College presents unique hurdles for students raising children, especially on their own. Time, money, and energy can be in short supply for single parents. In addition to parenthood and schoolwork, these students often maintain full- or part-time jobs.
Millions of students successfully balance studying in college and raising children at the same time. In fact, some 2.1 million students in the U.S. -- a full 11% of the entire undergraduate population -- are single parents, according to a report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research. According to that same report, most of those single parents are women of color.
Students with children are 10 times more likely to hold debt after graduation than students without children
Considering the hardships single parents face, these students are also less likely to finish college. Research from 2015 shows that 54% of married women (and 40% in all) had a degree. However, only 31% of single moms had completed a degree.
Luckily, many colleges recognize the greater challenges confronting single parents, including a higher level of student loan debt compared to traditional students. Students with children are 10 times more likely to hold debt after graduation than students without children. Fortunately, many resources and opportunities exist to help single parents through school. For instance, single parents can access college grants for single parents, single-parent college scholarships, and parent tax credits like those listed below.
Finding The Right School as a Single Parent
Getting a Degree Online
Advancements in online education have opened doors for many nontraditional students who would otherwise not be able to go to school. Online students can create their own schedules and often save more money than traditional students. As of 2015, more than six million learners, or 29.7% of all students, took at least one online class, according to Digital Learning Compass. This number has increased significantly from 25.9% in 2012 and 9.6% in 2002.
Earning a bachelor's or a master's degree online allows single parents to continue to raise their children and work full or part time. Online programs usually follow an asynchronous format, meaning students can log in and watch lectures whenever best suits their schedules. By studying from home, distance learners also save money on expenses such as childcare, transportation, and on-campus housing. Furthermore, online programs with a practicum or internship component usually allow students to work at a site near their homes.
Other Tips for Single Parents Going to School
Getting your degree while balancing a busy home and work life requires time management, preparation, and organization. To help you succeed in your academic career, consider these three tips for single parents in college.
Tip 1: Be Organized
Much like motherhood and fatherhood, the key to a successful academic career is to be organized and set up a routine. Start by creating a weekly study schedule. On average, devote three hours a week per credit hour. If you do not have a separate workspace in your home, set up an area where you can study without interruption.
Tip 2: Ask For Help
When your child was first born, you likely reached out to everyone you knew for support and help. Treat your education the same way. Tell your friends and family about your college plans, and let other people help you with childcare. Also, make friends in your online classes, especially with other parents. You may choose to study together, swap advice, or form a babysitting co-op.
Tip 3: Make You Time
It is easy to burn out when you have a full family life and hectic school schedule. Make sure to reward yourself. Did you get an "A" on that paper? Treat yourself to something nice. Remember to reserve time to take a walk or watch a movie on Netflix. Maintaining balance in your life while in school is the key to success.
How to Pay for a Degree as a Single Parent
It is no secret that earning a college degree requires significant investment. Luckily, you can finance your education through resources such as scholarships, federal loans, and grants. For more information about financial aid resources, click here.
To begin, you should first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The application process takes some time, but students can fill out the entire form online. Students must fill out the application in order to receive federal loans, grants, and work-study. Low-income single parents may also receive free tuition assistance through the Pell Grant. Federal funds usually contribute the most assistance for students' college education.
Every year, you must complete a new FAFSA. The application opens on Oct. 1 and the final deadline closes June 30. Your FAFSA form covers the spring, summer, and fall semesters. Many, but not all, schools require you to fill out a FAFSA by a particular date. You may choose to not fill out a FAFSA and instead seek alternate funding. You can apply for private loans, but be aware that federal loans generally offer better repayment plans and lower interest rates.
The application opens on Oct. 1 and the final deadline closes June 30
To be eligible for federal financial aid, students must maintain a "C" average, earn a high school diploma or GED, have a Social Security number, and hold U.S. citizenship. Non-citizens may receive aid under certain conditions. Furthermore, students must enroll in an accredited college and not default on another federal student loan.
Before you begin your application, make sure to have your driver's license number, Social Security number, bank account information, and federal tax records. If you are a dependent, you will also need your beneficiary's personal and financial information. Single parents must report their marital status on the application.
Types of Financial Aid Available to Single Parents
More Ways for Single Parents to Save
Employer Tuition Assistance
Did you know that you can possibly receive money for college from your job? You can potentially receive up to $5,250 tax-free dollars every year in employer tuition assistance. Additional tuition assistance is subject to taxes. Employers usually set minimum requirements for tuition-sponsored programs. For example, some employers maintain GPA and course requirements. Furthermore, employers often require a post-degree commitment. In this case, you must agree to continue working at the company for a set period of time after graduation. Failure to follow through with your commitments could mean you have to repay the money. Payment schedules also vary by company. Some may reimburse you for your tuition, while others may pay your college directly.
These employer-sponsored programs are usually operated by your company's human resources department. Consult the HR department or ask your boss to see if your company has a tuition assistance program. Even if your employer does not offer tuition reimbursement, the HR department may offer scholarships or grants to employees and their dependents.
Compared to traditional students, single parents face greater burdens to earn their college degree, especially those who are working full time. On top of the normal college expenses -- tuition, books, and fees -- single parents also have to budget for childcare. In many states, childcare costs more than college tuition, according to a recent study by Child Care Aware of America. In the Northeast, parents with two children paid $24,053 in 2017 for child care and $10,508 for college. Fortunately, financial aid can help single parents pay for childcare while they are in college.
Federal programs such as the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start, and the Child Care and Development Fund offer vouchers and subsidized child care to low-income single parents students. Read the fine print and carefully review eligibility requirements, including work and degree restrictions. Certain programs also set age restrictions for the dependent children.
The Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program, or CCAMPIS, funds on-campus childcare services for low-income students. This U.S. Department of Education program began in 1998. Single parents who qualify for Pell Grants may apply for CCAMPIS to receive subsidized childcare while they attend college. If you are interested in this program, check with your college administration to see if your school offers subsidized childcare on campus.
Before college classes even begin, students face the difficult task of paying for college. For single-parent students, this problem is compounded by the challenge of raising their kids on one salary. In addition to tuition and books, single-parent students also must pay for their normal household expenses and childcare.
Fortunately, federal tax breaks and deductions assist low-income single moms and dads studying in college. With these tax breaks, single-parent students can put more money towards their education and household expenses. All parents already qualify for the child tax credit. This tax credit benefits parents with kids 19 years or younger or dependent college students 24 years or younger. Parents can indefinitely receive a credit for permanently disabled children, regardless of age. Single parents making less than $75,000 can receive a $1,000 tax credit for each dependent child.
On top of that, several tax breaks exist specifically for single parents. For instance, the child and dependent care credit provides breaks for single parents who pay for childcare while they work or go to school. Parents who pay for childcare for a child 13 years or younger are eligible. The credit covers 20%-35% of the total costs of care. The tax break you receive depends on your income. For more information about tax credits and deductions, consult your tax preparer or accountant.
Scholarships for Single Parents Going to College
As earlier discussed, scholarships are the best form of financial aid you can receive as a student. However, many scholarships require a lengthy application process and several supporting documents. Many applications require a short essay describing your qualifications, interests, and life circumstances. Several scholarships provide funding to single parents in college, including those listed below.