Can College Students Get Unemployment?

How Current Students and Recent Grads Can Make Ends Meet

A student with blond hair and tattoos holds a coffee cup while using a laptop in a library
•••

FG Trades / Getty Images

Working while attending college is fairly common, and it’s a necessity for many students. But if you lose your job while in college, you might be wondering whether you qualify for unemployment insurance benefits.

States set the requirements for unemployment eligibility, which include minimum guidelines for work history and previous earnings. Typically, those requirements could make it challenging to get unemployment benefits as a college student. But understanding all your options can help you find financial relief if you lose your job while in school. 

Key Takeaways

  • Whether college students can get unemployment benefits depends on why they're unemployed and whether they met income and work requirements during the previous year. States may also have additional requirements.
  • Currently enrolled students may need to demonstrate that their courses don't interfere with their ability and availability to work.
  • Students with federal loans may also be eligible for in-school deferment of their student loan payments.

Can College Students Get Unemployment?

The short answer to whether college students can get unemployment benefits is that it depends. Every state sets its own requirements for unemployment. Generally, you can qualify if:

  • You're unemployed through no fault of your own; you didn't quit or get fired. 
  • You meet work and wage requirements for a set time period, usually the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters prior to filing your unemployment claim.
  • You meet any additional guidelines your state imposes. 

Additional requirements can include being available to work and actively looking for work. In California, for example, people drawing unemployment benefits must provide weekly certification that they're available for work.

Earning income from work in different states during the base period can affect your eligibility and where you should file an unemployment claim. If this is the case for you, make sure to mention it when you contact your local unemployment office.

Current College Students

Generally speaking, you could qualify for unemployment benefits as a college student if you meet the guidelines set by your state. But it's important to note how states handle current college enrollment. 

In California, currently enrolled students could still be eligible for unemployment as long as they’re physically able to work and available, actively seeking, and willing to accept a job. They may also qualify for California Training Benefits, which would waive these requirements while the student attends a qualified program.

In Virginia, currently enrolled students can be eligible for unemployment benefits as long as school doesn't conflict with their ability to take a daytime job. So you could get benefits if you're taking night or weekend classes or engaging in self-directed learning, but not if you're attending classes during daytime business hours. Your local unemployment office can offer more details on when you can or can't claim unemployment if you're still in school. 

Recent College Grads

If you recently graduated, you may be eligible for employment, provided you meet the general requirements outlined above as well as any other rules for filing a claim in your state. However, if you didn't have a job at all while enrolled in school, and you have no work history or earnings that your state can use for base period calculations, you may be ineligible. 

Alternatives to Unemployment Benefits

If you don't qualify for unemployment while in school or after graduation, or your benefits have run out, you may have other options to close the financial gap. For instance, you may be able to enter a vocational training program that pays while you're in school, so you earn an income while learning new skills. 

If that's not an option, managing your finances while you're out of work can mean going back to basics. Reviewing your spending and trimming down your budget can help. Moving back home with your parents could be a temporary solution for saving money. You could also consider selling things you don't need to raise extra cash while you look for a job. 

Deferring Student Loan Payments During Unemployment

If you're in school and lose your job, then it's likely you don't have to worry about making student loan payments. That's because if you have federal loans, you're eligible for in-school deferment. You have to be enrolled at least half-time to qualify for this benefit.

If you've fallen below half-time enrollment or you've already graduated, you may be able to qualify for an unemployment deferment through the Department of Education by filling out a specific form. Keep in mind, however, that depending on the type of loans you have, interest may continue to accrue on your balances. 

Whether you can defer private student loans depends on your lender and the options it offers for managing payments while unemployed.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you know if you qualify for unemployment?

The easiest way to know if you qualify for unemployment is to call your local unemployment office. Your state may also list the requirements to qualify for unemployment online so you can see at a glance how likely you are to be eligible. The Department of Labor maintains a list of website links and contact numbers for each state's unemployment office.

How do you file for unemployment?

If you're ready to file for unemployment, you may be able to do so online through your state's benefits website, over the phone, or in person. You'll need to provide personal information, including your name, Social Security number, date of birth, address, and contact details. You'll also need to share information about your previous employment, including dates you worked for different employers, estimated earnings, and your reason for separating from your job.

How much does unemployment pay?

Unemployment benefits vary from state to state, and the maximum amount you qualify for depends on where you file a claim. For example, in California, the maximum benefit amount is $450 per week, but in Alaska, it's $370 per week. These amounts don't reflect additional benefit amounts that were temporarily allotted to unemployment recipients under the CARES Act.

How long does unemployment last?

The length of time you're able to claim unemployment varies from state to state. In most states, the maximum allowed is 26 weeks, but some states limit unemployment to shorter lengths of time. Extended unemployment benefits may be available during periods of high unemployment.