost at public colleges and universities was slightly less ($21,035), while the cost at private institutions was considerably higher ($48,965).

Paying for college can be especially challenging for students with disabilities. Scholarships, which do not require repayment, can play a significant role in helping students with and without disabilities fund their college education.

This guide features a list of scholarships for students with disabilities. The scholarships represent only a small sampling of financial aid programs available to students with disabilities such as autism and blindness. The guide also highlights resources, such as federal agencies and advocacy organizations, that students with disabilities may find useful in their search for financial assistance.


Disability Scholarships and Financial Aid Opportunities

Most learners, including students with disabilities, begin their search for financial aid by completing the FAFSA. Colleges and universities use the FAFSA results to determine students’ eligibility for scholarships and need-based aid. Many private nonprofits, professional organizations, and state and federal agencies also use the FAFSA results to allocate resources to eligible applicants.

The National Center for College Students with Disabilities (NCCSD) provides financial aid information and resources for students, parents, educators, and program administrators. The NCCSD recently launched a campus directory, which lists disability services available at many U.S. colleges and universities.

Scholarships by Disability

Many advocacy organizations, local and state government agencies, and colleges and universities offer scholarships for students with disabilities. These programs support learners with disabilities who are pursuing a technical, associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree. The scholarships briefly described below represent a few of the many programs delivering financial aid for students with disabilities.

  • Autism Delaware Scholarships

    Who Can Apply: Autism Delaware administers several scholarships, including the Adult with Autism Scholarship for state residents with an autism spectrum disorder. University of Delaware students pursuing an autism-related degree can apply for the Daniel and Lois Gray Scholarship. State teachers seeking autism certification can apply to the Autism Teacher Certification Scholarship.

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  • Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., administers this scholarship for students with a diagnosed form of autism who are enrolled in an accredited college, university, or vocational school. College students living with a close family member who has been diagnosed with a form of autism can also apply for the scholarship.

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  • Making a Difference for Autism Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: KFM Making a Difference offers this scholarship to incoming first-year college students and current college students who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Students enrolled in a vocational program can also apply. Applicants must submit a 500- to 1,000-word essay describing their personal journey as an individual with autism.

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  • Organization for Autism Research Scholarships

    Who Can Apply: OAR administers two scholarships for students with an established autism diagnosis. The Schwallie Family Scholarship supports learners who are enrolled in or have been accepted to a two- or four-year institution. Students attending a postsecondary vocational, technical, or life skills program can apply for the Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship.

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  • Bella Soul Scholarships

    Who Can Apply: Bella Soul offers scholarships for students with disabilities. College students living with a chronic illness or disability can apply for the Anderston and Stowell Scholarship. The Lepper and Yow Diversity Scholarship and the Anderson Minority Specific Scholarship support learners belonging to one of several minority groups, including African American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American students.

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  • Hydrocephalus Association Scholarship Program

    Who Can Apply: This scholarship program supports young adults with hydrocephalus who are enrolled in a two- or four-year program at an accredited institution. Applicants enrolled at a trade or technical school or participating in a recognized employment-training program can also apply. Candidates must be at least 17 years of age.

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  • INCIGHT Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Students with a documented disability who are pursuing higher education at a university, vocational or community college, or graduate school can apply for this scholarship. Candidates must have a diagnosed disability such as autism, speech or language impairment, emotional disturbance, or traumatic brain injury. Applicants must reside in California, Oregon, or Washington.

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  • Anders Tjellström Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Students with a hearing impairment who are Baha or Osia recipients can apply for this scholarship. Candidates must be a high school senior accepted to a postsecondary program or a current undergraduate or graduate student. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA from their most recent academic institution.

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  • Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Graduating high school seniors diagnosed with a learning disability or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can apply for this scholarship. Candidates must show acceptance to a vocational or technical training program or a two-year community college. Applicants must submit documentation of their LD/ADHD diagnosis.

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  • Anne Ford Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: The National Center for Learning Disabilities administers this scholarship for graduating high school seniors who have received acceptance to a bachelor’s program at an accredited college or university. Applicants must submit proof of a documented LD/ADHD diagnosis.

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  • ABC Law Centers Cerebral Palsy Annual Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Students with cerebral palsy who are pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree at an accredited institution can apply for this scholarship. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit an essay or a creative project about the impact cerebral palsy has had on their life.

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  • College Bound Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Lighthouse Guild awards this scholarship to legally blind high school students who have received acceptance to a college program at an accredited university. Lighthouse Guild administers several annual scholarships for undergraduate students, along with one annual scholarship for visually impaired graduate students. Recipients can apply scholarship funds toward tuition, books, travel, and room and board.

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  • National Federation of the Blind Scholarships

    Who Can Apply: The NFB administers scholarships for individuals who plan to pursue or are currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree at an accredited U.S. institution. Applicants must attend school full time and must be legally blind in both eyes. NFB may award scholarships to part-time students who work full time.

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Acquiring a Disability Post-Graduation

Students with federal loans who become disabled after graduation may qualify for a loan discharge. A total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge relieves graduates from needing to make any further payments on their Federal Perkins Loan, William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan, or Federal Family Education Loan. A TPD also releases graduates from the service obligations of a TEACH Grant or similar scholarship-for-service program.

TPD applicants must provide documentation of their post-graduation disability from one of three sources: the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration (SSA), or a physician qualified to practice in the U.S.

Individuals who receive a TPD discharge based on SSA documentation or a physician’s certification undergo a three-year post-discharge monitoring period. During this period, recipients must fulfill certain requirements concerning their income or further disbursements from a federal loan program. Failure to meet the requirements during the three-year monitoring period may reinstate the individual’s obligation to repay loans or fulfill service obligations.

Federal Aid, Assistance, and Advocacy Resources

  • Office of Disability Employment Policy ODEP develops policies and workplace practices that increase and improve the number and quality of employment options for individuals with disabilities. The office works to enhance future professional opportunities for students with disabilities.
  • International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet ICDRI presents an extensive and exhaustive list of services, products, literature, technology, and activities relevant for students and professionals with disabilities.
  • National Directory of Financial Assistance Programs for Postsecondary Students With Disabilities College students with disabilities can use this resource to locate Canadian universities offering financial aid programs for which they may qualify. The website also features information about disability services on various campuses and links to online newsletters and a video library.
  • U.S. Client Assistance Program CAP helps students and individuals with disabilities stay apprised of their rights and learn about services to which they may be entitled. CAP also provides advocacy and representation services for individuals experiencing workplace and campus discrimination based on disability.

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