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Shani Brinkley is a Jersey girl who lives in Abu Dhabi who went to school as a single parent. She loves teaching children and adults about healthy, holistic living. She and Anaje share their health and wellness stories online to inspire others.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 80 percent of all single parent households are headed by single mothers. Consequently, it is women who often face the brunt of the financial hardships associated with being a single parent. A good education is one of the ways to improve financial prospects. For many, this may mean getting a college degree. Since most single parents are women, there is a special emphasis on helping single moms graduate from college. This guide offers resources and programs aimed toward single parents, with a focus on single moms in particular.
The Importance of College for Single Moms
It's largely undisputed that obtaining a college degree is beneficial for single moms, but the following section lists some of the specific reasons and benefits.
Increased Earning Potential
In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded that the median paycheck (received every two weeks) of someone with a bachelor's degree was $928 greater than an individual who only had a high school diploma. For individuals between the ages of 22 and 27, the annual median salary of someone with a bachelor's degree was $43,000 while someone holding a high school diploma had a median annual income of $25,500. For anyone living in poverty or otherwise struggling to make ends meet, an extra $17,500 each year is tremendous and can vastly improve the well-being of any single parent family.
Not only does getting a college degree improve an individual's earnings, it also reduces the chances they will be unemployed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for all individuals was 4 percent. But for those with a high school diploma it was 5.2 percent. If an individual had an associate's degree, their unemployment rate drops to 3.6 percent, and if they have a bachelor's degree, it's only 2.7 percent.
Improved Health of Children of Single Moms
There is a direct relationship between poverty and the health of a child. Children who come from poorer families are more likely to suffer from health problems than children who come from wealthier families. In a Canadian study published in Pediatrics & Child Health, the infant mortality rate in the lowest income areas was 66 percent higher than in the highest income areas. The study also noticed that children from low-income families or neighborhoods had a higher chance of suffering from asthma, obesity, physical injuries and mental health problems.
Improved Career Opportunities
The better and higher education an individual obtains, the better the opportunities for professional advancement. Generally, higher paying jobs require skills, training and education that fewer people have. There are many jobs with certain minimum educational requirements, such as a bachelor's degree (or higher). Without this degree, certain jobs will be out of reach, no matter how well suited an individual with only a high school diploma is for that job.
Single Moms with Degrees Save Government Money and Resources
There is a famous saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. But teach him how to fish, and he'll never go hungry again.” This saying applies to single parents who are relying on public assistance to support themselves and their family. Approximately 40 percent of homes led by single moms are below the poverty line. However, in a study by the Howard Samuels State Management & Policy Center at CUNY, 100 percent of individuals who obtained a four-year college degree and 81 percent of individuals who received a two-year college degree no longer had to rely on public assistance.
Single Mom Resource Spotlight
Luckily, many groups understand the hard work and sacrifices single mothers must make to succeed in college. The following are specific types of groups that offer assistance to single moms who are also college students, as well as others similarly situated. Single parents are likely to find similar resources in their own schools and communities.
Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education (CARE)
CARE is a California state program that provides counseling , school supplies, textbooks, transportation, financial and child care assistance to low-income single parent students who have children under the age of 14.
Federal Student Aid
Federal Student Aid is the largest provider of financial aid to vocational, college and graduate students. Primary forms of financial aid include work study, loans and grants.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
The federal TANF program provides block grants to states, which run their own assistance programs for needy families. The exact benefits will differ based on how the state decides to use the federal grant money, but it often includes financial assistance to low income families to pay for education-related expenses.
Most states have at least one community college that offers on-campus childcare for its students. In fact, 100 percent of the community colleges in Rhode Island, Nevada and Delaware have on-campus childcare options. In at least 18 states, 50 percent of their community colleges offer on-campus childcare. Additionally, many four-year colleges and universities also have special programs and resources for their single parent students. Be sure to check your own local schools to see what resources they offer. The chances are good there's something out there especially for single parent students.
Designed for students with a family, such as single parents, Berea College's Ecovillage is one of the school's non-traditional housing options that put a special emphasis on accommodating students with families while promoting environmentally friendly living practices.
College of Saint Mary
College of Saint Mary's Mothers Living & Learning program supports college students by offering providing on-campus housing for the single mother and her child aged two months to 10 years, special support networks and programs, enrollment in the Single Parent Success program and access to an on-campus child development center.
This school has a special program called Keys to Degrees: Educating Two Generations Together which provides child-care resources, year-round on-campus housing, special internship opportunities and tailored support services.
