If you have a child who’s years from leaving the nest, you have time to save up for their college costs.
But paying for your own college tuition might feel more last-minute — or even impossible.
Fortunately, there are ways to finance your path back to campus that don’t require a long-term savings plan.
How to pay for college as a single mom
Whether you’re returning to school or stepping onto campus for the first time, paying for college will start with the FAFSA. As a student with dependents, you’ll meet the Department of Education’s (DOE) definition of an independent student. That means your FAFSA results could be based on your income, not your own parents’ tax returns.
Your status as an independent undergraduate could help you qualify for need-based aid from the federal government, your state, and your school.
In fact, you’re 50 percent more likely than independent students who don’t have kids to score an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of $0, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Your EFC is how much the FAFSA determines you can pay out of pocket for college. The lower your EFC, the greater your chance at securing aid like a Federal Pell Grant, state-based grants, and Direct Subsidized Loans.
3 ways to pay for college as a single mom
If you’re already learning how to deal with debt as a single parent, you might be hesitant to consider student loans. Racking up as many grants and scholarships as possible might lessen your need to rely on loans.
Here are three ways that explain how to pay for college as a single mom.
1. Government grants for single mothers
Like scholarships, government grants for single mothers don’t need to be repaid. Unlike scholarships, grants are almost always based on financial need, not merit.
Having a low income and another mouth to feed might qualify you for a need-based grant that’s available to anyone and everyone, not just parents. Don’t overlook those opportunities as you hone in on single-mother grants for college.
That said, there are grant opportunities that are specific to single moms even if they aren’t specific to college expenses. The publicly funded Oregon Student Child Care Grant, for example, helps resident students pay for child care.
Find your state’s appropriate education-related agency via the DOE’s handy map.
Beyond grants available in your state, consider federal grants that are available to all students who can demonstrate financial need. They include:
- Pell Grants: As much as $5,920 for the 2017-2018 award year
- Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants: Between $100 and $4,000 per year and awarded by your school
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants: Up to $4,000 per year for aspiring teachers
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants: Equal in value to Pell Grants but restricted to children of fallen veterans
2. Scholarship opportunities for single moms
A big difference between single-mother grants for college and scholarships is that the latter can be found in more places, online and off. In fact, you might find scholarships serving single parents from any of the following organizations:
- Your school
- Your state government
- Federal agencies
- Charitable foundations
- Professional associations
If you’re already enrolled in college, or at least know where you’ll be attending, contact your school’s financial aid office. Explain your situation as a single mom, and your campus representative should point you in the right direction. They might even tell you about a school scholarship for single moms, such as the one offered at Minnesota State University.
Although your college can give you a headstart, you should take charge of your scholarship search. Scholarship search tools like Scholarships.com host long lists of opportunities specific to single moms.
Scholarship search engines won’t be 100 percent exhaustive in their results. So check in with your school or state education agency to find privately run organizations like Capture the Dream (California), Emerge (Georgia), and the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund. Also be on the lookout for national organizations like Soroptimist.
3. Student loans for single moms
Student loans for single moms might be the least desirable of your three options to pay for college, but they could be an option you end up needing. For one, you can’t use a federal loan to cover a non-academic expense like your son or daughter’s child care.
But a loan just might mean the difference between going to class and staying at home.
You’re likely better off prioritizing federal loans over private loans. With Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, you’ll probably score a lower interest rate as well as more favorable repayment options.
There are some cases when you might prioritize private loans over federal loans. If you have an extremely creditworthy cosigner, for example, a private lender might beat the federal government’s rates even if it can’t offer the same level of repayment protection.
Unfortunately, there are no reputable lenders offering discounts or perks in the form of single-mom loans.
Be wary of “single parent loans” you might see advertised by personal loan companies. Personal loans often come with higher interest rates and shorter terms, making them harder to repay than student loans.
During your search for student loans for single moms, you might also see the federal government’s Parent PLUS Loan and private lenders’ “parent loan” options. To clarify, these loans are for the parents of college students, not for parents paying for their own educations.
Although private lenders might not cater directly to you as a single mom, they might have a loan product that fits your needs in another way. Sallie Mae, for example, offers loans for career training at non-degree-granting schools. If you’re a single mom attending a trade school, ensure you compare that type of loan with a traditional private student loan.
Find the funding you need for college
If you’ve been wondering about how to pay for college, now you know that gift aid can help you get there. And fortunately, you can find opportunities that are designed for single moms, such as single-mother grants for college.
Before resorting to student loans, don’t forget to apply for grants and scholarships. You might apply for first-generation student scholarships, for example, if you’re the first in your family to seek a degree.
When applying for gift aid, find ways you can differentiate yourself on applications. After all, you’re more than a single mom. You’re a future college student, too.
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