It’s hard to combine family, job, and school. Many single mothers find that they can’t do all three at once, especially when their children are younger. Because a single mother can’t abandon family responsibilities and she needs to keep her job to support her family, it’s usually school and career development that has to be set aside. However, when the kids are old enough to go to school, it’s often easier to find time to pick up those degree plans or personal projects that will lead to a better job in the future. If you’re thinking of going back to school, starting to look for ways to get ahead in your job, or hoping to switch careers, there are organizations that will help you find the money you need to pursue your dreams.
Before You Start
All federal grants, most state and university or college funding opportunities, and the majority of other local or privately-funded grants and scholarships are based partly on your current income and resources. In order to provide each organization with your information, you need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at www.fafsa.gov. If you do this first, you’ll have all of the details that you will be asked for during the application process for a scholarship or grant.
What’s more, you need to make sure you’ve completed the FAFSA application before the deadline. At the federal level, the deadline is June 30th, but you can start filing any time after January 1st. However, each state and often each college or university can set its own deadline, which may be different. Check to see what the real deadline is for students in your state here and then be sure to check with the college or colleges you’re applying to, just to make sure you’re going to be able to submit the FAFSA to them according to their schedule.
We cover FREE money for school in this article, but don’t expect to wholly pay for your school or career training with grants, scholarships, and work opportunities. You will likely have to take out student loans as well (you will be automatically considered for FEDERAL student loans by applying for financial aid with the FAFSA application) and maybe even private student loans if federal loans are not enough.
Look at some of our other articles about this topic (note, these articles are a couple years old but most of the information is still relevant. We will be updating them shortly for 2015 current information, however):
- Financial Aid for Single Mothers
- Scholarships for Single Moms
- Going to College as a Single Parent
- Financial Aid Resources
Federal and State Grants
Once you have filled out your FAFSA, you can start applying for federal and state grants. There are three main federal grants: the Pell Grant, the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, and the TEACH Grant.
Students have been receiving Pell Grants since the 1960s, and it’s still one of the best ways to get money to pursue your education. You don’t have to be a full-time student to qualify for this grant, but the amount of money you’re eligible for will depend on how many course hours you’re enrolled in. You’ll also have to complete all of those courses to continue receiving grant money throughout the school year. Here are some details:
- Your FAFSA calculates how much you’re eligible to receive.
- The amount depends on how much your school costs to attend.
- You may receive up to $5,750 for any one year.
- You will probably receive your money once every semester, depending on the school.
Find out how much you may be eligible to receive via a Pell Grant here.
Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
The SEOG provides additional money for low-income students if their Pell Grants don’t cover the cost of education. You could be eligible for another $4,000 per year through the SEOG. However, this is a school-based grant that is funded by the federal government, and not all colleges and universities are part of the program. Check with the student aid office at the college you want to attend, and they’ll be able to tell you more.
The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant is something you should look into if you’re interested in becoming a teacher after you graduate. Part-time or full-time teaching jobs can be very flexible, and so they’re a great option for working single mothers. Keep in mind that while you do have to fulfill all of the grant requirements, there are a lot of benefits:
- You can receive up to $4,000 per year.
- You can be enrolled in a degree program or a teaching certificate program.
- You must agree to teach for four years after you graduate at a school in a low-income area.
- You will have a better chance getting this grant if you want to teach English, reading, foreign languages, science, or special education classes.
Learn more about the TEACH grant at the Federal Student Aid website.
Every state has a different list of grants, and each of these grants has a different set of qualifications. The only thing they all have in common is that you’ll have to start by filling out your FAFSA. Once you’ve done that, check the U.S. Department of Education search page here to get information on who to talk to and what types of resources are available in your state.
If you’ve already been looking on line for scholarships, you’ve probably come across a lot of sites that guarantee you’ll get lots of money for school – if you give the owners of that site a lot of money first. These websites are simply using the same search engine tools that you’re using, and you can find the same information yourself. Yes, you’ll have to put in some extra time to do the searches yourself, but it’s probably not worth paying hundreds of dollars to someone else to do the same thing. Some of these websites charge fees of over $500 by promising that you’ll get a scholarship in the end, but if that scholarship is just for $100 you’ve lost $400 that could have gone towards your tuition. There are a lot of small scholarships and grants that only provide $50 to $250 and it’s better to find those for yourself. Here are some of the places you can start looking for scholarships:
Scholarships from Schools
Each school has its own set of scholarships. They’re often attached to a specific department or field of study, but many are general funds you can use to get any degree. A good place to look for information on these scholarships is your school’s website. Most schools have an easy-to-use information list about all of the grants and scholarships they offer each year. If there’s a search filter on the website page, look for things like “women” or “career development” or search by the subject you’re interested in studying.
