Earning a degree requires a lot of careful financial planning and time management; for single parents attending college, that juggling act becomes even more complicated. However, there are many resources tailored to single-parent students — including several financial aid opportunities — that can make it easier to get a college education while balancing at-home responsibilities.

Most college students use a mix of federal, state and private aid to finance their degree. Single-parent students have additional resources and supporting programs that “traditional” students don’t have access to.

Fill out the FAFSA

Federal and state financial aid is available to students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some parents may qualify for need-based aid, though there are also aid opportunities for students who don’t have significant financial need.

As a single parent returning to school, you may demonstrate enough financial need to qualify for a Pell Grant, which does not need to be repaid. You can also learn which federal loans are available by filling out the FAFSA. Federal loans have more borrower protections than private loans, like loan forgiveness or income-based repayment.

Students can see their total financial aid eligibility through the financial aid package awarded by their school. Options may include:

Find supporting organizations

Several organizations help single-parent students pay for college, and some support parents more holistically by providing resources like access to childcare or affordable housing. Here are a few organizations that exist solely to support student parents:

  • Single Moms Planet: Offering programs around things like financial literacy and child enrichment, Single Moms Planet aims to help single mothers fill the financial gaps that may otherwise prevent them from attending college.
  • Child Care Access Means Parents In School (CCAMPIS): Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, CCAMPIS provides schools with the funds necessary to implement on-campus child care for low-income students.

Apply for scholarships

Scholarships are a great way to cut the cost of college without any strings attached. Scholarship search engines can save you time by filtering for awards specifically geared toward single-parent students. Applying for scholarships specific to your situation or interests increases your likelihood of receiving funds since the applicant pool will be smaller.

Here are a couple of awards to consider applying for:

  • Live Your Dream Award: Sponsored by Soroptimist, this award is available to women who display financial need and are enrolled in eligible academic programs. Candidates can apply from Aug. 1 through Nov. 15, and the finalist may receive up to $16,000 to assist with academic-related expenses.
  • Helping Hands for Single Moms: Helping Hands for Single Moms is an organization dedicated to assisting single mothers in college, with a scholarship program available for those residing in Dallas and Phoenix. The organization works with the circumstances and needs of each scholarship winner to ensure that their specific academic and financial needs are best supported.
  • Custody X Change Giving Fund: Custody X Change offers three yearly scholarships worth either $500 or $1,000 to single parents. The application deadlines are Dec. 31, April 30 and Aug. 31 for the spring, summer and fall scholarships, respectively. Applicants must send in a 400- to 500-word essay describing how an education will improve their family.

Consider private student loans

You can also look into student loans through private lenders. Private student loans can help you borrow the full cost of your education. Payment terms for private loans tend to run from five to 20 years. Meanwhile, federal loans have a borrowing limit for undergraduates, and standard terms are 10 years. Another benefit of private loans is that you can refinance your loans after graduation for a more favorable contract or better rates.

However, private loans do not have the same borrower protections as federal loans. While federal loans may offer loan forgiveness for public service, income-driven repayment or deferment/forbearance, private loans often do not have these benefits. Make sure to understand the contract before signing up for private student loans.

Private lenders also tend to have more strict requirements to apply so you can prove that you’ll repay the loan, such as needing a good credit score or co-signer.

Use student discounts

You might be surprised to learn which college student discounts are around. Many companies offer student discounts if you show your college ID. Check out programs like the Groupon Select Student Program or even streaming service discounts. You can check out our list of the top 20 student discounts.

When in doubt, ask if a business offers student discounts. Have your student ID along in case they do. It’s not uncommon to find discounts of 10 to 15 percent off.

Look into alternative college options

Alternative options like community college, technical certification programs or online schooling are great ways to cut tuition costs. Average yearly tuition at community colleges is a little over $7,000 less than at four-year in-state institutions, and certification programs may be even cheaper.

Community colleges and online college programs can be an ideal option for those with children, as the courses may provide flexibility that you likely wouldn’t receive at an in-person or larger four-year school — especially if child care isn’t an option.

Tips for single-parent college student success

It may take a few weeks to settle into new routines; here’s how single-parent students can academically succeed while juggling multiple responsibilities at work and at home.

Stick to an organized schedule

An organized schedule that details everything from wake-up to bath time will serve you and your children, especially during transitional periods. Creating a constant routine that both you and your family can rely on will help affirm the new short-term lifestyle that comes with earning a degree.

If you’re overwhelmed between work, school drop-off lines and classes, look for local groups of single parents going to school or join a broader social media group. These are great resources for advice and tips on how other students in similar situations have managed a chaotic schedule.

Research affordable childcare

Most states offer childcare subsidies that use federal and state funds to provide childcare services to eligible families. To take advantage of subsidized care, families must display financial need.

If you don’t qualify financially for subsidized child care, consider asking close friends and family to watch your children while you attend school. It may help if you take evening or weekend classes. You can also research schools that have dedicated childcare centers.

Prepare for possible obstacles

The best way to prepare for earning a degree is to anticipate the potential obstacles that you may encounter. Consider the following circumstances before starting school to establish backup plans:

  • Do your professors allow students to bring children into the classroom in an emergency?
  • Is there anyone who would be able to pick up a child from school should they get sick while you’re in class?
  • If daycare or school is canceled for the day due to a holiday or emergency, who can watch your children?
  • When exam week rolls around, do your professors offer single parents any help or exemptions? For example, would you be able to take the exam online or at home?

Before applying to a college, call the student support office to see what resources are available for nontraditional students. If you attend a school that does offer these resources, you’ll likely have fewer obstacles to overcome should something unexpectedly happen.

The bottom line

Many single parents can attend college while balancing all of their responsibilities, but it will take perseverance and dedication. While there are plenty of resources available to help single parents earn a college degree, it’s imperative that parents also take advantage of the resources available to them organically.

Staying connected with students in similar life situations, taking advantage of federal student loans and need-based financial aid, applying for specific scholarships and planning for future obstacles are necessary for academic success as a single parent.