Resources, Scholarships and Financial Aid for Single Moms & Dads in School

A college degree is now a minimum requirement for many positions and is often a prerequisite to advance within a given profession. Single parents may face an especially hard road toward getting their degree. That’s why we are providing resources and advice for single parents, in the hopes of helping them improve their chances of obtaining a college degree.

Challenges of Single Parenting & Attending College

When it comes to college, there are challenges for every student – but the challenges of single parents are unique. Learn more about the challenges faced by students raising children, and learn how to meet those challenges and learn where to get help.

  • Paying for College


    Finding a way to pay for college tuition and related expenses is probably the biggest challenge faced by all students, even those who are not parents. But for single parents, the challenge is bigger. In addition to paying for school, the single parent must also financially support one or more children and will usually not have financial support from their own parents. But even with this extra challenge, paying for college is by no means insurmountable, with a vast array of grants, scholarships and other financial aid options available.
  • Housing


    One of the most common housing options is the college dormitory. Raising a child in a typical dorm room is simply not practical or even safe. However, most schools will provide alternative housing options for students who are parents. There are also a wide variety of off-campus housing options. And with many degrees and programs offered online, finding suitable student housing is no longer an issue for many.
  • Cost of Living


    Being able to pay for everyday things, such as food, clothing, rent and basic bills is another financial challenge for single parent students. Unlike many college students, there are no parents to help pay for these costs; in this situation, the student is the parent. Because many scholarship or financial aid award package focus on things like tuition and the cost of books, these cost of living expenses are commonly overlooked when calculating the cost of going to college. Luckily, many organizations and schools recognize this and have special programs in place to help students who are slipping through the cracks, especially single parents.
  • Emotional Support


    From social expectations to academic pressures, many students find college life is tough. As a result, their academic performance suffers and they encounter mental and emotional stress. Single parents who attend college are no different, although the stresses can be different. For example, a single parent may not have to worry about getting a date for the fraternity-sorority semi-formal, but they will have to worry about finding a childcare facility to watch their child during class or work. However, most schools have mental health and student support services equipped to help all students, whether they have a child or not.
  • Childcare


    This is probably the biggest unique challenge faced by single parents who decide to go to college. Some colleges and universities don’t have childcare facilities on campus for students. And with the high cost of child care, many single parents simply cannot afford to pay for a private day care. Fortunately, many schools are stepping up with on-campus childcare facilities at a reasonable cost to help students attend class without worry about who will take care of their child.

Scholarships, Grants & Financial Aid for Single Moms & Dads

Regardless of the marital or parental status of the student, paying for college is often the most difficult challenge of attending. In response to this struggle, the federal government, along with states, schools and private organizations, offer a plethora of financial aid possibilities. Many of these financial awards are based on financial need and/or merit, such as academic history or community involvement. However, there are some based on the student’s situation, such as being a minority or single parent. The following list of scholarships and grants is particularly focused on characteristics that single parents in school are likely to have.

  • Moms

    The Education Support Award

    Sponsoring Organization: Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation

    Deadline: August 1

    Description: Every year, five $5,000 awards are given to low-income mothers with minor children who are enrolled in an accredited college program. The award may be used for tuition or living expenses.

    Emerge Scholarships

    Sponsoring Organization: Emerge

    Deadline: April 21

    Description: Applicants must be from the state of Georgia. Special emphasis is placed on applicants who are non-traditional and face hurdles to obtaining a college education. Scholarship amounts vary each year, but typically range from $2,000 to $5,000.

    J.A.M.E.S., Inc. Scholarship

    Sponsoring Organization: J.A.M.E.S., Incorporated

    Deadline: May

    Description: The J.A.M.E.S., Inc. Scholarship is tailored to help single teen mothers who plan to enter college or another institution of higher learning.

    Live Your Dream Awards

    Sponsoring Organization: Soroptimist

    Deadline: November 15

    Description: Over 1,200 women are eligible to receive awards of between $3,000 and $10,000. Applicant must be a woman who faces unique challenges and is the primary financial providers for themselves and their dependents, which can include children.

    Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers’ Annual Single Mother Scholarship

    Sponsoring Organization: Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers

    Deadline: December 5

    Description: Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers recognizes the importance education can play in improving the financial situation of single mothers. This scholarship that awards one $1,000 scholarships to a single mother who is working toward an undergraduate degree and one $1,000 scholarship to a single mother who is working toward a law degree.

