Financial Aid for College Students with LD

By Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the news knows that college tuition is an ever-increasing hardship for many American families. Over the past decade, college expenses have increased faster than the rate of inflation—faster, even, than health-care costs!

According to the College Board, the average annual cost for tuition, fees, and room and board is $38,600 for a private four-year college and $17,000 for a public four-year college ($30,000 for out-of-state residents). Outstanding student loan debt now tops $1 trillion, exceeding the amount of total credit-card debt in the U.S. Furthermore, an increasing number of borrowers come from middle- to upper middle-class households, with annual incomes between $94,000 and $205,000.

It’s no wonder many families are looking for “free” money to finance their child’s college education. For parents of students with learning disabilities, “free” money is particularly welcome. Anyone with a special-needs child is aware of the frequent accompanying expenses—private tutoring, psychoeducational evaluations, medications, and in some cases private school—that stretch budgets and make paying for college that much more difficult.

So where can parents find this so-called “free” money? The answer is in scholarships and grants—neither of which is repaid. Scholarships are merit-based, while grants are usually need-based.

Scholarships for Students with LD

Below are scholarship opportunities exclusively for students with disabilities:

  • Anne Ford Scholarship: a $10,000 scholarship awarded by the National Center for Learning Disabilities to a high-school senior with LD who can act as a role model for others faced with learning disabilities
  • Buckley Moss Society Harrison Scholarship: administers three scholarships, one each for students seeking a degree in Special Education; high-school seniors with a language learning difference, and high-school seniors with a language learning disability, artistic talent, and financial need
  • Shire ADHD Scholarship: The pharmaceutical company that focuses on ADHD medication provides 50 scholarships to students with ADHD. Each award recipient receives a one-time scholarship of $2,000 and one year of ADHD Coaching Services from the Edge Foundation (approximate value of coaching services: $4,420)
  • Rise Scholarship: Scholarships for high-school seniors with learning disabilities
  • Fred J. Epstein Youth Achievement Award: provides a $1,000 scholarship to recognize students with a learning disability or ADHD age 19 or younger who have demonstrated initiative, talent, and determination resulting in a notable accomplishment
  • Pilot International Foundation Scholarships: offers three scholarships for students who are pursuing careers in disabilities and brain-related disorders
  • Schwallie Family and Kenneth Jernigan Scholarships: provides five awards of $3,000 each to students with disorders in the autism spectrum
  • Lilly Center for Reintegration:This scholarship is for students with bipolar disorder and forms of schizophrenia. The awards vary.
Other Scholarship Options

Athletic scholarships are a possibility if your child is gifted in an NCAA sport. However, before you count on an athletic scholarship, educate yourself about them as they may not be all you think they are. In 5 Things You Should Know About Athletic Scholarships US News aims to set the record straight.

In addition to athletic scholarships, there are many obscure scholarships that fly under the radar. The best place to locate these opportunities is the website Fast Web. Once you register (which is free), you’ll receive a personalized list of awards for which you are eligible. Also check out their helpful scholarship tips and videos.

Other potential sources of scholarship money are local civic organizations—for example, Lion’s Club, Police Athletic League, Rotary Club, Kiwanis, etc. Employers, too, can sometimes be a source of scholarship money. Be sure to ask at work.

Finding Grant Opportunities

Following are grant resources for students with disabilities:

  • State-based college grants Check STATE GRANTS, scroll down, and click on your state for specifics. Also, call your state education agency. Some states have special education agencies that help disabled residents and their families. These agencies may be able to connect you with grant opportunities designed for students with LD. Call local government offices, too. They may be able to hook you up with charities or organizations that provide grant money.
  • Individual colleges may offer grants. Check with your college’s Financial Aid Office for help in securing funds.

You should always fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as it’s your ticket to free money from all government programs! Your college should notify you if you’re eligible for a grant.

Below, see grant opportunities open to all college students:

  • Federal Pell Grant: awarded to undergraduate students with financial need who demonstrate satisfactory academic progress. See Federal Student Aid – Pell
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: administered by individual colleges and awarded to the most financially needy students on a first-come, first-served basis. Not all colleges participate. See Federal Student Aid – FSEOG
  • TEACH Grant: awarded to students who plan to become teachers in high-need fields and/or low-income areas. Requires a teaching commitment after graduation.
  • See Federal Student Aid – TEACH
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: awarded to students whose parents died as a result of military service in either of these areas. See Federal Student Aid – Iraq/Afghanistan Service
  • National SMART Grant: awarded to junior and senior undergraduate students predominantlyinterested in math and science fields and other high-demand areas. Students interested in a SMART grant need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • The Federal College Work-Study program: more than 3,000 colleges participate by awarding paid on-campus employment to students in financial need. See College Work/Study
  • AmeriCorps: a volunteer service organization that matches groups of individuals to not-for-profit, public, and high-need organizations in need of volunteers to work on projects. For every year of AmeriCorps service you are eligible for nearly $5,000 toward a college of your choice. See AmeriCorps
College Loans

When financing college, the obvious goal is to maximize “free” money before turning to money that must be repaid. While loans are not the option of first choice, an article on financial aid would be incomplete without this information.

  • Federal loans (low interest rates and better terms and conditions) come in two versions—subsidized loans based on financial need (government pays the interest) and unsubsidized loans (everyone is eligible and payment is deferred until after graduation). Anyone applying for a government loan must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Private loans should generally be avoided due to high interest rates.
  • Credit union loans almost always have better interest rates. Some colleges even have their own credit unions. Be sure to ask.
Athletic Scholarships & Students with LD

An important consideration when looking at sports scholarships for students with LD is to know your child. Between required practices and games—both home and away—athletic awards place heavy demands on students’ time. Student athletes often miss classes and can easily fall behind. But for some people, the time constraints may work for them. For renowned LD advocate Jonathan Mooney (link to Jonathan Mooney: Still Telling It Like It Is), who struggled with LD throughout his schooling, playing college sports was his ticket to a residential college. Surprisingly, his sports commitment so reduced his time that it actually imposed structure on him. Suddenly, he worked well and efficiently. Know, however, that for every Mooney, there are many more students who collapse under the increased pressure.

Joan M. Azarva runs Conquer College with LD/ADD, a website for parents of college-bound students with learning differences. She also has a private practice in the Philadelphia suburbs that focuses on students making the transition from high school to college.