How Financial Aid for Single Mothers Works

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.