Attending College as a Student-Parent

Attending college as a student-parent can be challenging. Here, we outline helpful resources to make the process easier.

September 28, 2021

Attending College as a Student-Parent

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A college degree can help people advance or start their career. For parents, however, beginning or returning to school comes with unique challenges. Student-parents must juggle childcare with coursework. They carry greater financial responsibilities than peers without children. Often, student-parents must work extra jobs to support themselves and their children while earning their degree.

This guide lists some common college-provided resources for student-parents. It also offers tips for student-parents to help make their transition to college smoother.

What Makes a College Student-Parent Friendly?

Student-parents' different situations often present different needs. Many colleges offer diverse resources for student-parents so all can find help. Student-parent friendly schools often feature the resources and programs listed below.

Some colleges offer specific support programs for student-mothers and their children. Such programs might include an office to help mothers find childcare, housing, and medical care. Programs may offer financial aid that takes student-parents' living expenses into consideration, without attached work requirements.

Students should ask prospective schools' financial aid offices about the availability of such financial support. Degree-seekers should also check school websites for a resource and referral office.

Many student-parents struggle to find affordable housing near campus for themselves, their children, and possibly their partner. Fortunately, some colleges offer family friendly housing. At these schools, student-parents and their families enjoy sufficient space, privacy, and independence. Family friendly housing lets student-parents actively participate in their school's community.

The Campus Family Housing Database identifies colleges offering family friendly housing. Students can search the comprehensive database by state.

Some colleges offer inexpensive or free on-campus childcare facilities. College childcare facilities can make a huge difference for student-parents facing heavy financial and time constraints. On-campus childcare centers also allow student-parents to build community and access other resources.

Student-parents should identify themselves early in the application process to discover what childcare facilities prospective schools offer. Degree-seekers should search schools' websites for information on childcare programs and contact those programs directly.

Some colleges offer additional support services to make their campuses as family friendly as possible. These services might include a designated student-parent center that hosts events like play groups or clothing swaps. Other services could include community-building resources for student-parents, such as online discussion forums or organized social events.

Students should check colleges' websites to see what other resources for student-parents they offer.

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Preparing to Go Back to School

Pursuing a degree while parenting poses many challenges. With advance planning and awareness of resources for student-parents, degree-seekers with children can achieve their goals. This section covers several factors that student-parents should consider when preparing to return to school.

Student-parents must consider how a school or program fits into their lives. An online program's flexibility and convenience benefits student-parents. Childcare is less of an obstacle for distance learners. They can complete coursework from home in the evenings while their children sleep. Students planning to attend school in-person should look into college childcare and family friendly housing.

Programs offering flexible schedules make going to school easier for student-parents. Traditional class times often conflict with work or childcare.

Advisors serve as advocates for students and help them map out their entire college journey. An advisor who understands specific student-parent challenges can help connect degree-seekers to valuable resources for student-parents. These include resources both on and off campus, such as financial aid, medical care, and college childcare.

Colleges often assign students an advisor based on the student's major. However, students may request a different advisor, from either inside or outside of their program.

Many scholarships exist specifically to help student-parents cover tuition, childcare, and living expenses. Financial assistance makes life much easier for student-parents who would otherwise need to balance coursework with a full-time job.

Students can search for relevant scholarships online, including the Working Parent College Scholarship Award and the Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund. Please note that example scholarships may be closed or past their deadline for the current application cycle. All students should also apply for federal student aid by completing the FAFSA.

Finding Childcare Support

Student-parents benefit from various childcare service options while earning their degree. Many schools offer their own college childcare and early childhood education programs on campus. This section covers different childcare support options available to student-parents, and how to find them.

Resources for the Single-Parent

SPARC offers tools and resources for single parents and their children, including classes, workshops, and social events. Students can benefit from building new skills and joining a community of other single parents. SMC offers support and community to its members via an online forum, a blog, a newsletter, and events. Female-identifying single student-parents, or those considering becoming mothers without a partner, can benefit from meeting others in their position. This resource provides information on financial assistance available for single mothers, including college grants, food stamps, and Medicaid. Students can search for types and amounts of assistance available in their state. This site offers a directory of grants that help single mothers with major expenses, such as rent. Such financial assistance makes pursuing a degree affordable for students with children. This organization provides educational and financial assistance to single mothers attending college in Dallas or Phoenix. Students can benefit from resources including scholarships, legal counsel, tutoring, and emergency funds. This site offers resources for single fathers, including advice on parenting, legal issues, and dating. Students can benefit from an online social network connecting them to a community of other single fathers.

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