More and more parents are going back to school, and many of them are single parents. According to the latest statistics from the National Center for Education (NCES), roughly 22 percent of all college undergraduates have kids, and roughly 62 percent of students with kids are single mothers.
If you are one of the many single parents considering college enrollment, you are bound to have countless concerns when it comes to weighing the potential benefits of a college education against the significant expenditures of money, time, and energy that a college education demands. Read on for some essential information about returning to school as a single parent and some valuable tips to help ensure that you get the absolute best return on your educational investment.
Why Is Returning to School So Important for Many Single Parents?
A single parent may seek new educational opportunities for a wide variety of reasons, and they share many of these reasons with students of all kinds, at all stages of life, and with all kinds of existing responsibilities. However, many single parents return to college shortly after their divorce or separation in order to seek a better and more fulfilling life for themselves and their children.
Sometimes they enroll in school to gain increased financial stability after losing the income of their former spouse. For example, a newly divorced housewife without a college degree might find that she has limited access to jobs with decent pay. Recent data from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) shows that people with a bachelor’s degree earn 31 percent more than people with an associate degree and 84 percent more than people with high school diplomas. In fact, many people without a college degree resort to working several jobs to make ends meet.
Even if they do not need more money, many divorced parents decide to pursue old dreams and new horizons now that they are single. They may want to change careers for personal reasons or simply better themselves by boosting their level of education and learning new skills. Some return to college simply to gain a sense of personal achievement and self-actualization.
Of course, the well-being of their children typically factors heavily in any single parent’s decision to return to school. Beyond providing their kids with a certain standard of life, single parents often cite role modeling as one of the driving forces behind their return to the classroom. After all, studies have shown that the offspring of parents who went to college are statistically more likely to go to college themselves.
What Are the Advantages of College for Single Parents?
While the challenges of juggling solo parenting, earning a living, and going to school at the same time can certainly be daunting, if not overwhelming, single parents in pursuit of a college degree actually enjoy a few distinct advantages. Some of these advantages are already “built-in” to their character. For example, the typical single parent is already adept at time management, which can give them the upper hand over other students when it comes to turning in assignments on time, completing course readings, studying for exams, and performing any number of academic tasks.
Single parents who return to school can also benefit from financial assistance in the form of specialized and targeted scholarships and grants. In fact, there is a wealth of financial aid available to single mothers alone.
When they enroll in the college or university of their choice, many single parents are surprised to find extensive networks of support from like-minded people. Connecting with faculty, administrators, mentors, and fellow students, they are likely to stumble upon any number of resources that can help them in their academic, professional, and personal lives.
Finally, research has shown that students who are parents, single or otherwise, generally outperform their classmates in terms of overall academic achievement. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), a full third of US students who are parents have a grade point average of 3.5 or above. Only roughly a quarter of young college students still dependent on their parents can reach the same GPA level.
Tips for Balancing School With Single Parenthood
Despite this handful of advantages, balancing school with single parenthood is never an easy task. As you travel your chosen academic path as a single parent, you are bound to find yourself running short on time, money, and energy.
Yet single parents can overcome all these obstacles to earn a valuable college degree or certificate. Here are just a handful of tips that can help set you up for success as a single parent student.
1. Set Realistic Goals
This one is relatively straightforward. While you certainly want to aim high with your professional and personal objectives, do not let your ambition get the best of you by setting goals that are unattainable. As you work to make your long-term dreams come true, consider setting intermediary goals (or “milestones”) that help keep you on track and allow you to celebrate smaller accomplishments along the way.
2. Consider Different Program Formats
While face-to-face, on-campus programs offer several advantages, many single parents find that online courses offer the flexibility they need to fit work and childcare into their school schedule. Beyond the convenience of logging on from home rather than driving to class, online programs generally allow you tremendous leeway to set your pace and study when you can. Online programs also generally save students money by eliminating commutes and lowering tuition costs by eliminating much of the overhead associated with traditional brick-and-mortar institutions.
In addition to distance learning, single parents will typically want to consider enrolling in school part-time rather than full-time. Whether attending classes online or in-person, part-time enrollment will spread tuition expenses over a more extended period of time, in addition to freeing up your schedule.
3. Look into Transfer Credits and Credit for Work Experience
Since many single parents tend to return to school a bit later in life, they have often completed a certain amount of college coursework in the past. Therefore, you should take care to see if your past schoolwork can apply to your new academic venture. This is particularly true of people who already have a college degree but are looking to transition into a new field because chances are pretty good that credits for some prerequisites and core college classes will transfer.
