If you’re a single parent, going back to school can help you get into lucrative career. Earning a college degree opens up fantastic new job opportunities. A better paying job can help improve your situation and secure your and your family’s future. But returning to school may seem like an impossible dream if you’re caring for a child.
The good news is that looking after a child and going back to the classroom is possible. In fact, many single-parent moms and dads successfully combine college, work, and childcare. Of course, it’s not without its challenges. But with some planning, preparation, and the right financial aid, you can make returning to school a success.
This article is a guide for anyone raising kids on their own and thinking of going back to school. You’ll find practical suggestions and handy tips on how to get your degree if you’re a single parent.
Top Reasons Why Single Parents Go Back to School
There are many reasons why non-traditional students, such as single parents, return to school. Usually, at the top of the list is earning a degree to get a better job or start a new career. However, a 2016 study highlighted more reasons why parents go in for post-secondary education. For example, reasons include to be an inspiration to children, improve lifestyle, and to become socially responsible.
Another reason why single parents opt to restart their education is affordability. Many colleges offer online degree courses. Remote learning offers flexibility for single parents while being cheaper than on-campus or classroom learning.
The Challenges for Single Parents Going Back to School
Single parents who are also students face unique challenges. Knowing what these challenges are is the first step in making your college education a success. When you see what you could be up against, you can prepare yourself to rise to the challenges.
A study on single parents in college face found three main challenges. These are:
- Time constraints — Single parents need time to look after their children’s needs, work and do homework. Typically, single parents spend less time on homework than non-parental students.
- Financial considerations — Student single parents are often in low-paid jobs. But going to college means paying for additional childcare and tuition fees.
- Inflexible work or parenting arrangements — Parenting obligations mean that planning college classes, raising children, and working is difficult to juggle if there is no flexibility.
How Single Parents Can Meet the Challenges of Returning to School
Let’s look at ways to overcome the significant challenges you face if you’re a single parent going back to school.
1. Paying for college education
Earning a degree doesn’t come cheap. And funding a college education is an added expense. Finding ways to pay for a degree is vital if you want to get a well-paying job after graduating.
One of the most important things you can do is to stick to a budget. It’s vital to write down your monthly obligations — rent, groceries, child care, and utilities — against your income. You may find areas where you can reduce spending to save money. It’s also worthwhile setting financial goals regarding savings and spending.
Top tip for single parents thinking about college: Avoid the temptation to take on unnecessary student debt and only borrow what you need.
2. Where single parents can find financial assistance
Non-traditional students can get financial aid in the form of a Pell Grant, scholarships, and zero-interest student loans. Before you apply for college, file your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This application is essential if you want to get free money to attend college.
You should do an online search for scholarships that target non-traditional learners. Also, your school’s financial aid office or your employer may have options to help cover tuition fees and course materials.
Related reading: FAFSA mistakes to avoid at all cost.
3. How to pay for childcare while attending college
As a single parent student, you will probably need to find affordable childcare. If your kids attend school, then it may be easier to combine parenting and college. But if you’ve got pre-school children, you’ll need more help.
Search for state childcare grants for student parents. Also, check out the college you plan to attend. Many colleges have daycare facilities to assist single parents in school. Or you could look for degree courses that offer online coursework.
4. How single parents in college can manage their time
Excellent time management skills are something you probably already have as a single parent. Going back to school requires you to use these skills to the best of your ability. It’s vital to use your time so that your child, work, schoolwork, and health don’t suffer.
Here are some helpful tips on time management for single-parent students:
- Use a schedule — Keep a well-organized schedule, planning enough time for your activities. Don’t forget that downtime, relaxation, and having fun with your kids are also vital.
- Prioritize your tasks — Write tasks in your to-do list in order of priority, keeping essential and urgent tasks to the top. Remember that the order may change, depending on unforeseen things that happen. Eisenhower’s principle is a handy tool for organizing tasks.
- Be flexible —While it’s impossible to plan for unexpected events, it’s vital to realize that they happen. So, it helps to be flexible and be willing to rearrange your schedule when necessary.
- Learn how to say ‘No’ — Returning to school means there are even more demands on your time. This means you will need to say ‘No’ to anything that doesn’t help your family or benefit your studies. To help say ‘No,’ try to picture where you will be in a few years’ time thanks to earning a better income.
- Don’t leave things to the last minute — Not leaving vital coursework until the last minute gives you some flexibility to deal with the unexpected.
5. Establish a support network
Going back to school will be easier if you build a sound support system. As a single parent in education, you have more responsibilities — more than your fellow student and more than other single parents. So, you can’t go it alone.
Before starting your degree course, check out what’s available in your local area. Does the college offer support for single parents? What about other parents where your kids go to school? Can friends and family lend a hand when you need extra help? The more extensive your support network is, the easier it will be to get your degree.
Single Parents Returning to School — How to Be Successful
Going back to school can help you as a single parent make a positive difference to your family’s future. A college education can give you new opportunities to get a high-paying job or earn a lucrative promotion. By getting financial aid, managing your time well, and having a stable support system, you can obtain that life-changing degree.