Guide for Single Parents

The specialized coursework and hands-on training involved in college education create opportunities for career advancement. A bachelor’s in education is the minimum requirement for state teaching licensure. In most states, educators must obtain a graduate degree to earn higher levels of licensure and professional certification. However, earning a college degree presents significant personal and financial challenges for many students, especially for single parents who cannot compromise work and family obligations.

About 2.1 million U.S. students raised children without a partner during the 2011–2012 academic year. IWPR

In its 2017 report, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) calculated that about 2.1 million U.S. students raised children without a partner during the 2011–2012 academic year. This number translates to about 11% of all undergraduate candidates. Single mothers face challenges related to discrepancies in pay for women, inaccessible childcare, and the high cost of education. According to IWPR, women of color are the most likely to be single mothers. Though the number of single mothers attending college doubled between 1999 and 2012, the number of those who dropped out also increased. In 2015, only 31% of single mothers 25 or older possessed a college degree. This number, when contrasted with the 54% of married women and 50% of women overall who held a degree that same year, reveals the obstacles single mothers must overcome to obtain higher education. Single mothers also graduate with more student debt than other women.

To help single parents earn their degree, many colleges and universities offer flexible education and teacher training programs. Ample financial aid opportunities exist to offset the costs of education and licensure. This guide provides information on employer assistance programs, childcare services, and federal awards. Additionally, many organizations offer private scholarships for single parents.

Finding a Teaching Program as a Single Parent

Teaching Schools With Daycare Services

To take on a rigorous academic schedule, single parents need accessible childcare. Fortunately, more than 1,500 colleges and universities provide childcare services through on-campus centers and partner organizations. To cover childcare costs, single parents can apply for employer, institutional, and government aid. This guide contains extensive information on funding in later sections.

In addition to financial assistance, colleges and universities often provide academic services and resources for older students. Academic advisers receive specialized training to help single parents develop course schedules that accommodate career and family responsibilities. Active teachers can often receive credit for prior academic and work experience, reducing costs and shortening degree completion time. Student success centers assist single parents by providing skill-building workshops, networking opportunities, peer mentoring, quiet study lounges, and even free lunches for their children. Additionally, single parents can obtain support from campus groups and national organizations, such as Single Parent Advocate. The list below includes six schools that provide childcare to improve the accessibility of a degree in teaching for single parents.

Texas A&M University

Single parents can access daycare through the Becky Gates Children’s Center, which provides services for children one year old through pre-kindergarten age. The university also helps parents find center-based care off campus.

SUNY College at Buffalo

Buffalo State offers services through its Child Care Center, which maintains accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The center provides scholarships for low-income students and single parents.

Washington State University

Through its Children Center, WSU offers care services for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children. Single parents can apply for aid through the Childcare Subsidy Program.

California State University – Sacramento

Single parents can access care services through the CSUS Children’s Center, which provides programs for infants, toddlers, and two-year-old children. Parents can apply for financial assistance based on their gross monthly income and household size.

University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

This university offers comprehensive childcare, including on-campus services through its Child Development Center. Single parents also benefit from specialty childcare and community assistance programs.

Loyola University New Orleans

Loyola provides childcare through the Whelan Children’s Center, which offers programing for children up to three years of age.

Getting a Teaching Degree Online

Online education and teacher training programs provide affordable and flexible options for single parents. To incentivize distance learners, many colleges and universities offer discounted online tuition rates that disregard the student’s residency status. Without considering out-of-state fees, students can choose a program based entirely on its academic and professional characteristics. Many schools also offer grants and scholarships specifically for single parents.

Scheduling is a major challenge for single parents, who must schedule schoolwork around the needs of their child and job. Distance education makes doing so easier; asynchronous classes enable students to engage with professors, collaborate with peers, and access course materials at their convenience. Additionally, integrated learning management software, such as Canvas and Blackboard, empowers students to study from their computer, tablet, and smartphone. Online learners often reduce or eliminate costs associated with campus housing and transportation. While studying teaching, student parents typically complete an internship, classroom instruction, and other practicum requirements. Most online students complete in-person components at local schools and educational organizations. Active teachers may even fulfill these requirements with their current employer.

Other Tips for Single Parents Going to School for Teaching

Gather Support

Single parents can seek help from their school’s student groups, adult success centers, and childcare services. They can also find support through national organizations, including Alpha Sigma Lambda, an honor society for nontraditional students.

Stick to a Schedule

While flexible distance education options allow learners to study at their convenience, single parents should develop and maintain a concrete academic schedule. By sticking to a routine, students can better juggle coursework with job and family duties.

Brush up on Tech Skills

Single parents should take advantage of technology training through university libraries and tech services. Collaborative learning software, online research databases, and cloud storage, can make earning a degree easier and more engaging.

How to Pay for a Teaching Degree as a Single Parent

Single parents can pay for their education through scholarships, grants, loans, work-study positions, and employer assistance programs. This section contains in-depth information on how students can locate and apply for these financial aid opportunities.


