If you’re a single mom, chances are that sending your kids off to college is a pretty scary time. Not only is your child taking a big step into a more grown up world, but also you have to find a way to pay for it all…which, if you’re a single parent without much spare cash, can be tough.
The good news is that there are lots of schemes in place to help. You’ll have heard of scholarships, grants, student loans, bursaries, tax benefits…the list is endless and can be confusing. Some are designed only for certain sectors of society, for example, children of military personnel or the children of employees of certain companies. Some types of aid, such as loans, have to paid back at some point in the future, which can be a worry in itself.
Of all the possibilities, grants and scholarships are the best in most cases. Grants and scholarships don’t have to be repaid, and so are preferable to loans as they take the worry out of the future. Loans have a place, if a grant or scholarship isn’t available to you for any reason, but should be viewed as a last resort rather than a first choice. Tax benefits are useful, but rarely offer as comprehensive a cover.
Scholarships are the first choice for the majority of students, if they are eligible. Here’s a look at what’s available, what it all means and how to go about finding the best solution for you and your kids.
What Is a Scholarship?
A scholarship is funding awarded to a student to cover anything up to the full amount of the college fees. They are available to many different types of student, with some being related to the race or gender of the student, others to the type of course being undertaken, and some specific to the state that you live in. others are given by the college themselves only to their own students. It is important to look at every type of scholarship to see which type best fits your needs and situation.
Scholarships can be needs based (taking into account your personal and financial circumstances) or merit based (awarded to exceptional students on their results and talents).
Grants vs Scholarships
Grants and scholarships are frequently confused, as on the face of it they are very similar. Both are amounts of money awarded without a requirement for repayment.
The most important difference, however, is that a scholarship is entirely specific to education while a grant can be awarded for other purposes. This may be to help an individual to get a new business off the ground, or to undertake research, for example.
Some scholarships require students to maintain certain conditions both before and for the duration of the scholarship.
There is a cross over area between grants and scholarships. Both may be awarded to a student who is entering a period of study for a particular career, for example, medicine, or to a student with particular special needs. However, only scholarships are usually based on merit, or academic or athletic excellence, and hence can be the most prestigious.
Scholarships for Single Moms?
Single moms have not only the burden of bringing up a child alone, but also the stress of financing the child’s life and education. Therefore, single moms need help with the cost of education more than most people, and scholarships can be the perfect aid. Choosing from the hundreds of different scholarships out there and the process of applying for one (and maximizing your chances of being awarded one) can be daunting for the best of us. What follows is a straightforward guide to how to find the right scholarship to apply for and how to apply for it.
Types of Scholarships
Even under the heading of Scholarships, there are quite a few options. The following are the most usually found and most likely to apply to you.
- Merit based scholarships: These are based on a student’s individual grades or talents. Most merit based academic scholarships are likely to require a GPA (Grade Point Average) of at least 4, BUT, if your child has a lower GPA, don’t worry. This isn’t the end of the road for less academic students. Besides academic excellence, scholarships can be awarded on athletic prowess, talent shown in other areas (like art, drama or music) or even awarded to kids who have shown an exceptional dedication to helping in their community. We’ll take a look at these in more detail later on.
Merit based scholarships are usually funded by organisations, colleges or specific areas/states.
- Needs based scholarships: Needs based scholarships are exactly what it says on the pack. They’re awarded to students whether it be the financial circumstances of the family, (single mom status counts for something here in many cases as a high percentage of single moms have a lower income than two parent families) and are assessed through the completion of a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Private needs based scholarships also exist, and are often assessed in a similar way.
- Student specific scholarships: Student specific scholarships can be based on either of the two circumstances mentioned above, or on a wider variety of needs or situations. They may be awarded to a student with special physical or medical needs (for example, blind or partially sighted students), to students whose family circumstances are particularly challenging, to students of a certain race, religion or even be gender specific. Because these are so wide ranging and don’t require necessarily academic excellence, they offer a good chance to find a fit!