  • Dads

    Park Foundation

    Sponsoring Organization: Tompkins Cortland Community College Foundation

    Deadline: Varies

    Description: Two $2,000 awards are provided to a single father (as well as a single mother or Vietnam veteran) who is a full-time student at Tompkins Cortland Community College. Awards will be based on financial need.

    Scholarships4Dads

    Sponsoring Organization: FreeCollegeScholarships, LLC

    Deadline: June 30

    Description: Every year, one $10,000 scholarship is awarded, based on a random drawing, to a dad or expectant dad who is enrolled or will soon be enrolled in a college or university.

  • Single Parents in General

    Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund

    Sponsoring Organization: Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund

    Deadline: Varies depending on applicant’s county

    Description: Single parents of Arkansas who are also low-income are eligible for this scholarship award; the details vary by county.

    Bruce and Marjorie Sundlun Scholarship

    Sponsoring Organization: Rhode Island Foundation

    Deadline: May 12

    Description: A $1,500 scholarship is given to a single parent who is also a low-income Rhode Island state resident. Preference is given to single parents who have been incarcerated or are receiving (or have received) state aid.

    The Custody Exchange Giving Program

    Sponsoring Organization: Custody X Change

    Deadline: Varies

    Description: Single parents with primary custody of at least one minor child who are enrolled full-time at an accredited college or university are eligible for this scholarship. It consists of three awards of $1,000, $500 and $1,000 for the spring, summer and fall terms.

    Ford Opportunity Scholarship Program

    Sponsoring Organization:The Ford Family Foundation

    Deadline: March 1

    Description: Single parent residents of Oregon and Siskiyou County, California are eligible for this scholarship. It is based on need and will pay up to 90% of the student’s unmet financial need, with a maximum amount of $25,000.

    Heroes Fund for Single Parents Scholarship

    Sponsoring Organization: The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

    Deadline: Varies

    Description: Five scholarship awards that vary between $250 and $1,500 will be given to single parent students with dependent children who have an unmet financial need.

    IOMOTC Scholarship

    Sponsoring Organization: Illinois Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs, Inc.

    Deadline: September 1

    Description: Five $100 to $300 scholarships are distributed to mothers or fathers of multiple birth children who demonstrate financial need and are Illinois state residents.

    The Kentucky Colonels Better Life Scholarship

    Sponsoring Organization: Kentucky Colonels

    Deadline: Varies

    Description: In alliance with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, the Kentucky Colonels offers a scholarship for single working parents who have children under 12 years of age and are attending a Kentucky Community and Technical College System school.

    Non-Traditional Student Scholarship

    Sponsoring Organization: American Legion Auxiliary

    Deadline: March 1

    Description: Recognizing the necessity of getting the proper training and education, the American Legion Auxiliary offers one $2,000 scholarship each year to a non-traditional post-secondary student in each American Legion Auxiliary geographic region. In order to be eligible, applicants must be a member of the American Legion, Auxiliary or Sons of the American Legion.

    The Single Parent Scholarship

    Sponsoring Organization: Capture the Dream

    Deadline: June 30

    Description: $1,000 scholarship awards are given to Bay Area single parents who are low-income and attend an accredited two or four-year academic institution. The purpose of this scholarship is to help students pay for the rising cost of college tuition.

  • Minority Single Parents

    Castle Foundation Nursing Endowed Scholarship

    Sponsoring Organization: Westminster College

    Deadline: Late November

    Description: Utah residents who are nursing students at Westminster College, come from a low-income family and are a minority are eligible for one of the two $2,500 scholarships.

    Moss Adams Foundation Scholarship

    Sponsoring Organization: The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting

    Deadline: April 30

    Description: This $1,000 annual scholarship is for minority women pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting, or women who are returning to school to complete their bachelor’s degree or their fifth year in a graduate program.

  • Grants

    Women’s Independence Scholarship

    Sponsoring Organization: Women’s Independence Scholarship Program

    Deadline: None

    Description: Scholarships of varying amounts are awarded to women who are survivors of intimate partner abuse and are seeking post-secondary school education as a way of obtaining self-sufficiency.

    Women’s Scholarship Fund

    Sponsoring Organization: Jeannette Rankin Foundation

    Deadline: March 17

    Description: The Women’s Scholarship Fund award amount varies. It is intended for women over the age of 35 who are of low income and are working toward a college degree from an accredited institution.


