Scholarship advisor and author Shay Spivey has seen other single parents struggle to work full time, pay for daycare, and take night classes. But in her own experience, she’s refused to give up on being a student just because of her responsibilities as a mom.
She faced a balancing act that isn’t uncommon. About 2 million women, or 60 percent of all in-school moms, are single parents, according to a 2017 Institute for Women’s Policy Research report.
Spivey found many scholarships for moms that allowed her to afford college without racking up student debt. In fact, she earned over $100,000 in gift aid over a five-year period to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Indiana University.
Where to find single mom scholarships
When Spivey returned to school more than a decade after leaving it, she assumed that most scholarship money was reserved for high school seniors. She was pleasantly surprised to find that there are scholarships for all kinds of students, including heads of households.
Here are four sources of scholarships for moms that can help alleviate the burden of student loan debt.
1. Your school
Spivey, who now teaches workshops on finding scholarships, said she’s always surprised to learn that most people think their school’s financial aid office and scholarship office are one in the same.
In her case, visiting the scholarship office helped her get 75 percent of a year’s cost of attendance paid for by the Indiana University Foundation’s Jesse H. and Beulah Chanley Cox Scholars Program.
If you’re a single mother, make sure to explain your situation to your school’s scholarship office. The representatives there can point you in the direction of some scholarships that could help.
2. Your state
Wherever you’re a legal resident — whether that’s in your school’s state — your local government might have a program for single moms.
If you have trouble finding your state’s agency, consult the list of state-based financial aid programs on FinancialAidFinder.com.
3. Women’s organizations
Like scholarships for minorities, religions, and academic or professional fields, there are organizations offering scholarships strictly for women. Some of these groups narrow their focus even further to single mom scholarships.
National organizations like these have chapters by state, which makes networks among donors much easier. Consider the following organizations:
4. Scholarship search engines
- Scholarship.com’s scholarships for single parents
- Scholarship.com’s scholarships for moms
- Fastweb’s scholarships for single parents
- ScholarshipsOnline.org’s scholarships and grants for women
But don’t rely solely on websites like these. They might leave out longstanding scholarships — such as from the Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation and the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund.
5 tips for getting scholarships for moms
Spivey has written several books on finding scholarships, but her advice doesn’t always need to be sophisticated. She gives it straight to single parents.
1. Complete your research in advance
Too often, Spivey said, adults go back to school on more of a whim than a plan. They enroll not knowing how they’ll pay for their first year of school, let alone the rest of it.
Spivey said she spent one year reading about scholarships for moms and women before returning to campus. Hogging library books, she would put in 30 minutes to an hour each night researching free money for college while her kids did their homework.
“Treat the process like a part-time job,” said Spivey, who more recently spent time over three-plus years helping her daughter earn a full-ride scholarship to a four-year school.
2. Learn from your applications
Spivey submitted 67 scholarship applications her first year of applying. She learned which types of scholarships to avoid (like contests that are only after your personal information). She also picked up on prioritizing single mom scholarships that were seeking students like her.
You can save time on application paperwork by only going after the scholarships for which you are a more realistic fit.
3. Share your story in essay prompts
Spivey, like many single moms, had a powerful story to tell. She wanted to better her family’s future by furthering her education. That’s the story she told to scholarship committees.
“Don’t be afraid of the essay,” she said. “It will be the easiest one you’ll ever have to write because it’s about you. No research needed.”
She also recommended being organized with each application, even adapting existing essays for new applications. Spivey said she would regularly take an essay she wrote for one scholarship and retrofit it to match the prompt of another.
4. Stay in touch and ask for more help
When Spivey earned a scholarship, she often tried to turn it into another scholarship from the same foundation. She did this by sharing updates on her academic progress at the end of every semester. The more scholarship committees learned about her, the more they wanted to help.
“The scholarships, several of them came with a great networking system, mentoring programs, staff at schools who were in invested in my success,” she said. “Someone I could call if I hit an obstacle. That was more valuable than the money.”
One foundation that supported Spivey as an undergraduate even created a graduate scholarship when she asked for support to chase her master’s degree.
When you earn scholarships, keeping in touch might not always result in more money. But good can come from creating long-lasting connections with your benefactors. Those connections might even lead to a job.
5. Put scholarship money toward your family
In her first year of applying for scholarships, Spivey secured $18,500 worth of them, exceeding her cost of attendance.
At no risk of scholarship displacement, she was able to direct some of her single mom scholarship money to costs outside tuition and books. Some of them helped pay for childcare, for example.
When applying for scholarships, don’t overlook opportunities that could help you pay for family-related costs. If a scholarship or grant helps you care for your kids, you will be able to focus more on your education.
Start applying for scholarships today
Anyone can grasp why a single mother might feel alone in financing her degree. But now you know that there are accessible sources of scholarships. Hopefully, you also have a head start on how to win them.
If you still have to take out student loans, remember that there are other solutions if you’re a single parent with debt.
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