Going back to school to earn your social work degree is an exciting opportunity to help others. A degree can expand your career opportunities and earning potential. However, college can be stressful, especially for students with other personal and financial obligations. For single parents, school can pose different, unique challenges that students without children do not face.
The number of single parents attending college in the U.S. reached 2.1 million during the 2011-2012 school year IWPR
The number of single parents attending college in the U.S. reached 2.1 million during the 2011-2012 school year, according to a 2017 report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Single mothers tend to be disproportionately women of color, who already face socioeconomic barriers to earning a college degree. Finishing college while raising children without the financial, emotional, and practical help of a partner proves difficult. Only 31% of single mothers 25 and older held a college degree in 2015. Yet, 54% of married women and 40% of women overall held a college degree that year. Even when single mothers do graduate, they leave school with higher levels of debt than married and non-parent graduates.
Although challenging, single parents do complete college. Parents can use a variety of sources to finance their education and graduate with less student debt. These students can also take advantage of other benefits for single parents, including childcare subsidies, tax breaks, and on-campus daycare centers. This guide includes information on scholarships, grants, tax credits, and fellowships specifically for social work students raising children without a partner.
Finding a Social Work Program as a Single Parent
Social Work Schools With Daycare Services
Finding a social work program that offers daycare services can make college much easier for single parents. On-campus childcare centers can save you a significant amount of time and money. Instead of spending time driving, dropping off, and picking up your children at an off-campus daycare, you can instead spend that time studying, attending class, or participating in other student activities.
More than 1,500 colleges and universities offer some type of childcare. You can search for schools with social work programs and childcare services here. Some schools offer other resources for students raising children by themselves, including free meals for children of students, childcare grants, study rooms for nursing mothers, counseling or mentoring for single parents, and student organizations for parents.
- Winona State University The Children's Center at WSU offers year-round childcare for children six weeks old to grade four.
- University of Cincinnati - Main Campus UC's Early Learning Center provides high-quality educational programs to children of students and faculty at the university.
- Arizona State University - Main Campus Students with children can access on-campus childcare services and financial assistance.
- Boston College The Children's Center at Boston College operates Monday through Friday during the school year.
- Regis College The Regis Children's Center provides childcare to children age 15 months to kindergarten. Children use the entire campus to learn and play.
- Boise State University Student parents can enroll their children in BSU's Children's Center, established in 1979.
Getting a Social Work Degree Online
Online programs provide many benefits that single parents find useful, including flexibility, convenience, and affordability. Attending class and doing school work from the comfort of your own home, on your own schedule, reduces stress and saves time. Instead of rushing out the door to drop the kids off at daycare so you can get to class at a specific time each day, you can log on to your class whenever is most convenient. Some parents do their coursework at night after their kids go to bed. Others prefer to work early in the morning, before the kids wake up. If you live with other family members, they might keep an eye on your children while you study.
Single parents can also save money by attending class online. By completing coursework at home, you can avoid paying for expensive daycare services. Online schools also tend to cost less than on-campus programs. Additionally, distance learners do not have to pay for transportation to campus, parking, or on-campus housing.
Most social work programs do require an in-person internship or practicum. However, online social work students typically complete field requirements at a site in their local community.
Other Tips for Single Parents Going to School for Social Work
Research Financial Aid Options Early
Plenty of financial aid opportunities exist to help single parents. However, since there is a large amount of competition, you need to do your research and apply as soon as possible.
Parenting already presents significant challenges, even without work and school. People want to help you, so don't be too proud to accept their offers. Make sure to ask for help when you need it. Try to connect with other parents in similar situations.
Take Care of Yourself
Single parent students can easily forget to practice self-care and consequently burn out. Take time to do things for yourself so that you have the energy to achieve your goal of graduating. This time to yourself could be as simple as a walk, a bath, or an episode of a show you enjoy.
How to Pay for a Social Work Degree as a Single Parent
Figuring out how to pay for your social work degree can be especially hard when you have children and household expenses to also consider. Fortunately, the federal government, private foundations, and other organizations can help you cover some or all of the cost.
To improve your chances of receiving the most financial aid, make sure you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The federal government uses the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for several kinds of financial aid, including student loans and work-study. Students can use financial aid to pay for tuition, fees, books, housing, and childcare. The federal government also offers grants for single parents for college expenses. You can fill out the FAFSA starting on October 1 the year before you start classes. To improve your chances of receiving funding, complete your application as soon as possible.
Everyone considering going to college should fill out the FAFSA.
Everyone considering going to college should fill out the FAFSA. Even if you don't qualify for any federal financial aid, you might need the FAFSA to apply for financial aid from other sources. Many colleges and state governments require students to fill out the FAFSA to determine financial aid eligibility. Even when you apply for scholarships through private foundations, you sometimes need to prove financial need by submitting your FAFSA.
