Does Going to College Affect Social Security Disability?

Teenage boy with disability reading a book for group of students during reading classes in the classroom.
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Americans with disabilities can qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits if they have worked in jobs covered by the program, and they have medical conditions that meet Social Security’s definition of “disability.” Eligible beneficiaries receive monthly checks if their disabilities prevent them from working for a year or more, according to the Social Security Administration website.

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Those benefits can continue if you go to college, but a lot depends on the type of education you receive and how it affects your work status.

If you earn a degree or trade certificate from your college, those new qualifications will be considered the next time your claim undergoes a continuing disability review (CDR), according to the website. The review aims to determine if you are still considered “disabled” under the SSA’s definition.

If your degree, certificate or training qualifies you for new jobs, and you can do those jobs with your physical and/or medical limitations, your benefits could end because you are no longer considered “disabled.”

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The SSA considers you to have a qualifying disability if all the following are true:

  • You cannot do work and engage in substantial gainful activity because of your medical condition.
  • You cannot do work you did previously or adjust to other work because of your medical condition.
  • Your condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

Attending school full-time also could impact a Social Security auditor’s evaluation of your claim, according to a blog on the website of Henson Fuerst, a North Carolina-based law firm. This is especially true if you were approved for disability benefits on the basis of a mental impairment. If the SSA determines that your condition has improved and you no longer meet the definition of disabled, the SSA might stop your benefits.

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However, none of this should discourage you from furthering your education, experts say. If gaining new skills and degrees can improve your work prospects and lead to higher pay and better benefits, it’s probably worth it to further your education even if you risk losing your SSDI benefits.

For more information, visit the SSA’s Social Security Disability Insurance page.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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