If you're a single mom looking to attain a college degree, you may feel you’re in a Catch-22: A degree may get you a better-paying job, but you already need a good-paying job to pay for it and afford child care at the same time.
Luckily, with more nontraditional students heading back to school, there are more options than ever before in terms of flexibility, including online colleges (see: Cheapest Online Colleges) that allow students to learn from home. And financial aid options, such as scholarships and grants, are open to all types of students.
"Financial aid is generally based on financial need or merit," says Reyna Gobel, author of CliffsNotes Graduation Debt: How to Manage Student Loans and Live Your Life. "Neither one of these things is age-dependent."
There are many college grants specifically earmarked for hardworking single moms who need some financial assistance to pursue their educational endeavors. You just have to know where to find them and how to apply. For starters, you should be aware that while grants are traditionally defined as need-based and scholarships are usually given for academic merit, athletic ability, or talent, there are also need-based scholarships. As such, don’t be confused if you see the terms grant and scholarship being used interchangeably. The key is to find awards for which you’ll qualify that can help you fund your education.
That being said, here's a checklist to get you started on paying for college as a single mother.
Start with Uncle Sam
First, see if you qualify for income-based federal financial aid programs like the Pell Grant. "Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is the first step for anyone needing financial help," Gobel says. The Pell Grant awards qualifying students up to $5,730 for the 2014-15 academic year, and it is based entirely on financial need, cost of attendance and being enrolled as a part-time or full-time student in an undergraduate degree program at an accredited institution. For some students with even greater need, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) could award up to an additional $4,000, with funds being distributed directly to the college's financial aid office. Check if your choice schools participate in this program, as not all do.
Look to the Schools
"Single moms should also contact women's centers and offices for nontraditional students on campus," says Gobel. For example, students who are interested in attending Minnesota State University, Mankato, could apply for the Mary Jane Young Scholarship for Re-Entry Women. See if your schools of interest offer similar need-based scholarships, grants for single mothers, or other categories for which you are a fit.
Check with your State
In many cases, state-offered grants for single mothers might be available via state university systems. A good starting point is to check out your state's higher education agency. You can access a list of them via the U.S. Department of Education's website.
A Few Good Grants
Remember as you begin your search that there are college grants out there for single moms just like you. Here a few grants and need-based scholarship programs to start your search:
- The Soroptimist Women's Opportunity Awards provides over $1.5 million in education grants to more than 1,000 women each year.
- Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Support Award aims to make a college degree affordable for low-income women who are supporting their families. Awards of up to $5,000 are offered.
- The Adult Students in Scholastic Transition (ASIST) award is for women who are economically challenged. Each year, 13 scholarships are given with awards ranging from $2,000 to $10,000.
- Linda Lael Miller Scholarships for Women provides $1,000 awards to women who are trying to improve their lives through education.
- The AAUW Development Grant is specifically for women who are preparing to advance their careers or reenter the workforce, and want to pursue an advanced degree.
Once you locate potential college grants, take note of their deadlines and qualifications. For example, most grants will only be available to students who are enrolled or accepted into an accredited program of study. For students seeking online degree programs, it's important to be sure that you choose a program that is accredited — not only so you can qualify for financial aid, but also so that you know your degree will have value.
Other college grant programs may only apply to students who attend school full-time, live in a certain state or meet a specific income requirement. In short, every grant program is unique, so be sure to read the requirements of each grant carefully to see if you meet the criteria to apply.
Beyond online college grants for single mothers, there are other types of financial aid that could help offset the cost of education, including scholarships, tax credits and subsidized student loans. With some research (see: How to Get Grants for College) and by reaching out to financial aid administrators, you just may find that your college dreams are within reach.
1. “AAUW,” Career Development Grants, http://www.aauw.org/what-we-do/educational-funding-and-awards/career-development-grants/
2. “EWI,” Asist Scholarships, http://ewiconnect.com/?page_id=3949
3. "Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women," Soroptimist, http://www.soroptimist.org/awards/live-your-dream-awards.html
4. “Linda Lael Miller,” Linda’s Scholarship, http://www.lindalaelmiller.com/lindas-scholarship/
5. "Mary Jane Young Scholarship for Re-Entry Women," Minnesota State University, Mankato, http://www.mnsu.edu/wcenter/scholarships/
6. "Organizations by Type: State Grant Agency," U.S. Department of Education, http://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/Programs/EROD/org_list.cfm?category_cd=SGT
7. “Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation,” Education Support Awards Application, http://patsyminkfoundation.org/edsupport.html
8. Reyna Gobel, Interviewed by the author, April 25, 2014