Many colleges and universities have also instituted prior learning assessment programs that offer college credit for work experience. These programs are essential for single parents who may want to obtain an undergraduate or graduate degree in a field that they have been working in for years.
4. Research Financial Aid for Single Parents
Any single mom or dad who also works while taking college courses may need additional help. There may be grants or scholarships available to help you cut back on work hours, so you have more time to spend on learning. Check out these federal grants that could help. Single-mom financial aid has helped countless women get the financial assistance they need to return to school.
5. Determine Which Degree Is Best for the Long Term
Choosing the right degree for the long term is essential if you want the best return on your educational investment. Do not confuse realistic goal setting with selling yourself short by pursuing an easily attainable goal that provides only short-term gain.
6. Build a Support System
You will need someone to help monitor your children when you are busy with your online classes. Bring in a family member or friend who is willing to help until your school term ends. If you have no one willing to volunteer, consider hiring a reliable and qualified childcare professional. This way, you will have someone to help manage the children and keep them occupied so you can study. Everyone needs help occasionally, even supermoms. Do not be ashamed to admit that you need help – and be proactive in asking for it.
7. Use Tools to Help You Get Organized
As a parent, you already know the supreme importance of good organization. You probably have plenty of experience organizing playdates, school activities, parties, drop-offs, pickups, and more. Put that experience to good use in your academic life as well. Become a master planner and organizer.
Thankfully, there are plenty of computer programs and digital apps for students that can provide crucial organizational assistance. Use digital platforms such as Blackboard to set reminders for online class times, assignment due dates, quizzes, tests, and more. Many of these apps are available to download for free on Google Play or on the App Store. Try them out and see which ones help you stay on track.
Other organizing apps are geared toward taking the stress out of parenting. Apps such as Family Organizer or OurHome help you complete helpful tasks such as assigning chores, tracking important dates, and building grocery lists. Helpful for parents in general, apps like these become lifesavers for single moms with academic obligations.
8. Set Aside Time for Weekly Meal Prep
The work/life balance of a single mom in college is tough enough without adding a vitamin deficiency or exhaustion to the mix. Make sure you are eating plenty of healthy, high-energy foods throughout your day. Look below for just a few examples of food items that are both incredibly good for you and relatively easy to prepare and eat. In fact, you can grab many of these items on the go and enjoy them wherever your day happens to take you! Consider taking advantage of the nutritional power of…
- Leafy greens
- Sweet potatoes
- Dark chocolate
Additionally, you should drink plenty of water and limit your intake of caffeine and sugary drinks that give you immediate highs but can then cause energy levels to crash. Get the sleep you need to feel good, not just enough to keep you vertical. Doing so is one of the best ways to maintain a busy schedule without crashing.
9. Take Time for Movement and the Outdoors
Physical exercise is extremely valuable for students, working professionals, and people from all walks of life. While the health and wellness benefits of exercise are well-known, busy single parents may encounter any number of difficulties while trying to fit a trip to the gym within their already overstuffed schedules.
If this sounds familiar to you, do not despair! There are many ways to stay physically active throughout the day, even if you cannot commit large blocks of time to a regimented exercise program. Most health and fitness experts tout the exceptional benefits of simply moving your body as much as possible. Sure, this movement can take the form of a long jog or spin class, but it does not have to. Never underestimate the revitalizing power of just getting up from your desk to take a stroll around the room! All types of movement can help ward off highly damaging physical conditions that range from heart disease to obesity. The strong link between physical movement and good mental health is also well established.
Of course, the physical and mental health benefits of movement compound exponentially if you can upgrade your short walk around the room to a longer walk around your neighborhood. In fact, the simple act of stepping outside can do wonders for your general wellness. While spending time outside, students can get away from the technology that constantly connects them to their responsibilities and fully disengage from academic demands. In short, being outside and communing with nature has been proven to reduce stress, promote mindfulness, sharpen your abilities, and improve your overall psychological and physiological state.
To Learn More
At Post University, we offer a broad spectrum of undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs that take place entirely online, making them ideal choices for busy single parents who want to return to school but have serious scheduling concerns. If you want to reap the benefits that only face-to-face instruction in the classroom environment can provide, Post University has you covered with our unique hybrid on-campus/online format. We even have evening and weekend programs to better fit into the schedules of working students and single parents alike.
If you are wondering about how to go back to school as a single mom or want to know the best degrees for single moms, you should contact a highly knowledgeable representative of Post University today. You can get more information about our full catalog of convenient and accessible online and hybrid program options by clicking here.
Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!
Please note jobs and/or career outcomes highlighted in this blog do not reflect jobs or career outcomes expected from any Post program. To learn more about Post’s program and their outcomes, please fill out a form to speak with an admissions advisor.