- Subject or Career specific scholarships: Students of certain subjects and courses leading to specific careers may also be eligible for scholarships. These might include nursing, (there are many current incentives to join the profession) or other areas that fulfil a particular need at any given time or in a certain community.
- College specific scholarships: Again, this one’s pretty self explanatory. An individual college may offer a scholarship to a student it sees as desirable, talented or especially worthy in any way. It may be based on academic excellence, athletic prowess, artistic ability or any one of a wide m number of variants. College based scholarships are almost exclusively merit based.
Federal scholarships and the FAFSA
A federal scholarship is a scholarship funded by US federal bodies and can be awarded to any student who meets the criteria at the funding body’s discretion. A federal scholarship may be awarded on the grounds of individual financial needs, in which case you need to complete a FAFSA form.
A FASFA is completely free, and should be completed as the data given can determine eligibility for scholarship funding in a variety of ways. Schools and states may also use this data to assess the eligibility of students.
This can be done online, by going to http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/, or on paper. In the second case, forms and further advice are obtained from the Federal State Student Information centre on +18004333243, +18004333243 or +18007308913. The Federal State Student Information Service can help you in a number of ways, so don’t hesitate to contact them. They’ll advise you on how to get hold of a paper form or what you need to complete the form on the web, how to fill in the forms, how to keep up to date with the progress of your application, how to choose a school or college and how to change your choices at alter date if necessary, tell you if you are eligible and how to prove your eligibility, how to claim and collect your money when it is awarded and a whole lot more. Their service is free and entirely confidential. Any information you give is never disclosed to any unauthorized body or individual.
Further links to help you obtain assistance are:
- http://www.studentaid.ed.gov/ (main suite address)
- http://www.studentaid.ed.gov/guide (specific information on federal financial aid).
If you are applying via the web, you’ll need a PIN, you can get one from http://www.pin.ed.gov/. If you experience any problems getting this, again, you can ask for help from the Federal State Student Information Service.
Some federal scholarships are renewable from year to year.
Eligibility for Federal Scholarships: To be eligible to apply for a federal scholarship you need to fulfil the following criteria.
- Be a US citizen, or a qualifying non US citizen.
- Have one or more of the following: a high school diploma; A GED (General Education Development certificate); a certificate to prove completion of study in an approved setting such as home schooling or have passed an ‘eligibility to benefit’ test.
- You must be enrolled on a suitable course (one which infers eligibility) to study for a degree or similar qualification.
- Be on the register of the Selective Service.
College Offered Scholarships
College offered scholarships are scholarships are awarded by individual colleges to students of their choice. They are awarded on hugely diverse grounds, with some awarded on academic grounds, others to minority groups, and yet more to talented individuals such as athletes. Some colleges offer scholarships to women who enrol on traditionally male dominated courses such as engineering, or to any student who undertakes a course of study leading to a locally or nationally/internationally needed qualification and career.
There are tribal colleges for Native American students, and these frequently offer financial aid to eligible parties in the form of scholarships. A of tribal colleges can be found on the following site: http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/list/whtc/edlite-tclist.html. Individual colleges will have their own scholarship programmes and eligibility requirements, so contact them to see what’s available for you. In the case of tribal colleges you will have to prove ancestry to qualify.
If you don’t know what college your child wants to attend yet, try making an internet search to find out what’s available in tern ms of college based scholarships as a basis for your search. The web is literally bursting with information, and sites such as http://www.college-scholarships.com/free_scholarship_searches.htm can be a mine of information.
Another good, free source of information on college based scholarships is Fastweb.com. http://www.fastweb.com/college-scholarships.
To narrow down your search for college scholarships, you could try sticking first to your local area or state, or to a subject area that your child wishes to study. If you are an ethnic minority you could try searches based on that, or if your child has an especially high grade, try searching for scholarships available by grade level.
