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.
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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.
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.
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.
Sponsoring Organization: J.A.M.E.S., Incorporated
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.
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.
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.
Sponsoring Organization: Tompkins Cortland Community College Foundation
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sponsoring Organization: Custody X Change
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.
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.
Sponsoring Organization: The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
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.
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.
Sponsoring Organization: Kentucky Colonels
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sponsoring Organization: Women’s Independence Scholarship Program
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.
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
…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:
- Federal Student Aid – Federal Work Study Provides an excellent overview of how the federal work study programs works.
- Home Room – Eight Things You Should Know About Federal Work Study Home Room is the official blog of the US Department of Education, with this particular post explaining the federal work study program.
- NerdWallet – What Is Work Study? A Student’s Guide Provides the basics of work study programs, including how to apply and how it affects future financial aid awards.
- Single Mother Guide – Federal Work Study In addition to discussing the federal work study program, how it works and how to apply, this website also discusses non-federal work study programs.
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.
- Single Parents Alliance of America (SPAOA) SPAOA is a leading organization that provides information single parents may find useful, including networking with other parents.
- Single Parent Alliance & Resource Center (SPARC) SPARC’s mission is to supporting single parents in any way possible, including holding special events and sponsoring a variety of programs.
Help & Resources for Single Parents in School
The following resources are focused on helping college students who are also single parents.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Services
Almost all colleges and universities will have counseling services in place to help students with mental health issues. Many schools allow students to obtain several sessions or an initial consultation for free, such as University of Houston’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
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.
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.
A leading online source for information and assistance to promote the mental and emotional health of college students.
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.
National Center for State Courts (NCSC) – Marriage/Divorce/Custody/Support
The NCSC offers an excellent list of informational resources for general and state specific information on child custody laws.
FindLaw – Child Support
A leading online resource for legal information relating to all aspects of child support issues single parents are likely to face.
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.