Westmoreland County Community College
Westmoreland County Community College offers the Campus Children's Center which provides on-campus childcare and preschool programs to students who have children aged three to 10 years of age.
The Single Parent Scholar Program provides on-campus housing year-round for single parent students who have children aged 20 months to 12 years.
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
The AAUW is dedicated to promoting education and learning for women and girls.
Child Care Aware
An online resource for parents looking for information about child care. One of its most useful resources is the Local Child Care Resource and Referral search engine, which allows users to find their Local Child Care Resource and Referral agency center to assist in finding local child care options.
Enlightened Helping Hand Foundation (EHHF)
The EHHF is a non-profit organization that works to help disadvantaged single parent families. The foundation provides a wide range of resources, including special workshops and after-school programs for children, all designed to provide parents with the opportunity to work or school.
Works to provide financial assistance to single parent families for a variety of challenges, including education expenses.
Helping Hands for Single Moms
A non-profit organization focused on helping single moms who are working toward a college degree.
Parents Without Partners
A non-profit organization whose sole mission is to advance and protect the interests of single parents and their children.
An international women's organization devoted to improving the lives of women through a variety of methods, including promoting access to a college education.
Single Parent Alliance & Resource Center (SPARC)
SPARC provides special programs and other resources to help single parents with a wide variety of challenges, including emotional and financial support.
Single & Low Income Mom Scholarships, Grants & Financial Help
Ready to take the next step? These scholarships, grants and other financial assistance programs can provide a boost in the right direction.
- Sponsoring Organization American Association of University Women
- Amount Between $18,000 to $30,000
- Requirements Women who already hold a bachelor's degree (or international equivalent) who are not US citizens or permanent residents and are working on a graduate degree or research.
- Deadline December 1
- Sponsoring Organization Custody X Change
- Amount $500 or $1,000
- Requirements Single parents with primary physical custody of a minor child must be a full-time student at an accredited institution and maintain at least a 3.0 GPA during their first year.
- Deadline Varies
- Sponsoring Organization Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation
- Amount Up to $5,000
- Requirements Low income women who are pursuing a degree or vocational training.
- Deadline August 1
- Sponsoring Organization Emerge
- Amount Between $2,000 to $5,000
- Requirements Female Georgia residents who faced a delayed or interrupted education with special emphasis given to individuals who have given back to their community.
- Deadline April 21
- Sponsoring Organization J.A.M.E.S., Incorporated
- Amount Varies
- Requirements Pregnant teens and teen mothers who will be attending an accredited college or university of their choice.
- Deadline May
- Sponsoring Organization Soroptimist
- Amount Between $3,000 to $10,000
- Requirements Women who demonstrate financial need, do not already have a graduate degree and are also the primary financial provider for their household.
- Deadline November 15
- Sponsoring Organization Minnesota State University Mankato
- Amount $1,000
- Requirements Single parent students who have custody of at least one child or students who delayed their college education so that they could raise their family and did so with inadequate income.
- Deadline March 3
- Sponsoring Organization The State of Oregon
- Amount Varies
- Requirements An Oregon resident with a child or other legal dependent under the age of 12 (or if older than 12, if special need), maintains sufficient academic progress and is enrolled or accepted into an undergraduate post-secondary institution in Oregon.
- Deadline May 31
- Sponsoring Organization Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers
- Amount $1,000
- Requirements Single mothers who are enrolled (or will be enrolled) in an undergraduate or law program.
- Deadline December 5
- Sponsoring Organization Capture the Dream
- Amount $1,000
- Requirements Applicants must be single parents from any of the nine counties in the Greater San Francisco Bay area who are also in financial need and attending an accredited college or university.
- Deadline June 30
- Sponsoring Organization The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting
- Amount Up to $16,000
- Requirements Women who are the primary source of financial support for their families and are about to enter a bachelor's degree in accounting program.
- Deadline April 30
- Sponsoring Organization Jeannette Rankin Foundation
- Amount Varies
- Requirements Low income women aged 35 or older who are pursuing a vocational, associate or bachelor's degree.
- Deadline March 17
Other Places to Find Money for School
Besides scholarships, grants and loans, there are a few other sources to help pay for school.