  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that in 2016, workers with a bachelor’s degree had a median weekly income of $1,156 and an unemployment rate of 2.7%. Compare these numbers with individuals who only have a high school diploma; they see an average of $692 per weekly paycheck and a 5.2% unemployment rate.
  • According to 2014 U.S. Census data, 51.9 percent of custodial parents have less than four years of college, and 38.1 percent have less than a high school diploma. Forty-five percent of single parent households were below the poverty level in 2013, and 78 percent of single student parent students are considered low income. Because many single parents are the sole breadwinners for their families, getting a college degree could mean the difference between remaining below the poverty level or gaining entry into the middle class.
  • Being a parent increases the likelihood that a college student will drop out before completing his or her degree. According to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, about 69 percent of childless students earn their degree within six years, but for single parents, the number is lower, with about 47 percent completing their degree within that same time period.

Sources: BLS.gov; Census.gov; iwpr.org

Financial Aid First Stop for All Students

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the standard form that almost all students seeking financial aid must complete. While the FAFSA is needed to obtain federal student aid, such as loans and grants, many schools and states require students to complete the FAFSA to apply for state and school-specific student aid.

The precise amount and type of financial aid available at the state and school levels varies, but a student’s status as a parent does not adversely affect eligibility for federal financial aid. At the federal level, single parent students are eligible for the following types of aid:

  • Loans Loans must be repaid, but certain loans enjoy special benefits, such as deferred interest payments. The two types of major federal loan programs are William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan and the Federal Perkins Loan Program.
  • Grants Grants do not need to be repaid, except in special circumstances. Common federal grants include the Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant.
  • Work Study Work study refers to a program where students work while in school, but the school administers the program. Often, a student will have a job in an area related to their course of study. The job can be either on or off-campus.

Private organizations also offer financial aid, usually in the form of merit-based scholarships or need-based grants. Both these types of financial aid do not have to be repaid like loans do. Even though a private organization offers the financial aid, applicants may still be required to complete the FAFSA. This is especially true for grants. Even with scholarships, a prospective student may need to complete the FAFSA so the organization can ensure that the scholarship they will award will effectively supplement any need-based financial aid the student will receive from state or federal sources.

Work Study for Single Parents

Work study…

…is a type of financial aid where a student works part-time while also attending school. Most jobs will be on-campus and as close to the student’s area of study as possible. For example, students who are studying library sciences may get a work study job working at a library.

…will usually limit students to 20 hours of work per week and pay at least federal minimum wage. The exact amount will depend on when a student applies for work study (using the FAFSA), financial need and how much money the school is able to provide. Also, even if a student is eligible to work additional hours or for a higher wage, the total pay must not exceed the overall work study financial aid award. If academic performance suffers, the school may limit the total number of work study-hours provided.

…is different than a “regular” part-time job because part of the work study wage is subsidized, usually by the federal government and/or the school.

…awards are typically need-based and available to both part- and full-time students and both undergraduate and graduate students. The money earned through work study can then be used by the student to pay for tuition, cost of living or any other expenses they may have.

Students interested in work study are strongly encouraged to apply as soon as possible, since the work study is awarded on a first-come-first-served basis. For more information about work study programs, check out the following resources:

Advocacy, Help, & Resources for Single Parent Students

Because college is challenging for most students, a wide array of resources is available. However, many of these resources are not tailored for single parent students or the issues many single parents face in college. But this doesn’t mean single parent college students have no forms of support. A variety of resources are available to them.

Single Parent Advocacy Organizations

Single parenting is difficult. Many organizations have sprung up to provide assistance to single parents who are struggling. There are even a few organizations that recognize how important it is for single parents to get an education and therefore focus exclusively on helping those students.

  • Extended Family A non-profit organization that helps single parent families by providing financial assistance, including education-related expenses.
  • Helping Hands for Single Moms Focuses on helping single moms who are working toward a college degree, but need financial assistance.
  • Parents Without Partners An international non-profit organization made up of single parent members who can collaborate on single parenting techniques and promote personal growth and friendship.

Help & Resources for Single Parents in School

The following resources are focused on helping college students who are also single parents.


  • Food & Living Expenses


    School or Community

    • Emergency Loans

      Often a student will drop out of college because of an unexpected event, such as the loss of a job, illness or unexpected expense. Even with a full ride, an unexpected bill of a few hundred dollars can result in a college student being forced to withdraw from college. Several schools offer emergency loans to their students to cope with these unpleasant financial surprises, such as UC Berkeley’s Short-Term Emergency Loans.

    • On Campus Food Pantry

      Schools are aware that some students will skip meals or eat less to help make ends meet while in college. As a result, on-campus food pantries have been set up, such as Montclair’s State University’s Red Hawk Pantry.

