Guide to Financial Aid for Students From Single-Parent Homes

 April 8, 2021
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financial aid for single-parent households

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Many students use a mix of financial aid and student loans to pay for college. If you come from a single-parent household, you might also find scholarships for children of single parents that can help cover your tuition bill.

To learn how to get the grants, scholarships and loans to pay for college as a student from a single-parent home, let’s divide the topic into two:

How to get financial aid and scholarships for children of single parents

The federal government is a major source of financial aid, but you might also look to your state, private organizations or your college for grants, loans and scholarships.

Here are a few ways for single-parent households to get financial aid.

1. Fill out the FAFSA
2. Apply for scholarships and grants
3. Consider student loans

1. Fill out the FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your first step to getting federal grants and loans. You’ll need your — and your parent’s — personal and tax information.

After submitting the FAFSA, you’ll learn your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This amount reveals how much your family is expected to pay toward your college education. Note that EFC will soon be renamed Student Aid Index.

The lower your EFC, the more you’ll be eligible to receive in federal grants, scholarships and loans. For some borrowers, it can be as little as $0.

To get the most federal financial aid as the child of a single-parent household, you’ll need a low EFC. Outside of federal aid, you can also apply to independent grants and scholarships for children of single parents.

2. Apply for scholarships and grants

Aside from federal grants and scholarships, you can also apply for private ones. has a list of scholarships for children from single-parent homes.

Here are just a few of examples of scholarships for children of single parents:

  • Vincent Bennett, Jr. Memorial Scholarship: This scholarship awards $20,000 over four years to an incoming freshman whose parent was killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty as a firefighter or law enforcement officer. The deadline to apply is May 31.
  • The Family Scholarship Fund: This scholarship from the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) Foundation is designated for students who lost a parent in a workplace incident. Awards range from $1,000 to $10,000, and the deadline to apply is Jan. 1.
  • Life Lessons Scholarship Program: This award goes to incoming freshmen and current college students who had a parent pass away. Award amounts vary, but can be as high as $20,000. Applications are accepted between Feb. 1 and March 1.

There are also scholarships out there for children whose parents are divorced or incarcerated. Every scholarship organization sets its own criteria, so make sure you read all the requirements before applying. Use scholarship search tools to find additional awards or speak with your school counselor about local opportunities.

You can also check for state- and institution-specific aid that isn’t covered in your FAFSA. Contact your school’s financial aid office to see what they offer to students from single-parent homes.

3. Consider student loans

Even if your EFC is $0, you might not get all your college funding through grants and scholarships. When the money runs out, you might have to apply for loans.

There are a few types of federal loans administered by the government. Some require you to complete a FAFSA to be eligible.

Federal loans tend to have the lowest interest rates and friendliest repayment terms. After graduation, you have the opportunity to qualify for income-driven repayment plans, deferment and forbearance and some student loan forgiveness options.

After grants, scholarships and federal loans, you might need extra cash to cover college costs. Anyone can apply for private student loans, which come from banks, credit unions and online lenders.

If you have a preferred bank, look into what rates and terms it can give you as an existing customer. Keep credit unions as an option, too, and compare credit union student loans before you sign any agreement.

You also have the opportunity to get a private student loan through online lenders.

Tips for finding the best private student loan for you

If you’ve exhausted your other payment options and are starting to compare online private student loan lenders, there are a few things to keep in mind for finding the best offer for you. Look for lenders that offer flexible repayment schedules, low fees and low interest rates.

Many online lenders let you check your rates online without any impact on your credit. By entering a few basic pieces of information, you can instantly see if you prequalify for a private student loan.

If you don’t have great credit, you might need a cosigner to help you take out a private student loan. Not only can a cosigner help you get a loan, they might also help get you one with a lower interest rate than if you were to apply alone.

Final thoughts: Get all the financial aid you can

Reviewing all the necessary documents and requirements for financial aid qualifications can be overwhelming and confusing, especially as tax forms and income are involved.

Completing your FAFSA and applying for more aid specifically for your family situation can help you get as much money as you can before turning to student loans.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.

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