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According to a 2019 Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) report, 3.8 million college students were also parents. Among that population, the majority were student mothers, and more than 60% of student mothers enrolled in college were single.

Student parents face unique challenges related to finances, time constraints, and social acceptance. Many colleges and universities lack childcare resources, which leaves student parents — especially single ones — searching for ways to care for their children while at school.

A 2018 article from Inside Higher Ed also highlights how childcare concerns can cause "time poverty" — a lack of sufficient time to study and complete class work. A 2018 IWPR report found that 55% of single mothers leave school without earning a college credential, a direct result of the time poverty caused by lack of childcare. Thus, resources targeted at student parents are essential for their success.

This guide provides information regarding scholarships, financial aid, and other opportunities for student parents, especially ones pursuing MBAs.

Finding an MBA Program as a Single Parent

Getting an MBA Degree Online

Because of the cost and time commitments for traditional on-campus programs, some MBA student parents pursue online degrees. Online synchronous programs allow students to attend live virtual classes with other learners. Asynchronous programs often let enrollees work at their own pace, interacting with instructors and classmates through venues like discussion boards.

With affordable online programs, students don't need to consider commuting, relocation, and other on-campus expenses, though online courses may charge additional technology fees. Learners typically only need textbooks, a computer, and an internet connection to participate in distance education. Here are some other things to consider:

Other Tips for Single Parents Going to MBA School

Take Advantage of University Services

Universities offer services — often included in the price of tuition — such as counseling and mentoring to help you achieve your academic and personal goals.

Reach Out to Other Single Parents

Connect with other parents on campus to build a support system. Sharing tips and resources with each other can make completing a degree as a student parent easier.

Research Online Programs

Online programs vary, though many schools offer degrees held to the same standards as their on-campus counterparts. Research your options.

How to Pay for an MBA Degree as a Single Parent

This section covers the financial options for MBA student parents. The government awards financial aid packages to students in need. Sometimes, these packages cover the cost of tuition with additional money allocated for other educational expenses.

The FAFSA

Students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be eligible for federal or state-sponsored financial aid. The FAFSA opens each year on October 1 and closes on June 30. Learners should fill out the form as soon as possible each year to receive the best possible financial aid package.

Keep in mind that each state has its own deadlines, so students should refer to their school's financial aid office to verify those dates. The FAFSA is available online or can be printed and mailed, and students will need several important documents that detail their financial information in order to complete the form.

The FAFSA created an IRS data retrieval tool to help applicants transfer their tax return information over. Students must also supply records of untaxed income, such as child support and other benefits. Additionally, learners submit their Social Security number and information regarding bank accounts and investments.

Anyone can receive financial aid so long as they are a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizenattending an accredited institution. Based on income and other financial information, the FAFSA determines whether students are eligible for grants, loans, and scholarships.

Types of Financial Aid Available to Single Parents

  • Scholarships
  • Schools and organizations award scholarships based on merit, meaning the student must exhibit exceptional academic performance. Learners can also receive scholarships based on other factors, such as cultural background, gender, and major. This type of aid does not require repayment.
  • Grants
  • The FAFSA awards grants such as federal Pell Grants, TEACH grants, and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. Like scholarships, the FAFSA considers grants a form of gift aid, which means they do not require repayment. Each grant comes with its own stipulations and eligibility requirements.
  • Federal Loans
  • When students take out a loan, they borrow money that they must repay with interest. The federal government distributes direct subsidized loans, direct unsubsidized loans, direct PLUS loans, and direct consolidation loans. Subsidized loans are awarded to students with financial need, but anyone can receive an unsubsidized loan, regardless of their financial status. MBA student parents should research PLUS loans made exclusively for graduate students.
  • Private Loans
  • When federal loans, scholarships, and grants cannot cover the cost of tuition and other college-related expenses, students can apply for private loans through lenders. Interest rates tend to be higher on private loans compared to their federal counterparts, and repayment plans are not usually as flexible.

More Ways for Single Parents to Save

Employer Tuition Assistance

Some employers offer tuition reimbursement or scholarships to help their employees earn educational credentials, including MBA degrees. However, the employer can put stipulations on the reimbursement: Common requirements include earning a minimum GPA or pursuing a major related to the employee's career field.

For workers with student loans, the IRS allows companies to distribute nontaxable loan payments of up to $5,250 per year through 2025.