Scholarships from State Education Departments
Again, these vary by state, and often by fiscal year; state education funds are provided by taxes, and these go up and down every year. This means that some years there will be more money for state scholarships and grants, and some years there won’t be much at all. It’s worth it to keep checking, though. Use this link to find the Department of Education office in your area.
Scholarships from Private Organizations
Many organizations sponsor students with scholarships, and with the thousands available across the country, there’s sure to be several you qualify for. Here are few to get you started in your scholarship search:
- Soroptimist Women’s “Live Your Dream” Awards can be used for child care expenses, tuition, transportation-related costs, or books and other supplies. As a single mother, you qualify for these money awards, which are given at local, regional, or international levels (up to $10,000). Since 1972 these awards have provided millions of dollars to single mothers around the country.
- Denny’s Hungry For Education Scholarships website is a good place to look for scholarships like the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI) awards. If you’re a Latina and live in one of the states that offers this scholarship program, you can write and submit the application essay to see if they have money for you.
- The National Black Nurses Association offers scholarships to women who are already enrolled in a nursing program, and have one or more years of study left. While this isn’t an entry-level scholarship, it’s a good one to keep in mind if you’re going into nursing.
- Jeannette Rankin Foundation Scholarships aren’t offered every year (sometimes they just renew existing scholarships, but worth they’re worth checking out. To be eligible, you need to be at least 35 years old and either enrolled in or accepted by a college, university, or vocational school.
- The Assistance League is a national charitable organization that brings local charities and volunteer organizations together. They don’t offer any scholarships themselves, but they do have a handy website that helps you search for the scholarships sponsored by organizations in your state. Click here to start searching the database.
Work Study and Part-Time Jobs
Sometimes financial aid from schools is provided through work-study programs. This means you’ll be given opportunities to do part-time work while you’re going to school, which will help you pay for your school expenses. There are several benefits to looking into these programs:
- The jobs you get may lead to full-time permanent employment when you’ve graduated.
- You’ll be getting good work experience, and employment history and references you can use on your resume in the future.
- If you’re currently working part time, you might be able to use that job as your work-study one.
Most schools hold a “jobs fair” before the beginning of each school year, and sometimes these job fairs are held several times a year. You’ll have the opportunity to meet potential employers and to fill out job applications at these fairs, so before you go, take the time to put your resume together. You can also write a general cover letter to go along with the resume. Print out several copies of each and you’ll be able to complete the application process at the fair, rather than having to take the paperwork home with you. That’s something that can give you an edge up over the rest of the student competition!
If you already have a full-time or part-time job, it’s still possible to go to school. A lot of classes are offered on line these days, and some schools provide evening and weekend classes to help working parents schedule course requirements. Before you start back to school, it’s a good idea to talk with a student advisor about what your school schedule will be like for the next year. Next, you need to take that information to your employer. It’s very possible that some of the classes that you absolutely have to take are only offered in the middle of your work day. You’ll need to ask your employer if you can flex your schedule for that semester.
Career Counseling Organizations
If you’re not sure what career options you have or want, or you have questions about how to cope with school, work, and family all at the same time, there are many free counseling services you can check to get help and answers to your questions. Take advantage of the experience of other former or current working parents, single mothers, and students by looking for a counseling organization like these:
Educational Opportunity Centers
Most schools are affiliated with the national EOC organizations, so check with your school to find out where the office is on campus. You’ll be able to get counseling and information on college, get advice on finances, and get answers to your questions about financial aid. The counselors can also help you fill out financial aid forms like the FAFSA. Some EOC offices offer career counseling and workshops. They can also connect you with people who will tutor or mentor you while you’re in school.
YWCA Career Services
These groups are generally organized at the state level. Check the website for links to services in your local area. There’s also a useful job search feature on the national website, which will give you a place to start looking for part-time jobs you can do while you’re in school, and full-time jobs after you graduate.
If you want to start your own business, either after you graduate or for some part-time income while you’re in school, you can talk to the mentors at SCORE. They are all people who are retired or still working as business executives and entrepreneurs, and they’ll have great advice on how to make the most of your talents in the marketplace. Click here to find out who you can talk to near you.