Can I Get Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits While Going To School?

Technically yes, but going to school can hurt your chances of getting disability benefits.

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If you are filing for disability on the basis of a mental impairment, being in school can hurt your chances of getting disability benefits. It doesn't matter whether you're going either full or part time. (If you're already receiving benefits, read our article on going to school and CDRs.)

Even though there is no prohibition against going to school and collecting disability benefits, the Social Security disability determination process is not nearly so objective a process as many would have us believe. In fact, the process of making decisions on Social Security disability and SSI disability claims can be fairly subjective, and, thus, inherently unfair. 

Speaking as one who has been in the position of making decisions on SSD and SSI claims, and interacting on a daily basis with other disability examiners, I have seen disability examiners and and judges make the assumption that your condition must not be particularly severe if you are able to persist in an academic curriculum.

This is unfortunate because, as anyone with a mental disorder well knows, academic coursework does not impose the same type of demands that competitive employment does. An individual in school can choose the types of classes they take. They can, depending on the policies of the school and the instructor, miss a certain number of classes and "make the work up." They can drop classes. They can choose a morning, midday, or evening schedule.

None of these options exist with competitive employment, and for this reason, to draw a parallel between the ability to go to school and the ability to work is erroneous and flawed. Yet disability examiners and judges will fall prey to this flawed thinking.

Learn more about the requirements for getting disability for a mental or psychological condition.

By: Tim Moore, former claims examiner for Social Security

Updated by: , J.D.

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