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8 Tips for Single Parent College Success

If you’re a single parent about to enroll in college courses, you already know a lot about responsibility, self-discipline, and time management. Those very same skills that make you a loving and effective parent will be the keys to your academic success.

The American Council on Education’s report for the 2011-2012 academic year showed that 3.5 million single-parent students were beginning or continuing their higher education. Comprised of approximately 78 percent women and 22 percent men with an average number of 1.63 children, this single-parent student population continues to grow. Balancing your commitments and staying on top of your obligations to family, work, and studies over the coming years will be challenging, but it’s definitely worth it and doable if you incorporate these eight tips.

1) Nail down reliable childcare.

Knowing your kids are consistently cared for while you’re in class or studying removes one of the biggest barriers single parents face when returning to school. Many campuses provide subsidized childcare for students; some host daycare centers in off-campus housing units or playgroups that also help parents build social peer networks. If not, consult your student affairs office or the college’s website for local provider references. Check with your county’s local Child Care Resource and Referral office to explore other options available to you.

2) Get organized.

Staying on top of your assignments and deadlines can be extra challenging when you’ve got young children competing for your attention. Take advantage of the many online resources shared by successful college students who’ve been in your shoes:

3) Create an ironclad schedule.

As soon as you get your syllabus, draft a month-to-month schedule that accounts for every hour of your coursework time. Add in family events, doctor’s appointments, and downtime for yourself. Share the schedule with your kids to enlist their support and cooperation. Maintain a consistent bedtime for your children so you can enjoy alone time in the evening to focus on chores or homework.

4) Solicit personal support.

Let friends and family know how excited you are to be enrolling in school, and share your dreams and goals with them. Ask for help when you need it, and thank them for their patience in advance for the times you might not be as available to them. Make sure your children know that you’re going back to school to create a better life for them. Involve them in your academic life by doing homework together or taking trips to the library.

5) Get academic support.

Introduce yourself to all of your professors and let them know that you’re a single parent. Making a personal connection goes a long way if you miss a deadline or are absent due to a child’s illness or injury. Work with an academic advisor if you need help navigating the college’s system and services.

6) Explore financial support.

More than 65 percent of students raising children on their own have full- or part-time jobs, according to the American Council on Education’s analysis. You may be eligible for governmental financial assistance and public benefits, financial aid from your school, and/or special need-based grants all designed for single-parent students.

7) Don’t take on more than you can handle.

Dr. Bill Burns, director of the North Dakota State University Counseling Center, suggests you don’t overburden yourself with work and studies. If you do have a job, “Anything more than 17 hours a week starts to interfere with a student’s academic success,” Burns advises. If you have to work more than 17 hours a week, slow your schooling pace and take fewer credits.

8) Explore online education opportunities.

Online degree programs are ideal for single parents. You earn your degree at your own pace using a flexible schedule that works for you. You can log into your virtual classroom and discussion board at any time of the day or night, and you never need to miss an important event in your child’s life or skip class due to an unexpected parental obligation.