    Online

    • Phillips Charitable Organizations

      Provides financial assistance to a variety of groups, including single parents who are students.

    • PantryNet.org

      An online database of food pantries. Users can search for local food pantries by providing a ZIP code and travel radius.


  • Housing


    School or Community

    • Special Residential Programs

      Living in a dorm or on-campus student apartment may not be safe or practical for a single parent student, especially if the child is very young. A few schools have special residential programs in place specifically designed for single parents. One such example is the College of Saint Mary’s Mothers Living & Learning residential program with housing options only available to single mothers and their children.

    Online

    • Housing Choice Vouchers

      A federal program that allows low-income families to obtain affordable housing from private sources, such as apartments and single-family homes.

    • National Low Income Housing Coalition

      Offers a unique database of hundreds of city and state-funded rental housing programs that can be searched by state.


  • Childcare


    School or Community

    • On-campus childcare programs

      Many schools understand the importance of finding a safe, convenient and affordable place for a single parent student to drop off a child before heading to class. The State University of New York operates 53 such daycare centers at its state colleges and community college campuses.

    Online

    • Child Care Development Fund

      A federal program that provides financial assistance to low-income families who need child care services so they can go to work or school.

    • Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program

      This federal grant program provides grants to institutions of higher education to provide on-campus child care to qualified low-income parents. A list of schools who have won these grants is available on the website.


  • Mental Health


    School or Community

    Online

    • Mental Health America

      Works to help promote the mental health of all Americans. Provides advice and resources for particular groups, including parents and college students.

    • Mental Health.gov

      An online resource to provide information for a variety of groups of individuals, such as parents, as well as resources on getting help for mental health issues.

    • ULifeline

      A leading online source for information and assistance to promote the mental and emotional health of college students.


  • Legal


    School or Community

    • Student Legal Services

      Colleges and universities have recognized that the legal issues of their students sometimes interfere with learning. In response, several schools, such as Rutgers University, offer free basic legal assistance, such as initial consultation, pre-litigation services and answering common legal questions on topics such as housing, immigration, child custody and child supports issues.

    Online


Expert Advice for College Student Single Parents

Single parents often look to the experiences of others to help them know what to expect when they decide to pursue their college degree. It took 15 years, but Krishna Powell finally received her college degree as a single parent. Today she is the successful CEO of HR 4 Your Small Biz, LLC, and a leading subject matter expert on managing a multi-generational workforce and restoring sanity back to the workplace.

It took a lot of determination for you to pursue a degree over 15 years.

If I had to summarize I would say life happened.  After I graduated high school, I went straight to college but couldn’t afford to go full time.  So, I worked part time and eventually fell in love, getting pregnant with my first daughter during my sophomore year. I tried to continue school but found it way too expensive.

Next thing I knew 5 years went by before I decided to return to school and attend the junior college.  It took me 3 years to finish junior college.  Then I enrolled back into the university, during which time I again fell in love, married and found myself pregnant with my second child during my senior year. My then-husband was not supportive my school or career aspirations, so after I had my daughter I never returned to school, even though I was only one class shy of fulfilling my degree requirements.

Next thing I know it was 2014.  I graduated high school in 1990.  It had been 14 years I still had no degree and definitely not the career I wanted.  But all that changed with one phone call.  

What resources helped you the most while you were in college?

A strong family and friends support unit is best when you are going to college. But if you don’t have one you can create one with coworkers and staff at your university.  I wish I would have known this and tapped into my university for support much sooner.

The university I attended, Rider University, had a scholarship program specifically towards women ages 25 and older who were returning to school. They reached out to me and encouraged me to return back to school after an administrator realized I stopped attending one class shy of finishing my degree.  When she called, I was in tears and told her there was no way I could return to school.  I was in the midst of a nasty divorce from my first husband and I was so tired from working a full-time job and my mom duties.

The administrator kept calling me, checking on me and encouraging me.  She said, “Krishna you have just one more class. You can do this. You have come too far not to get your degree. We are here to help you.”

All the staff helped me. The university staff became my biggest supporters and cheerleaders. Matter of fact I earned a B+ in my last class.

What advice would you like to offer to single parents who are trying to earn their degree?

My advice is not to give up! I know it is hard and there may be times you cry yourself to sleep because of the stress and worry but you can and will do it.  Just take one class at a time.  And so what if it takes you 5, 10 or 15 years.  Getting it shows your children what hard work looks like and it does pay off.  My career and salary jumped substantially when I earned my degree.  It opened a lot of doors for me.  

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Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.


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