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Student Loans for Single Moms and Dads — And Other Financial Aid

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Content was accurate at the time of publication.

If you have a child who’s years from leaving the nest, you have time to save up for their college costs. But paying for your own college tuition might feel more last-minute — or even impossible.

Fortunately, there are ways to finance your path back to campus that don’t require a long-term savings plan. You might be able to avoid student loans for single moms and dads, too, if grants and scholarships are your saving grace.

How to pay for college as a single mom or dad

Whether you’re returning to school or stepping onto campus for the first time, paying for college will start with the FAFSA. As a student with dependents, you’ll meet the Department of Education’s definition of an independent student. That means your FAFSA results could be based on your income, not your own parents’ tax returns.

Your status as an independent undergraduate could help you qualify for need-based aid from the federal government, your state and your school.

In fact, you’re 50% more likely than independent students who don’t have kids to score an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of $0, according to a 2017 report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Your EFC is how much the FAFSA determines you can pay out of pocket for college. The lower your EFC, the greater your chance at securing aid like a federal Pell Grant, state-based grants and direct subsidized loans.

3 ways to pay for college as a single mom or dad

If you’re already dealing with debt as a single parent, you might be hesitant to consider student loans for single mothers and fathers. Racking up as many grants and scholarships as possible might lessen your need to rely on loans.

Here are three ways that explain how to pay for college as a single mom or dad.

1. Government grants for single moms and dads

Like scholarships, government grants for single mothers and fathers don’t need to be repaid. Unlike scholarships, grants are almost always based on financial need, not merit.

Having a low income and another mouth to feed might qualify you for a need-based grant that’s available to anyone and everyone, not just parents. Don’t overlook those opportunities as you hone in on single-parent grants for college.

That said, there are grant opportunities that are specific to single moms and dads even if they aren’t specific to college expenses. The publicly funded Oregon Student Child Care Grant, for example, helps resident students afford child care.

Find your state’s appropriate education-related agency via the DOE’s handy map.

Beyond grants available in your state, consider federal grants that are available to all students who can demonstrate financial need. They include:

  • Pell Grants: As much as $6,345 for the 2020-2021 award year
  • Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants: Between $100 and $4,000 per year and awarded by your school
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants: Up to $4,000 per year for aspiring teachers
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants: Equal in value to Pell Grants but restricted to children of fallen veterans

2. Scholarship opportunities for single moms and dads

A big difference between single-parent grants for college and scholarships is that the latter can be found in more places, online and off. In fact, you might find scholarships for single parents from any of the following organizations:

  • Your school
  • Your state government
  • Federal agencies
  • Charitable foundations
  • Professional associations

If you’re already enrolled in college, or at least know where you’ll be attending, contact your school’s financial aid office. Explain your situation as a single mother or father, and your campus representative should point you in the right direction.

Although your college can give you a headstart, you should take charge of your scholarship search. Scholarship search tools host long lists of opportunities specific to single moms and dads.

Scholarship search engines won’t be 100% exhaustive in their results, however. Check in with your school or state education agency to find privately run organizations like Capture the Dream (California), Emerge (Georgia), and the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund. Also, be on the lookout for national organizations like Soroptimist.

3. Student loans for single moms and dads

Student loans for single mothers and fathers might be the least desirable of your three options to pay for college, but they could be an option you end up needing if grants and scholarships aren’t enough.

A loan might mean the difference between going to class and staying at home.

You’re likely better off prioritizing federal loans over private loans. With direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, you’ll probably score a lower interest rate as well as more favorable repayment options, such as income-driven repayment plans.

Plus, if you’re a single parent heading a household with one income (instead of two), you might be more likely to qualify for need-based subsidized loans, which don’t accrue interest while you’re enrolled and in deferment.

If you’re seeking student loans for single parents with bad credit …
Keep in mind that federal loans for student borrowers don’t require a credit history review of any kind (although you must not have “adverse credit history” if you’re a graduate student or parent borrowing on behalf of your child). Be wary of private lenders advertising bad-credit student loans, though, as they could be bad actors looking to make a buck.

There are some cases when you might prioritize private student loans over federal loans. If you have an extremely creditworthy cosigner, for example, a private lender might beat the federal government’s rates even if it can’t offer the same level of repayment protection.

In almost all cases, though, a private loan would supplement your federal loan borrowing, not replace it.

More on private student loans for single mothers, fathers

Unfortunately, there are no reputable private lenders offering discounts or perks for single-mom loans or single-dad debt.

Be skeptical of “single parent loans” you might see advertised by personal loan companies. Personal loans often come with higher interest rates and shorter terms, making them harder to repay.

Although private lenders may not cater directly to you as a single mother or father, they may have a loan product that fits your needs in another way. Sallie Mae, for example, offers loans for career training at non-degree-granting schools. If you’re a single mom attending a trade school, for example, ensure you compare that type of loan with a traditional private student loan.

Clearing up potential confusion around single-parent borrowing …

During your search for student loans for single moms and dads, you might also see the federal government’s parent PLUS loan and private lenders’ “parent loan” options. To clarify, these loans are for the parents of college students, not for parents paying for their own education.

Exhaust financial aid before borrowing student loans for single moms, dads

If you’ve been wondering about how to pay for college, now you know that gift aid can help you get there. And fortunately, you can find opportunities designed for single mothers and fathers, such as scholarships for adults returning to school after starting a family.

Before resorting to student loans, don’t forget to apply for grants and scholarships. You might apply for first-generation student scholarships, for example, if you’re the first in your family to seek a degree.

When applying for gift aid, find ways you can differentiate yourself on applications. After all, you’re more than a single mom or dad. You’re a future college student, too.

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