Founded through the 1965 Higher Education Act, the Federal Student Aid office functions within the U.S. Department of Education and offers the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is used to determine a student’s eligibility for federal funding. The FAFSA is one of the best financial aid tools for single parents. Completing the form allows you to simultaneously apply for work-study positions, loans, and grants. The office also helps students choose a school, calculate program costs, and create efficient loan repayment plans. No age restrictions exist. All U.S. citizens and eligible noncitizens can qualify for federal aid as long as they meet eligibility criteria, including demonstrable financial need. A student’s award amount is calculated by subtracting their estimated family contribution from their cost of attendance. To receive federal aid, students must be currently enrolled or be accepted into an accredited college program.

The FAFSA is one of the best financial aid tools for single parents.

Applicants first create a Federal Student Aid ID, which functions as a legal electronic signature and allows students to access online systems. To complete the FAFSA, students must provide their driver’s license or state ID number, Social Security number or Alien Registration number, and federal tax return. Since students apply for financial aid as early as October 1 of the year before beginning classes, they must use the previous year’s tax information. Applicants must also document untaxed income and asset records, including investments, child support, and checking and savings account balances. Because the FAFSA weighs income against financial need, single parents often qualify for larger grants and loans than other applicants. Students can select up to 10 colleges and universities as automatic recipients of their FAFSA information.

Types of Financial Aid Available to Single Parents

Financial Aid

ScholarshipsBecause recipients do not need to repay scholarships, these funds are an ideal source of financial aid. Colleges and universities typically provide awards including merit-based dean’s and president’s scholarships, and students may benefit from departmental awards, including teaching scholarships. Single parents can also apply for scholarships through local businesses and agencies and from national organizations, such as the Association of American Educators.
GrantsGrants are another form of financial assistance that students do not need to repay. Through the FAFSA, single parents can access Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which are reserved for individuals with exceptional financial need. Educators benefit from TEACH grants, which provide up to $4,000 per year. Recipients of TEACH grants must work in a high-need school for at least two years after graduation. Single parents often receive larger federal grant amounts than other students because they typically demonstrate higher need based on income and the number of dependent children. States offer financial aid through grant agencies.
Federal LoansUnlike grants and scholarships, students do need to repay loans. Federal loans offer low interest rates and flexible repayment plans. Some federal loans are subsidized, which means interest does not begin accumulating until students graduate; however, these loans are available only to undergraduate students. Borrowers may receive further benefits by working with organizations such as Teach for America, AmeriCorps, and the Peace Corps. Through the FAFSA, students can apply for Perkins Loans, direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, and PLUS Loans.
Private LoansSingle parents can apply for home equity and other private loans from lenders such as banks and credit unions. However, students should borrow this money with caution, preferably after exhausting all other forms of financial aid. Private loans have higher interest rates than federal loans, and interest begins accruing immediately. Some lenders even require students to make payments while still in school. The Federal Student Aid office provides extensive information on loan repayment options.

More Ways for Single Parents to Save

Employer Tuition Assistance

Teachers require up-to-date skills training to earn and maintain state licensure. In the face of nationwide teacher shortages, schools recognize the urgent need to support educators. Therefore, single parents often receive financial assistance from their employers in the form of tuition reimbursement, waivers, reductions, and private scholarships. Schools with reimbursement programs either pay a student’s tuition directly or reimburse the employee after they receive semester grades. Learners who expect to be reimbursed should budget carefully to afford the initial tuition payments.

Educators who work for a college or university may earn credentials for a very low cost through employee tuition reductions and waivers. Lack of program options is the main drawback with this option, since students must enroll with their employer institution to access benefits. Employers may also offer private grants and scholarships to help single parents earn their degree. These awards commonly include a competitive application process.

Employer tuition assistance includes guidelines and restrictions. Federal law dictates that employers may only provide $5,250 in tax-free financial aid each year, and single parents cannot receive more assistance by working for multiple employers. Additionally, employers usually require students to maintain a certain GPA or earn their teaching degree by a deadline. Employers may also stipulate that employees remain with the school for a set period following graduation.

Childcare Grants

For single parents, accessible childcare is crucial to obtaining a college degree. Child Care Aware of America reports that, in 2017, the cost of center-based childcare exceeded public college tuition in 28 states and the District of Columbia. For single parents, who generally earn less than two-parent households, paying for childcare and going to school can be difficult. Childcare is the most expensive in Massachusetts, where center-based services average drain nearly 71% of a single parent’s income. Even in the least expensive states, including South Dakota, Maine, and Mississippi, childcare costs more than 25% of a single parent’s annual income.

The U.S. Department of Education maintains the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) Program, which funds childcare programs at colleges and universities.

Fortunately, federal funding can help low-income single parents pay for childcare. The U.S. Department of Education maintains the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) Program, which funds childcare programs at colleges and universities. Single parents who attend participating institutions can apply for CCAMPIS grants and subsidies to alleviate the cost of on-campus childcare. Students should contact their prospective schools for information on eligibility and the application process. The CCAMPIS Program considers FAFSA information, including the candidate’s estimated family contribution and Pell Grant status.

