College and Work: Students with Disabilities Can Do Both

September is College Savings Month—a month to remind and encourage people to start a 529 Plan.  Section 529 plans make it easy and affordable for the average family to plan ahead for the cost of college attendance and are available in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Across the nation, many activities are held during September to recognize the importance of saving for college.

Today, a college education is a costly, but often a necessary qualification to get a job. For those whose families didn’t save, it’s still possible to get that degree. Students with disabilities and their family members have some important resources available to help them manage expenses while achieving their career goals.

Students with disabilities, who are applying to colleges, may want to consider applying for Federal Student Aid. has a great Guide to Federal Student Aid. Be sure to take a look.

For students with disabilities who are already in college, work experience can help build their resumes for their future careers. I started my career journey with an internship at the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and have now been in the disability field for more than ten years.  Internships are a good way to try out potential careers and earn a little money!

Students with disabilities who are Social Security beneficiaries need to find out how work and school could affect their benefits by talking with benefits counselors. A directory of benefits counselors is available online at or by calling the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 (V) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY).

Social Security Work Incentives make it easier for adults with disabilities to work and still receive health care and cash benefits from Social Security. Work Incentives also allow students to remain in control of their finances and health care during their transitions to work. If students with disabilities decide to work while they are in school, one program they may want to take advantage of is the Student Earned Income Exclusion. If they receive Supplement Security Income (SSI), are regularly attending school and are under age 22, they qualify for the Student Earned Income Exclusion! If they use this Work Incentive, Social Security will not count up to $1,750 of earned income per month (up to $7,060 per year) when they calculate the student’s SSI payment.

For example, in 2014, if a student is using the Student Earned Income Exclusion and has a job earning $1,750 per month and is regularly attending school, the Federal Benefit Rate – the amount of their SSI check – is $721 per month. For the months when they are working, they will get their entire SSI check until they hit the yearly cap of $7,060. For those months before they hit the cap, they’ll get their SSI check of $721 plus their pay check of $1,750, for a total of $2,471 for that month. A pretty good way to earn some extra money for school! For more details, be sure to check out Social Security’s Redbook example.

College and work can go hand in hand. Extra experience in the work world can help shape students’ careers. Many students fear losing benefits, but programs are available to help them manage the costs of education while maintaining aid. Trained benefits counselors can help address these financial concerns. Talk to a benefits counselor today about some of the great things work can mean for you!

Jayme Pendergraft manages programs designed to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities. She has particular expertise in Social Security Administration return to work programs. Read Jayme’s Bio.