How Financial Aid for Single Mothers Works

For some single parents, going back to school can be practically impossible without financial assistance.
College Image Gallery For some single parents, going back to school can be practically impossible without financial assistance. See more college pictures.
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It's only four years to a better shot at job satisfaction and financial stability. Just four years, and maybe $40,000, to improve your quality of life.

That's $40,000 minimum, actually. College tuition can run a couple hundred thousand at a top private university. For most people, that price is a bit of a stretch. For most "nontraditional" students over the age of 25 who have to support themselves, that price, along with four years of studying instead of working, is even more of a stretch.


For single parents, who are supporting a child, too, going back to school can be practically impossible. For single parents on welfare, who can lose their eligibility if they obtain school loans that are counted as income under certain regulations, it's often impossible.

While some legislators and organizations are trying to get these types of regulations changed, both the government and private foundations have instituted other ways for single mothers (and fathers) to get a higher education without spending the rest of their lives paying it off: grants and scholarships directed specifically at solo, underprivileged parents.

These financial aid opportunities fit in with the overall system for helping people get a higher education. There are tons of grants, scholarships and loans out there targeted at every type of student, from math prodigies to minorities to duck callers [source: EducationGrant]. Single moms can find a fairly wide range of targeted financial-aid sources if they do some research. The Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation Scholarship is for "mature women." The American Association of University Women offers money to moms returning to school after raising a family. The federal Pell Grant gives single moms free tuition assistance to attend any college in the country.

Student loans are always an option, but paying those back can be a prohibitive hardship for a single parent. In this article, we'll look at some of the major sources of "free" college financing for single moms, including both government and private scholarships and grants. We'll find out who's eligible and how a single parent can begin the application process.

Federal financing is a great place to begin, since a fairly recent development makes it a bit easier for single moms to get public assistance toward a college education.



Government Financial Aid

The first step toward obtaining a Pell Grant is to fill out your FAFSA.
The first step toward obtaining a Pell Grant is to fill out your FAFSA.
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When President Obama took office in 2009, one of his goals was to get single parents back in school. The main weapon on this front is the federal Pell Grant.

The administration proposed several changes at the end of January 2010 that make it easier for single moms to go to college and get a degree. The Pell Grant isn't just for single moms. It's a need-based grant that's open to everybody, giving free money (it doesn't have to be paid back) to students who meet certain income requirements. A new focus, though, gives enhanced assistance to single moms. It also increases the maximum amount of aid from $5,350 to $5,500, with a potential future increase to $6,900 over the next 10 years [source: EducationGrant].


The actual amount of aid is calculated based on demonstrated need, and single parenthood is highly weighted, so a single mom or dad can potentially qualify for a larger grant than an applicant without dependents.

The first step in applying for a Pell Grant, or any type of federal aid, is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), located at this site or at any college financial-aid office. A single mom would submit her income and number of children in order to find out how much money she qualifies for.

Another public option is the state grant. Most, if not all, states offer free financial aid to low-income students, and some have grants that specifically target single moms. Single parents living in Minnesota, Arkansas, Iowa, Florida, Kansas, Illinois and Wisconsin can all get special help paying for a state school. See the U.S. Department of Education Web site for a complete list of state financial aid agencies.

Ultimately, the best way to start a search for funding is to go to a specific college or university and apply for financial aid. That will include filling out the FAFSA for public money, but it will also search for programs offered directly through the school and funded through private endowments.

That's another potentially lucrative financial aid source: private scholarships and grants.


Private Aid

A wealth of private scholarships exist for women who are single parents, minorities, of nontraditional age, or who are pursuing an under-represented field.
A wealth of private scholarships exist for women who are single parents, minorities, of nontraditional age, or who are pursuing an under-represented field.
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A single mom with a low income is pretty much guaranteed some financial assistance through the Pell Grant. With private grants, she can get even more help with the costs of schooling. It takes a bit more effort to find these sources, but there are a number of organizations and Web sites dedicated to helping applicants search through the bog of financial aid (beware the scammers, though).

Private foundations target all sorts of students. They're typically need-based as well as achievement-oriented, meaning students must exhibit and/or maintain a certain GPA or other measure of work quality. Many are aimed at women, and several scholarships offer help to single moms specifically. In other cases, a single mom may meet another criterion that makes her eligible for a private grant. A sampling of these opportunities includes:


For single parents:

For women of a certain age:

For victims of partner abuse:

  • Women's Independence Scholarship Program
  • R.O.S.E. Fund Scholarship for Women Survivors of Abuse (only schools in the Northeast)

For minorities:

For women studying under-represented fields:

This is only a taste of what's out there, and of course the eligibility requirements and specifics of each opportunity can be fairly in-depth. In some cases, the applications are arduous. But it can be worth it to receive thousands of dollars toward a degree -- and possibly a better quality of life.

For more information on financial aid and related topics, look over the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • College Scholarships and Grants for Single Mothers.
  • Grant Opportunities for Women. College
  • Lewis, Nancy. Obama Budget Proposes Major Changes for Youth Programs. Youth Today. Feb. 3, 2010.
  • Obama's Higher Ed Plans a Mixed Bag. Feb. 5, 2010.
  • Obama Offers Incentives for Single Moms to Go Back to College. EmailWire. Dec. 14, 2009.
  • Scholarships for Single Mothers.
  • Single Mom Scholarships.
  • Sommer, Carrie. "Government Grants Help Single Moms Return to College." Online Student Loans Guide. May 9, 2009.