Employees of colleges and universities may be eligible for tuition waivers — some schools offer waivers that pay for one or more classes per semester. They may also extend these waivers to spouses and children.

Childcare Grants

Access to childcare can help student parents more effectively balance their studies and family obligations. However, not all childcare is affordable for student parents.

Initiatives like the U.S. Department of Education Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program provide funds for colleges and universities to establish or continue running their on-campus childcare programs.

Some institutions reserve funds to help student parents with childcare costs. For example, the University of California, Davis offers two childcare grant programs: One meets the needs of graduate students, while the other accommodates all students who demonstrate financial and situational needs.

Parent students can also apply for financial assistance through government agencies. Childcare.gov gathers information about government-sponsored childcare resources, including vouchers, certificates, and subsidies. In Seattle, Washington, for instance, student parents can apply for assistance to care for children up to 12 years of age.

Tax Breaks

Child and Dependent Care Credit

The child and dependent care tax credit benefits individuals who need to pay for the care of children and dependents so they can work or search for a job. To qualify, the taxpayer (and their spouse, if married) must be employed full or part time or actively seeking work. Families also qualify if one spouse is a full-time student.

Child Tax Credit

In 2021, the child tax credit increased from $2,000 to $3,600 for children five years of age and younger and $3,000 for children aged 6-17. Only one parent can receive the credit.

American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC)

Designed to help individuals pay for education expenses, the AOTC applies to money spent on the first four years of education after high school. Individuals must be enrolled at a higher education institution or other recognized educational program to apply. Credit up to $2,500 is based on students' adjusted gross income for the tax year.

Lifetime Learning Credit

Individuals enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, or professional coursework can apply for the lifetime learning credit for tuition and related expenses. There is no limit on the number of years to claim the lifetime learning credit, which can be worth up to $2,000.

Scholarships for Single Parents

Women's Independence Scholarship Program


Who Can Apply: This scholarship helps women who have left abusive relationships and currently receive social services to help them get back on their feet.

Amount: $1,000-$6,000

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ASSP Foundation Family Scholarship Fund


Who Can Apply: The fund was created to help children and spouses that have lost family members in workplace accidents.

Amount: Varies

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MissionSquare Retirement Memorial Scholarship Fund


Who Can Apply: The scholarship program assists spouses of firefighters, police officers, and other public servants who have been killed in the line of duty.

Amount: Up to $10,000

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Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation


Who Can Apply: The foundation offers scholarships to low-income women with children to further their education.

Amount: Up to $5,000

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Soroptimist Live Your Dreams Education and Training Awards


Who Can Apply: Educational grants are awarded to women who are the primary providers for their families and have financial need. Only those pursuing a career training program or undergraduate degree can apply.

Amount: $1,000-$16,000

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AAUW Career Development Grants


Who Can Apply: This grant helps women who already have a bachelor's degree but are planning to advance their career, switch career paths, or re-enter the workforce in social sciences, education, or health and medical services.

Amount: $2,000-$12,000

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ASIST Scholarship


Who Can Apply: The scholarship is intended for adults with a financial, social, and/or physical challenge or hardship who are pursuing higher education or skills training.

Amount: $2,000-$10,000

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Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund


Who Can Apply: Scholarships are available to single parents in financial need who seek new careers, higher education, or job training in Arkansas and Bowie County, Texas.

Amount: Varies

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Beatrice F. Kroesche Memorial Scholarship


Who Can Apply: Single parents enrolled in the English or education departments at the University of Utah can apply.

Amount: $1,000-$2,000

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Common Questions About Student Parents


How do you manage being a single parent and going to college?

Being a single parent and going to college takes determination, hard work, and effective time management. Financial support exists to help single parents with additional expenses they face as caregivers.

What are some challenges single parents face when going to college?

Single parents may face childcare-related financial strain. Additionally, a study from Ascend at the Aspen Institute and The Jed Foundation found student parents report challenges such as feeling isolated, struggling to make study time, and feeling overwhelmed.

What are the advantages of being a single parent in college?

Single parents often demonstrate resilience against challenges — for example, a 2019 report from IWPR and Ascend at the Aspen Institute found student parents had higher GPAs than their childless peers. Student parents in college can also apply for scholarships, grants, and other financial assistance programs unavailable to non-parent learners.

What do student parents need?

In addition to affordable childcare, student parents need support networks to help them thrive. Family and friends can provide emotional support. Faculty, employers, and mentors can provide career support.


Featured Image: hobo_018 / E+ / Getty Images

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