Guide to Financial Aid for Students From Single-Parent Homes
Many students use a mix of financial aid and student loans to pay for college. If you come from a single-parent household, you can also explore scholarships for children of single parents to help cover your tuition.
Here is what you need to know about getting financial aid, including options special for single-parent homes.
How to get financial aid and scholarships for children of single parents
The federal government is a major source of financial assistance, but you can also consider your college, your state and private organizations in order to find grants, scholarships and loans if you come from a single-parent household.
Here are a few ways to secure financial aid:
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1. Fill out the FAFSA
Your first step to getting federal grants, student loans and other funding is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You’ll need to upload your family’s most current personal details and tax information with your application.
Next, the Department of Education will calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which your schools will use to determine your financial aid package. Note: The EFC will be be replaced by the Student Aid Index (SAI), starting in the 2024-2025 school year.
The lower your EFC, the more you can potentially receive in federal grants (such as the Pell Grant), scholarships and subsidized loans. For some borrowers, your EFC can be as little as $0 (or even a negative number once the EFC changes to SAI).
To get the most federal financial aid as the child of a single-parent household, you’ll need a low EFC.
2. Apply for scholarships and grants
Whether or not you’re the child of a single parent, scholarships and grants can significantly lower your out-of-pocket college costs since they provide money you typically don’t need to repay.
Here are some specific single-parent scholarships to consider:
- Vincent Bennett, Jr. Memorial Scholarship: This scholarship awards $20,000 over four years to an incoming freshman whose parent was killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty as a firefighter or law enforcement officer. The deadline to apply is May 31.
- The Family Scholarship Fund: The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) Foundation offers scholarships for students who lost a parent in a workplace incident. Awards range from $1,000 to $10,000, and applications for the current year are being accepted between Oct. 15, 2022 and Feb. 15, 2023.
- Life Lessons Scholarship Program: This award goes to incoming and current college students who had a parent pass away. Award amounts vary, but past applicants have received as much as $20,000. Applications are accepted each year between Feb. 1 and March 1.
You can also search for scholarships for children with divorced or incarcerated parents, as well as minority scholarships. Every scholarship organization sets its own criteria, so make sure to understand all requirements before applying. Use scholarship search tools to find additional awards that fit your specific criteria.
You can also check for other state- and institution-specific aid that isn’t included in your FAFSA. Contact your school’s financial aid office to see what they offer to students from single-parent homes.
3. Consider federal student loans
Even if your EFC is $0, you might not get all your college funding through grants and scholarships. Federal student loans can offer a low-cost solution to help fill remaining financial gaps.
The government offers the following types of federal loans:
- Direct Subsidized Loans: These are given out based on financial need.
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These are available to anyone seeking extra money to pay for college, regardless of financial need.
- Direct PLUS Loans: Parents of undergraduates can apply for a Parent PLUS Loan and graduate students can apply for a Grad PLUS Loan.
When deciding between subsidized versus unsubsidized loans, it’s best to max out the available subsidized amount first, since the government pays the interest while in school.
|Pro tip: Consider community college to save on tuition|
Starting at community college can potentially shave thousands of dollars off your overall student loan debt. For example, according to data from the College Board, you could potentially save around $14,000 if you attend community college for two years before transferring to an in-state public university for the remaining coursework. And you can maximize your savings further by living at home during those initial years.
Most universities easily accept transfer credits, but check with your college advisor to ensure you’re on track to transfer and graduate on time.
Tips for finding the best private student loan for you
After exhausting all grants, scholarships and federal loan options, you might need extra cash to cover personal and educational costs. Anyone can apply for private student loans through a bank, credit union or online lender.
If you have a preferred bank, check if they offer discounted rates and terms for existing customers. Otherwise, look for lenders offering the lowest interest rates and flexible repayment schedules.
Many online lenders let you check your rates online without any impact on your credit. You can instantly see if you prequalify for a private student loan by entering a few basic pieces of information.
If you don’t have excellent credit, however, you might need a cosigner to help you take out a private student loan. Adding a creditworthy cosigner can often unlock more attractive rates and terms.
Even though private loans can help in a bind, they don’t offer the same protections as federal student loans. If you need more funding ideas, check out our complete guide on how to pay for college.