Employer education assistance
Some employers, as a part of their benefits packages, offer to pay for employees to go back to school. The exact nature of these benefits will depend on the employer offering them. Some employers may require the employees to maintain a certain GPA and graduate within a specific period of time. In most cases, up to about $5,250 in tuition reimbursement will be tax free. One thing to keep in mind is that many employers offering this benefit will expect (or require) their employee to continue working for them for a certain period once the education is complete.
This is a recent phenomenon where people in need ask large groups of potential donors to donate small amounts of money individually to help pay for major projects or expenses such as a college degree. There are a variety of crowdfunding sites available to choose from, but students interested in crowdfunding should use the one that will charge the least amount of fees. Tip: Ask for donations early during the college career, rather than after graduation. Donors are more likely to give money to prospective or current students since the need is most urgent then.
Online rewards sites
There are a variety of online websites that will pay the user to do certain things online, such as watch videos, take surveys and play games. Depending on the website, a person can even earn money passively, i.e. without doing anything besides leaving the computer running while doing something else, like studying, eating or watching television. While these sites aren't likely to pay for tuition for a semester, by learning the tricks of the trade, a student can usually earn enough to pay for books or school fees for the school year.
Weigh all offers
Students who have been accepted to multiple schools and offered grant or scholarship money directly from the schools may be able to increase the amount of the financial award being offered. If there's a school that's not offering as much scholarship money as another, an accepted student can contact the school and explain the situation. Sometimes the first choice school will not only match the other school's award, but might actually exceed it.
How to Apply for Scholarships
The exact scholarship application process will depend on the scholarship. However, the following steps provide a good framework that can be used when applying for most college scholarships.
Step 1: Begin working on the FAFSA
As a single parent, there's a good chance you'll qualify for need-based financial aid, including scholarships. Even though the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is technically used for applying for need-based federal student aid, it's also required by many states and schools when applying for their financial aid, even merit-based aid, such as grants and scholarships. Because the FAFSA is used for applying for so many types of financial aid, even if you intend to only apply for scholarships as your primary source of financial aid, completing the FAFSA is a good idea.
Step 2: Identify potential schools
As a single parent, you might be leaning toward a school that doesn't require a cross-country move. You're likely to be eligible for an in-state tuition rate in your home state, as well as certain scholarships and financial aid options available only to residents of your state. There are also numerous school-specific scholarships. To figure out the true cost of attendance for a specific school, you'll need to consider which scholarships a particular school offers. A school that might seem otherwise unaffordable may be your cheapest option if it offers scholarships that you may be eligible for, but that your other schools of interest do not offer.
Step 3: Start researching scholarships
Now that you have an idea of which schools you may attend, you can start figuring out which scholarships might be best for you. One of the first things to do is figure out what the eligibility requirements are. For some scholarships, it won't matter where you go to school or where you live, but for others, there are clear residence or school eligibility requirements.
To increase your chances of getting a scholarship, you'll need to find ways to stand out. The fact that you're a single parent making the sacrifices and putting forth the effort to go to college is unique already, but if you can stand out more – such as being a member of a minority group or certain religion, being a veteran or focusing on a particular area of study – you can apply for scholarships that many other students will not be eligible to get.
Finally, take careful note of the application deadline and give yourself plenty of time to gather all the necessary application materials. It might even be helpful to set up milestones to have application portions completed by a certain time so you can stay on schedule and not feel rushed at the last minute.
Step 4: Gather necessary information and documents needed for scholarship applications
Many scholarships will require transcripts, letters of recommendation or other documents that aren't usually easily accessible or available. For example, it might take a few days for you to receive an official transcript or a few weeks to receive a letter of recommendation you asked someone to write for you. Speaking of letters of recommendation, make sure you give your recommender plenty of time to complete the letter. They will appreciate the advance notice.
Step 5: Start writing scholarship application essays
Not all scholarships require essays, but many do. Even though your application deadline might be months away, start writing the essay now. The essay is often one of the most important parts of the application that you can control. By now, your high school transcript is already complete and set in stone. Your personal history has already happened and cannot be changed. But your essay has yet to be crafted, so it's one of the few parts of your application that is a “clean slate,” giving you the freedom and opportunity to present yourself in the best light possible.
Once your essay is complete, edit and tweak it. Even the best writers don't produce their best work in the first draft. It often takes several revisions and rewrites to produce a top-notch essay, and if you put in this extra effort and time, it will show. A good way to conduct an effective edit is to set the essay aside for a few days, or even weeks if time allows, then read it again. With the passing of time, it will almost be like reading the essay for the first time. This fresh look will help you find problems you couldn't find otherwise. Finally, if you could have someone else read it over and provide some feedback, it will usually provide greater insight.