The US is famed worldwide for its athletics scholarships programs. It’s one reason why the US is such a great sporting nation, because it recognises the value of athletic talent and nurtures it, irrespective of background or ability to pay. These provide fantastic and unparalleled opportunities for talented athletes in many disciplines to obtain financial aid to go to colleges all over the country. They are, however, deeply competitive, especially in popular sports like baseball or football, so to give your child the best chance of success you may have to put in a little groundwork.
Assemble a portfolio or complete record of your child’s sporting history…hey, better still, get him to do it! Collect references from teachers and sports coaches, and if your child has helped out with coaching a Little League or something similar, include that.
It isn’t necessarily vital for your child to be a sporting superstar of the future either, as not all sports based scholarships require excellence. Some are more concerned with a willingness to play for school or college teams, and may be dependant on this rather than exceptional ability, while others are keen to offer financial aid to kids who will take sports into the community and help others to get involved. There’s a lot of possibilities, so find the right on for you.
Of course, the best known and probably the most popular of sports scholarships are awarded to the really talented athletes. If this applies to your child, take a look at the National Collegiate Athletic Assosciation (NCAA)
Most funding is arranged through the NCAA, and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)
One thing you need to be aware of if you are thinking of applying for an athletics scholarship through the NCAA though, is that certain schools do not accept or award these scholarships. Ivy League universities and military academies (Army, Navy and Air Force) are among these, largely because they operate their own scholarship schemes.
Athletics Scholarships and Academic ability?
This is a thorny question, and is always subject to review and controversy. Can your child obtain an athletics scholarship on the basis of his or her sporting ability if the academic grades don’t match up?
The tough answer is that most scholarships are awarded to kids whose academic records are at least pretty good as a back up to their athletic ability. So even the best of our future sports stars need to get their heads down to getting decent grades in the basic school subjects to have the best chance of doing well in the scholarships race. Look at it this way. A student whose academic grades are strong in addition to being an accomplished athlete has double the chance of getting a scholarship! He or she can apply for both academic and athletics scholarships. You should be aware that this issue (academic standards of high school athletes) is currently very much in the spotlight. The National Association of Sate Boards of Education (NASBE) takes the position that states have to take a more proactive role in promoting academic success among their athletics students. The future is likely to see more emphasis placed on an overall good grade record even among those wishing to take up athletics scholarships in primarily sporting institutions. This isn’t an arbitrary decision taken to make life difficult for students, as it may seem at first. Rather it is a measure to protect students whose athletic ability is exploited by some high school coaches to the exclusion of proper concentration on the provision of an all round education.
However, some scholarships can be and are awarded on the basis of sporting prowess over and above academic success. The problem is that the can tend to be in schools with a poor academic res cord, but it’s a trade off that may or may not be worth making. Only you and your child can decide.
Private Sector Scholarships
Private sector scholarships exist outside the state, federal and local systems and are awarded to students by a huge variety of providers. These can be public companies, private companies, organizations …both for profit organizations and non profit organizations like charities. Basically, anyone who wants to offer funding in the form of a scholarship can do so.
Because of the diversity of providers, the criteria for eligibility are also wide ranging. The scholarships can also be harder to track down than state or federal scholarships as they tend to be less well known and publicized.
So, how do you find a private scholarship?
You can start with your own circle. Maybe you are employed by a company who offer funding for students? It’s worth asking! Check out the websites and promotional materials of locally based companies, and look too at the websites and literature of companies whose products you buy. It’s surprising what you may find.
If none of that turns up anything helpful, widen your search. Look at big corporations like the Ford Motor Company
http://www.usscholarshipguide.org/scholarship/private/ford.html , whose funding goes to a few different sectors of society but whose ethos is to reward kids who show ability and potential in various areas, or Tylenol
http://www.tylenol.com/page.jhtml?id=tylenol/news/subptyschol.inc, whose scheme offers funding to future health care professionals. So, look not only at your child’s ability, but also at his or her future intentions to help you find appropriate financial aid. Some famous scholarship schemes are those supported by David Letterman and by Bill and Melinda Gates. These are massive household names…and easily found on the internet. Get creative in your thinking and search any names you know.
