Can College Students Receive Unemployment Benefits?

The traditional image of the unemployed doesn’t usually include college students. However, many college students are losing jobs and many unemployed Americans are going back to school with their sudden increase in spare time. Many unemployment claimants wonder if being a college student while unemployed will affect benefits. Although the eligibility requirements can vary by state, many college students can still receive unemployment benefits.

Unemployment Benefits and Students

Although unemployment benefit regulations vary by state, students are generally not barred from participating in the program. Instead, college students must meet the same eligibility requirements as any other claimant, including earning a sufficient amount of insured wages in the base period and being available to perform a thorough job search.

Financial Eligibility

When your state is trying to verify your financial eligibility, it’s referring to the minimum insured wages you must have earned during your base period. Your base period is the first four of the last five full calendar quarters before you filed your claim. The threshold can vary by state, but it must come from insured work, or work where your employer was required to pay taxes on your income. One problem students have is that any work completed by a student for the institution they’re enrolled in doesn’t count. So work-study or financial aid jobs don’t get you to the minimum your state requires.

Availability Eligibility

Another qualification some college students may have trouble meeting is the one that specifies that you must be available to work the hours of the jobs you’re qualified to perform. You also must be available to look for new employment during each work week, although the number of hours varies by state. If your college class schedule conflicts with your ability to meet these requirements, you may have trouble collecting unemployment benefits.


In some states, if you are currently seeking a degree in a certain discipline or learning a relevant trade, you’re exempt from searching for new employment. For example, New York does this for certain trade programs that exceed 12 hours per week and improve your chance of finding employment by the end of the program. The type of program can vary by state, and you often must fill out a separate application to get the exemption.

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