To fill out the FAFSA you need several documents, including your Social Security number, driver's license number, federal tax information, and records of your assets and untaxed income. Single parents typically support themselves, but if your own parents can claim you as a dependent for tax purposes, you also need their Social Security numbers and federal tax information.
Types of Financial Aid Available to Single Parents
- Scholarships are the best possible way to pay for your education. Organizations usually award scholarships based on your merits and achievements. They may assess candidates based on criteria like GPA, volunteer work, leadership experience, and participation in extracurricular activities. Some scholarships also include a needs-based component. Look for single-parent college scholarships from nonprofits, corporations, private foundations, professional organizations, and your college.
- Scholarships and grants share many characteristics, and some organizations use the two terms interchangeably. Most students receive grants based on financial need, rather than merit. Some organizations award grants in exchange for an agreement that the recipient will work in a high-demand area for a certain amount of time after graduation. When going back to school as a single parent, grants for college can greatly alleviate how much you need to pay.
- Federal Loans
- The federal government operates a federal student loan program to help students pay for college. Unlike scholarships and grants, you must repay your loans once you graduate. Federal loans offer many incentives that private lenders lack. Benefits can include low, subsidized, and fixed interest rates; income-based repayment plans; deferment periods; and loan cancellation programs. You may qualify for a variety of different federal student loans, including direct unsubsidized, direct subsidized, direct PLUS, and federal Perkins.
- Private Loans
- In some cases, you may need to take out a private loan to pay for your education. When you take a private loan, you borrow money from a private lender, rather than the federal government. Private lenders create their own loan terms, and usually don't enact the same borrower-friendly policies as federal student loans. Make sure you understand all of the terms of your loan contract and carefully consider how you will make your loan payments.
More Ways for Single Parents to Save
Employer Tuition Assistance
Single parents can also receive help paying for school by looking for jobs that offer tuition reimbursement programs. You may already work for a company that offers education assistance without knowing it. A surprising number of workplaces offer some type of employer-sponsored tuition assistance. Companies usually provide assistance to employees seeking education relevant to their position. Sometimes, employers offer tuition assistance programs simply as a way to attract the most talented workforce.
Companies usually provide assistance to employees seeking education relevant to their position.
Students can receive up to $5,250 of tax-free educational benefits from their employer each year, according to section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code. In some cases, your employer may be able to contribute even more tax-free funding if the assistance constitutes a working condition fringe benefit. You can apply money from your employer towards tuition, books, fees, supplies, and other equipment necessary for your education. Students can use employer-sponsored tuition assistance for undergraduate, graduate, or even non-degree classes.
Single parents who work at colleges or universities often qualify for tuition waivers or reductions as a benefit of employment. Receiving a tuition waiver can amount to tens of thousands of tax-free income each year. When you contact prospective schools, ask about research assistantships or teaching assistantships. Employer-sponsored scholarships present another potential opportunity for funding. Many companies and organizations offer a limited number of educational scholarships to employees and their dependents.
A recent study found that in many states, the cost of center-based childcare exceeds the cost of college tuition. In every region of the U.S., parents pay more for childcare than the combined annual cost of food and transportation, making it one of the most significant costs for families with young children. In many parts of the country, families spend a greater percentage of their income on childcare than their mortgage or rent. Paying for daycare and your own education at the same time can seem overwhelming and cause a lot of stress.
Thankfully, some federal organizations award grants to low-income single parents. While in college, grants for single parents can help you pay for childcare, babysitters, and other costs. You may also apply for private grants through foundations, local social welfare agencies, and nonprofits.
The U.S. Department of Education's Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS) program provides funding for colleges and universities to establish campus-based childcare services. Colleges then pass the savings on to low-income students by subsidizing the cost of childcare; providing before- and after-school childcare services; or by providing childcare services on campus or in the community. Schools compete for CCAMPIS grants every four years. The goal of CCAMPIS is to encourage low-income parents to earn college degrees.
Federal tax breaks can also lessen the burden of college for single parents. Tax credits that single parents commonly qualify for include the child tax credit, earned income tax credit, and child and dependent care tax credit. The child tax credit gives parents up to $1,000 for each child age 16 years old or younger. The credit shrinks for single parents who make $75,000 or more each year. Single parents who owe less in tax than what they qualify to receive with the child tax credit get a refund of the difference.
Tax credits that single parents commonly qualify for include the child tax credit, earned income tax credit, and child and dependent care tax credit.
Another tax credit especially beneficial to low- and moderate-income single parents is the earned income tax credit. The amount you receive from the earned income tax credit depends on your income and the number of children in your household. You receive a bigger credit for each additional child. Like with the child tax credit, if your credit is larger than what you owe, you receive a refund for the balance.
The child and dependent care tax credit lets parents deduct up to 35% of their childcare expenses, depending on their income. You must work and have an income or qualify as a full-time student. Single parents can also reduce their taxable income by claiming the dependent exemption for each child.