Jason White’s parents paid for almost two years of tuition toward a computer science degree. When Jason failed out, they gave him a wake-up call.
“You’re going to have to find another way to [pay for] college if you want to keep doing it,” they told him.
Jason struggled to find aid. His parents’ income made it unlikely he’d receive need-based grants from the state. Plus, he was a “B” student in high school, not a top competitor for merit-based scholarships.
Then, Jason read a footnote in a nondescript handbook about the federal government’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program. It said he could receive financial aid for school if he documented his medical conditions — in his case, allergies and asthma.
At first, VR seemed like a long shot.
But at last count, the program gave Jason $96,000 to put toward not one but two degrees. Here’s how he got VR aid and how — if you qualify — you can, too.
What is the Vocational Rehabilitation program?
Born from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, VR is funded by both the Department of Education and state governments. Jason, now an attorney for the Department of Justice, thinks the poor name has something to do with the program’s anonymity. He refers to it as “the medical-based financial aid program” in his 2017 self-published book, “The Medical Loophole.”
According to Jason’s research, for each of the past three years about 100,000 students have applied for this aid. That’s a small amount considering that 2.4 million students with qualifying conditions opt to take out student loans annually, he said.
Jason explains the disparity by saying that the FAFSA makes no mention of VR. Students have no way of knowing it exists.
“It was the loophole that helped me avoid a mountain of student loan debt,” says Jason, who estimates that some of his law school peers racked up $200,000 in debt. “Too many students simply fill out a FAFSA and assume the results will inform [them] of all the financial aid options they are entitled to.”
How to determine your eligibility
With self-described “unpleasant” medical conditions, Jason initially didn’t think he’d qualify for aid. But as he confidently declares in his book, you could have any number of ailments — from ADHD and anxiety to back pain and depression — and still qualify for tuition assistance.
More officially, the federal government says qualified applicants “have a physical or mental impairment that presents a substantial barrier to employment.” They must also be able to benefit from VR to achieve employment.
The first step to applying for VR is finding one of your state’s offices. That might be more confusing than it sounds. Some states have hundreds of differently named offices that handle VR or VR-like applications, Jason says.
To find yours, you can try the Department of Education’s clickable map, which includes each state’s contact information.
You’ll file an initial application with your state agency online. Then, you’ll schedule an interview to document your medical condition.
How to apply for medical-based financial aid
At your in-person meeting, a counselor will typically ask for three kinds of documentation:
- Medical proof: An email or letter from your doctor detailing your condition as well as how it was diagnosed and how it’s been treated. Jason’s, for example, mentioned receiving tests to determine his allergies and shots to alleviate them. It was a paragraph long.
- Tax information: If you’re a dependent, you’ll need to gather the necessary documents from your parents.
- Transcripts: Your most recent grade reports, whether you’re a high school senior or an adult returning to campus. Your grades will be judged based on the degree you’re seeking. As Jason says, you might be unsuccessful applying as an aspiring chemistry major if you never achieved success in your high school science classes.
Jason says to have these materials ready for your interview to expedite the process. It can be six weeks before you receive an answer. That’s why he recommends applying at least 90 days before you set foot on campus.
“I’m sure some folks’ eyes will roll, and they’ll just say, ‘Gosh, why don’t I just get a student loan?’” he says.
Sure, applying for VR might be more difficult than filling out the FAFSA, but remember that it’s gift aid. Unlike with loans, you’ll never have to repay it.
The benefits of medical-based aid
Although he took out student loans to afford living expenses while in law school, VR provided Jason with enough assistance to cover both his undergraduate and law degrees.
The data says he’s not alone. In 2015, the most recent year of statistics available from the Rehabilitation Services Administration, California paid 18,107 students a combined $30.1 million. That’s $1,662 per student, whether they were seeking a certificate, attending a professional program, or something in between.
There are other advantages to being a VR recipient, too:
- In school: You could receive “reasonable accommodations,” ranging from a free laptop for school to a private testing room if, say, you suffer from ADHD.
- After school: You could apply for positions with a disability on record, receiving support during your job search.
Avoid the most common applicant mistake
Jason says many VR applicants are denied aid because of a checkbox on application forms. You’re asked whether your ailment will hinder your ability to find a job. Not wanting to admit to a limitation, you might check “No” without realizing that it could disqualify you from the program.
In Jason’s case, he checked “Yes.” His asthma and allergies would rule him out from working around animals, dust, and pollen, for example.
Having received close to six figures in aid, he considers the program a “godsend.”
“If not for [the Vocational Rehabilitation program], I don’t know if I would have been willing to take the risk on law school because it [was] just such an expensive endeavor,” Jason says. “It helped me take that risk to get more education, which is a big factor for a lot of folks. If you take money out of the equation, they may be more willing to do greater and more amazing things.”
If you have a documented medical condition and want to get money for your education, at least review your state’s benefits. You might be surprised to learn that the VR program could remove the financial burden from your path to a degree.
The little-known program gave Jason nearly $100,000 to use on his education. Imagine what it could do for you and yours.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
|1.04% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.24% – 11.99%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.78% – 11.89%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.05% – 11.44%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.76% – 7.14%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.46% – 12.98%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers. |
1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.
4 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.88% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.78% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.95% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.88% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 11/04/2020. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
5 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.76% – 7.14% (2.76% – 7.14% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.01% – 7.50% (3.01% – 7.50% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.19% – 6.73% (2.19% – 6.73% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 2.89% – 7.09% (2.89%-7.09% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 9.54% (1.36% – 8.82% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.13% – 9.84% (4.13% – 9.12% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 8.34% (1.36% – 8.04% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.03% – 8.64% (4.03% – 8.34% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.10% – 7.41% (2.10%-7.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.69% – 7.83% (4.69% – 7.83% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.45% – 9.60% (4.45% – 9.53% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.38% – 12.81% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.55% – 7.05% (3.55% – 6.77% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.07% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of March 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.11%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Ascent Student Loans are funded by Richland State Bank (RSB), Member FDIC. Loan products December not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions December apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: www.AscentStudentLoans.com/Ts&Cs
Rates are effective as of 12/01/2020 and reflect an automatic payment discount of 0.25% on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% discount on the highest offered rate. Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: www.AscentStudentLoans.com/Rates
1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Click here for details.