When I got too sick to continue working, I signed up for grad school online. I did it for the financial aid money. I am a single mother and I needed it to survive and feed my kids.
I was in school part time, but I received enough financial aid money to pay all my tuition and still have money left over to pay for our rent, food, and living expenses.
I was not really well enough to handle school, but I did the best I could with it. I took unscheduled classes online.
I have a lot of fatigue and cognitive problems. Some of my papers were not coherent or readable and some of my grades were not very good and some things I turned in late. But I did manage to at least pass my classes. I studied poetry so when I couldn’t think clearly, my poems just came out “arty.”
My condition was getting worse and I was having a real struggle to stay in school, but I was very close to graduating, just two classes away. There was a big project due at the end and I didn’t think I would really be able to do it, but I was so torn. I had worked so hard and I was so close. I was considering withdrawing but not sure what to do.
After my disability got denied, I met with a disability lawyer. He told me that if I got a graduate degree while in the process applying for disability, I would definitely get denied and there was pretty much no hope I would ever be approved.
I knew I was really sick. I was no longer able to drive my kids to school or cook a meal or even get out of bed some days. My mom was doing everything for us. After talking to the lawyer, I knew withdrawing was the right decision. I contacted the school and told them I had to leave for medical reasons. The school sent me an email that I was taking a medical withdrawal.
Getting a medical withdrawal was easy, but the financial aid part was complicated. They had already given me financial aid and when I withdrew, they wanted it back. I had to make a special request and prove it was a medical necessity. I sent letters from my doctor and filled out forms. It worked out in the end.
For my Social Security disability appeal, my mom helped me. We wrote down that I took a medical withdrawal from school. We printed out a copy and sent them a copy of the official letter from the school stating that I had a medical withdrawal.
I never wound up hiring the lawyer. I did it myself with my mom. While I was getting ready for my appeal, we noticed something interesting. On the bottom of my medical records it said “in graduate school.” It said this every time, even though we had not discussed it every time. The computer was copying the information. The next time I went to my doctor, I asked her to update that in the computer, then I requested a copy of the new record to make sure it was correct.
I was approved for disability two months later. Social Security changed my onset date and said that I just became disabled recently. That is why I didn’t get backpay. I don’t know if they did this because I was in school.
So far, I have not been asked to pay back any of the financial aid or student loans because I am too poor. I signed up for income-based repayment and they said I owe $0 per month.
My credit got really screwed up when I first got sick, because of hospital bills and emergency room visits. I have been trying to get it back on track, and I was worried about the student loans, but it turned out to be no problem at all. I literally owe $0 per month, and since I literally pay $0 per month, I am all up to date! I am not considered in default.
I hope to recover someday and go back to work. When that happens, I plan to start paying back the loans, and I don’t mind that, because the loans really helped me when I needed the help.
Hibiscus was also in school while applying, but her story turned out a different way: Hibiscus Applies for Disability While in School