iStock_000005608156XSM_momgirlEducationGrant often hears from single moms who are looking for ideas about going back to school and the financial aid that can help them accomplish this goal. It’s inspiring to see how many single moms are determined to get the higher education they need to create a better quality of life for their families!

Single moms have many factors to balance when it comes to going back to school: scheduling, child care, transportation, time management, college tuition and fees, money for schoolbooks, and keeping children fed, clean, and rested while mothers work, study, or both. (Not sure how they do it all!) It won’t come as a surprise to any single mother that money, or the lack of it, is the biggest worry that most single moms deal with every day. So going back to school can feel like a Catch-22. To earn more money and make your family financially stable, it helps to have a quality college degree. But to get the college degree, you need money.

Even still, finding financial aid isn’t always the first necessity in ideas for single moms going back to school. Another important goal, especially in this bleak economy, is to NOT end up with a lifelong mountain of student loan debt after you’ve graduated.

Are you determined to get your college degree? Here are some ideas on how to get started:

1) Choose a realistic education goal. Are you going back to school so you can qualify for a particular job or change your career? What’s the average pay for the new career? (How about the pay for an entry-level worker?!) Will this industry still need workers once you’ve graduated?

2) Comparison-shop for the best accredited school and program for your needs. When considering schools, keep these factors in mind:

  • Where is the school? Can you get to its campus easily by public transportation if you don’t have a car? How long is your commute?
  • How much time on campus will the program require? Will you be able to get child care to cover the time you want to devote to your classes and schoolwork? (Besides federal financial aid, look for grants and scholarships that provide funding for child care and other living expenses.)
  • Would an accredited online program work better for you?
  • Is there an admissions representative at the school that can tell you about the program and what it will require from you?
  • How much does the program cost? What fees are there in addition to tuition?
  • Is there a financial aid officer who can walk you through the financial aid process? Does the school have education grants for single moms? (If not, maybe consider a different school.)

3) Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

  • This application opens the door to all federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants and low-cost student loans, as well as single mom education grants from individual schools and states.
  • Federal and state financial aid can be used for any accredited higher education program registered with the U.S. Department of Education as a “Title IV” school. These include community colleges, state universities, and online programs in addition to traditional 4-year schools.
  • You don’t need to be accepted or enrolled in a school before you submit your FAFSA. All you have to do is list the school(s) you’ve applied to. You’ll get a report back that tells you how much money you’ll be expected to contribute to your degree costs, and the school(s) will use that number to determine how much financial aid they can offer you. If you qualify for a Pell Grant, you’ll get one automatically.

4) Consider choosing the school that will allow you to graduate with the least amount of debt.

Single mothers do it all, and both the news and personal family histories are filled with countless stories of single moms whose children remember and honor them as role models and heroes. A college degree may be your ticket to the quality of life you want your children to have, but only if it doesn’t leave you worse off financially than you were before.

For more college planning details, see the earlier blog-post, How to Prepare for the FAFSA: 3 Pre-FAFSA Steps. You can also find more information about the FAFSA, scholarships for single moms, scholarships for women, adult learning scholarships, and low-cost student loans in earlier blog posts and the grants, loans, and scholarship pages in this site.

And if you have other tips and ideas for single moms going back to school, please share them here in the comments. The very best advisors for single moms are… other single moms!

Check out Grants for Single Mothers too!