Step 6: Submit your application on time
This is an easy step as long as you are organized and don't wait until the last minute to get things done. All the effort you put into writing and revising a wonderful essay and gathering the perfect letters of recommendation might be for naught if your scholarship application was postmarked late and therefore rejected before even being opened.
Free Scholarship Search Sites
A leading resource for individuals looking to attend college. It offers an extensive free scholarship directory so users can find scholarships based on certain criteria, including sex.
Although more likely to be known for standardized college entrance exams like the SAT, CollegeBoard has a special section called BigFuture. This has an extensive list of resources for paying for college, including a scholarship search.
Provides a wide range of services and products to college students, but has a nice directory of college scholarships that are free to apply.
A popular college preparation and information resource which includes a scholarship search.
Has a searchable database of college scholarships, including those tailored for single mothers and women.
Offers one of the most popular free scholarship searches with scholarships organized into dozens of categories.
From the Expert
Shani Brinkley is a Jersey girl who lives in Abu Dhabi. She loves teaching children and adults about healthy, holistic living. She and Anaje share their health and wellness stories online to inspire others.
Tell us about your journey through college as a single parent.
Once I learned I was having a baby as a freshman in college, I decided that my daughter would see me graduate. As a single college mom, I was still figuring out who I was and what college path I'd take. Soon after my daughter was born, my mother passed. Her passing ignited a stronger desire within me to finish school.
There were lots of late, late night papers, after hours study sessions, running to the bathroom between classes to pump my milk and sleepless, restless nights. As I juggled motherhood, a full course load and a part-time job; I decided that my daughter was my reason to graduate, not my excuse not to. She was my motivation. I enlisted friends and family to be my consortium of babysitters so I always had a backup.
I always wanted to live in Italy, so when I was accepted into Rutgers Study Abroad in Florence, I happily moved, 13 month old Anaje in tow. There was no doubt she'd come with me, I just focused on how to make it possible. Luckily, a girlfriend of mine joined us and agreed to watch Anaje while I was in class. This experience deeply impacted not only Anaje and I, but also other students in the program. We were living proof that anyone can accomplish her dreams if she sets her mind on it.
As my sophomore year became my junior and eventually senior year, I learned to ask for help. Help with babysitting, parenting advice, hot meals, whatever I needed. To be successful, I needed support and asking was the 1st step. One of my fondest memories was walking across the stage and seeing my then 3 year in the audience waving and smiling at me. All the sacrifice was worth planting that seed and creating that moment for both of us.
What resources were most advantageous to you as a single mom in college?
The Library was one of the best resources I used in college. It has free books, quiet spaces and meeting rooms for study sessions. I usually found the book I needed and was able to check it out, saving me lots of money in books.
Declaring my major in a field of study that I enjoyed and felt supported. Within this major, I cultivated relationships with the professors who became my mentors and other students who helped me with note taking and study sessions.
Creating my village. A famous African proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It took a village to help me raise my daughter and get through college. My village was compiled of family and friends who would watch Anaje, give me some Mommy time and a shoulder to lean on. My village allowed me the freedom to pour back into myself. College and single motherhood can both be super stressful separately, so doing both together, made it necessary for me to take a few moments to rejuvenate.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently as a single parent in college?
I should have re-applied for financial aid. When I entered college, my family didn't qualify for aid, but after I had my daughter, I may have qualified.
I would have enjoyed the experience of being a mother of a growing baby girl more. Most days, I was rushing around trying to get my long list of tasks completed and just being still was a luxury. The time goes by so quickly and you can't get it back.
I would have applied to live in family housing on campus. After I changed universities, I commuted to school. Living on campus may have provided another community for us.
What advice would you give to single parents who want to earn their college degree?
Know that you can do anything you set your mind on. There are no limitations. Our children should see us as their role models first. My daughter is pursuing her college degree and has said I'm her role model. I can say with confidence, If I can do it, you can do it. Our children are our motivators, not our excuses. We have to show them what success looks like. That our dreams and ambitions are valuable; we are important.
Some advice would be:
- Get a support system and a backup support system. Having support creates mental space for you to succeed.
- Figure out your daily and weekly schedule and share it with your support team
- The sacrifices you make now will pay off later.
There's no doubt that because I earned my degrees, I'm able to teach abroad. My daughter's worldview is impacted by her exposure to different cultures, people and countries.
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