The Child Care and Development Fund also provides financial assistance to single parents. Each state facilitates individuals childcare services and funding programs. Veterans and active military personnel can receive branch-specific support from Child Care Aware of America. Single parents should also research opportunities available through their college, local Head Start Centers, and the federal Office of Child Care.

Tax Breaks

Single parents benefit from tax incentives and breaks. They can file for head of household, thereby paying less in taxes and accessing a larger standard deduction. According to the Internal Revenue Service, the deduction amounted to $9,350 in 2017. To qualify as head of household, applicants must be unmarried on the last day of the year. They must provide more than half of their household finances, and their dependent children must stay with them for more than 50% of the year. Single parents from low- or moderate-income families can apply for the earned income tax credit, a refundable amount based on salary and number of children.

The federal government allows single parents to claim additional tax credits and exemptions. Single parents who are the head of their household can apply for the dependent exemption, enabling them to benefit from a certain amount of untaxed income for each child in their home. However, only one parent may claim a child as a dependent; when two parents share equal custody, they must decide who can file for the dependent exemption. Furthermore, single parents who earn less than $75,000 per year may file for the child tax credit, which provides $1,000 for each underaged dependent. If this credit exceeds the amount of taxes a single parent owes, they may receive a refund in the form of an additional child tax credit.

Single parents can deduct 35% of approved childcare costs through the child and dependent care credit. To access this benefit, single parents must earn an income and enroll full time in a certificate or degree program. The child must be 12 or younger, and the care provider cannot be the applicant’s dependent or the child’s other parent. Single parents must deduct employer contributions from total childcare costs.

Scholarships for Single Parents Going to College


The ANSWER Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: The award is available to women who are primary caregivers for their school-aged children. Candidates must reside in an eligible North or South Carolina county. View Scholarship

Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund Varies

Who Can Apply: ASPSF provides more than 2,200 scholarships for Arkansas residents each year. Low-income single parents can access these funds through county agencies. Applicants must not hold a bachelor’s degree. View Scholarship

Bernice Murray Scholarship $2,000

Who Can Apply: The award is available to low-income single parents who reside in Vermont. Candidates must submit recommendation letters and a personal essay. View Scholarship

Bethel Foundation Grace Scholarship $3,000

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be low-income single mothers who are the head of their household and possess full custody of at least on child who is 17 or younger. Candidates must be eligible for the Pell Grant and must hold a high school diploma or the equivalent. View Scholarship

Bruce and Marjorie Sundlun Scholarship $1,500

Who Can Apply: Candidates must be Rhode Island residents and low-income single parents. Scholarship judges award preference to state aid recipients and individuals who were previously incarcerated. View Scholarship

Capture the Dream Single Parent Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: The scholarship supports low-income single parents who reside in the San Francisco Bay Area. Candidates must be enrolled in an accredited undergraduate program and must submit a 1,000-word personal statement. View Scholarship

Curiel & Runion Single Mother Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: This award is reserved for returning students who are single mothers. Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited college or university and must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA. View Scholarship

Emerge Scholarships $2,000-5,000

Who Can Apply: These awards support Georgia women whose higher education was delayed or interrupted. Candidates must submit an essay and recommendation letters. View Scholarship

The Ford Family Foundation Opportunity Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be single parents who head their household and possess primary custody of dependent children. Candidates must be enrolled in an on-campus associate or bachelor’s program with at least one year of coursework remaining. View Scholarship

Jeannette Rankin Foundation Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: The award is available to low-income women aged 35 or older. Candidates must be enrolled in or accepted to a regionally accredited technical or vocational, associate, or bachelor’s program. View Scholarship

Patsy Takemoto Mink Foundation Scholarships $5,000

Who Can Apply: Candidates must be single mothers with dependent children and must be enrolled in an accredited nonprofit college. Applicants must demonstrate low income or financial need, concrete career goals, and a history of community engagement. View Scholarship

The P.E.O. Sisterhood Program for Continuing Education $3,000

Who Can Apply: Candidates must possess U.S. or Canadian citizenship. Applicants must be women whose education was interrupted and who now need college credentials to support themselves and their families. View Scholarship

Sister Elizabeth Candon Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: This award is available to Vermont residents who demonstrate financial need. Candidates must be single mothers with primary custody of at least one child aged 12 or younger. View Scholarship

Soroptimist Live Your Dream Scholarships $1,000-16,000

Who Can Apply: The award is available to women who are the primary source of financial support for their family. Applicants must show acceptance or enrollment in a vocational or undergraduate program. View Scholarship

Women’s Independence Scholarship Program Varies

Who Can Apply: The award supports single mothers who are survivors of intimate partner abuse. Candidates must have been separated from their partner for at least one year but fewer than seven years. Additional criteria include demonstrable financial need and acceptance or enrollment in an accredited U.S. school. View Scholarship