The David Letterman scholarships are awarded to students whose academic grades are not necessarily high, but who display an ability in the creative fields.
Details of these and of how to apply can be found here:
The Bill and Melinda Gates scholarships are aimed at students from low income families whose chances of attending a decent school are lower than average. Their website explains who may be eligible, and how to go about finding a scholarship for your child if you are eligible. http://www.gatesfoundation.org/topics/Pages/scholarships.aspx
Other celebrities may also offer scholarships in their name. For example, if your child is passionate about and talented in acting, look at famous actors such as Alec Baldwin. Or music? Try Michael Jackson. Get the idea?
If you belong to a church or religious community, there may be another way of obtaining a scholarship for your child to further his or her education. Ask locally first, beginning with your own church or group, ask around your community and search the net. There are all sorts of scholarships available for kids who are part of many different religions. While some are aimed at kids who are committed to becoming deeply active in their religion as church leaders and teachers, priests, rabbi or similar, religious scholarships aren’t confined to this. They may be given to any members of a religious group, or may be offered particularly to kids who have shown a marked desire to help the community in some way.
The following web site gives a helpful guide to religious scholarships in many religions…but if you don’t find what you’re looking for here, don’t give up. Even small religious groups may have a wealthy benefactor who is willing to help young people.
If your child has special circumstances, such as being a cancer sufferer or survivor, there are scholarships available for this too. Some are for current sufferers, like the ‘Cancer for college’ scheme, others for those who may not have cancer themselves, but whose lives have been affected by it in some way such as the ‘Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation Scholarship.’
Whatever the circumstances, there could be a scheme in place to help.
Scholarships Just for Single Moms
Let’s cut to the case. You’ve looked through all the above, and still haven’t found what you’re seeking? Hey…you’re a single mom! There are plenty of scholarships out there just designed to help you and people like you. Scholarships.com http://www.scholarships.com/financial-aid/college-scholarships/scholarships-by-type/college-scholarships-and-grants-for-single-mothers/ has a rundown of quite a few of these, with some, such as the Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation aiming to help single moms on low incomes, and others, like the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund being set up to help single moms in their own state.
Warning: Scholarship Scams
There’s a lot of help out there, for sure, but as ever in this big bad world, there’s a small percentage of people hoping to make a fast buck out of your desire to educate your kids. Knowing what to be aware of is the key to not falling prey to these con artists and scammers.
In brief, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. For example, a scholarship that advertises itself as ‘guaranteed’ is going to be a scam. A scholarship that asks you to pay money up front or to give bank or credit card details is to be avoided at all costs. A scholarship pertaining to be a prize awarded in a competition that you have never entered is a scam.
Be aware. Never pay, never disclose personal details until you’ve checked it out. The Federal Trade commission can help sort the scams from the verified schemes. http://www.ftc.gov/index.shtml If in doubt, ask.
How to Apply for a Scholarship
First, establish exactly what you’re looking for. Identify your child’s strengths, future hopes and any special circumstances.
- Start locally — Your own state or area is often the most likely to have a scholarship program to help.
- Check Child’s Eligibility — Once you’ve found what’s available to you, check out your child’s eligibility. It’s no good wasting valuable time applying for scholarships you just won’t get.
- Don’t miss the deadline — All scholarships have a deadline for applications, and if you leave everything to the last minute you run the risk of missing out, or of not putting together as strong an application as you might have done with more time.
- Put a good package together — Collect all the evidence you can to support the application.
- Complete forms correctly — Make sure you know how to complete the forms, whether you choose to do it online or on paper. If you’re not sure, get help.