Young adults from single-parent households enjoy a greater educational advantage and complete about 1.30 fewer years of formal education than their peers from two-parent households. Family income was the oft-cited reason for students who achieved some college education but didn’t earn a degree. With the average cost of a two-year community college education estimated at $20,600 alone, it’s no wonder that college enrollment has decreased by 5% (Fall 2009-Fall2019)!
But it doesn’t have to be in your case! If you come from a single-parent family, you will find numerous college scholarships intended exclusively for individuals in your situation. These scholarships can be stacked with federal and state financial aid for undergraduate students, too, meaning you may be able to earn a degree with little to no student loans. With your drive and determination, you will also be able to overcome your unique familial, social and cultural handicaps in the way of your academic success.
College scholarships and grants are excellent ways of reducing the total cost of attendance for economically disadvantaged students from single-parent families. But family support, personal determination, effective planning, and willingness to ask for assistance are also critical to every student’s academic success.
How can single parents also benefit from these scholarships?
The contemporary single-parent family faces several issues that result in overwhelming stress, particularly for low-income families. The oft-cited source of stress is lower income for the household, particularly with little to no child and spousal support from the higher income-earning partner or spouse. Single parents, however, have numerous resources at their disposal if they know where to look! Their children’s college education may be in the bag with generous private scholarships and federal and state aid through FAFSA and other public programs.
College Scholarships for Students from Single Parent Household
The Fry Scholarship is open for children and non-remarried surviving spouses of Armed Forces who died in duty while on or not on active duty on or after September 11, 2001. This is also open for the children and non-remarried surviving spouses of Selected Reserve members who lost their lives due to a service-connected disability on or after 9/11. But applicants must be 32 years or below at the time of application to be considered.
Recipients can receive up to 36 months of a full scholarship and financial assistance for housing, books and supplies. The tuition assistance covers full in-state tuition at a public school or a maximum of $22,805.34 per year at out-of-state and private institutions. The Department of Veterans Affairs administers the fund.
Administered by the Department of Education, the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are open for students whose parent or legal guardian have died while serving in the armed services and deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11. Applicants must have been under 24 years old or enrolled in a post-secondary institution when their parent’s or legal guardian’s death. Applicants must also not be eligible for a Pell grant based on their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and must meet the other Pell grant eligibility requirements.
The scholarship amount and the maximum Pell grant for the award year are equal, but the former cannot exceed the cost of attendance for the same year. The current scholarship is $6,495 for the 2021-2022 award year.
Recipients who have already earned either their bachelor’s or first-professional degrees aren’t eligible for the grant again. Students who have also used up the 12 semesters of eligibility are also ineligible for reapplication.
The primary eligibility requirement for the Ava’s Grace Scholarship is the incarceration, past or present, of a parent in a state or federal penitentiary. The incarceration resulted in the single-parent family status of the applicants, thus, the financial assistance. Applicants must also meet the following requirements:
- Permanent residency at Missouri or the Bond, Macoupin, Madison, Jersey, Calhoun, Clinton, Monroe or St. Clair counties in Illinois for a minimum of two years before the application date;
- Demonstrate significant financial need (FAFSA must be filed for this purpose, and students with over $15,000 EFC must present proof of extenuating circumstances for consideration);
- Earned at least 2.0 cumulative GPA;
- Plan on attending an accredited non-profit, post-secondary institution; and
- Seeking their first associate, bachelor’s or technical degree
The maximum award amount is $5,000, and the annual application period is from January 16 to April 15.
The WunderGlo Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to colon cancer awareness, offers a college education to students whose parent passed because of colon cancer. High school student applicants in their senior year should have at least a 2.0 cumulative GPA and be accepted into a post-secondary institution, the military, professional trade schools or nursing programs.
The regular scholarship is $2,000 for every student, with three students chosen per year. But for the 2022 scholarship period, three students will be selected to receive $4,000 each. Applications are due April 15, 2022, with the winners announced on May 10, 2022.
Offered at the University of Illinois’ College of Agriculture in Home Economics, the Aretta J. Graham Scholarship is offered exclusively for students from single-parent families, single parents/students, and students orphaned by one or both of their parent’s deaths. The award amount varies, but all recipients have demonstrated significant financial need.
The State University of New York administers Anne Marinucci Buscaglia Scholarship with the Campus Application Portal For Scholarships. Applicants at SUNY must be full-time undergraduate students with a 3.0 minimum cumulative GPA and demonstrate financial aid to qualify.
The award varies yearly, but it’s usually generous enough to warrant numerous applicants vying for the funding credit. Be sure to submit your application by May 5, 2022.
The First Responders Children’s Association administers the Vincent Bennett, Jr. Memorial Scholarship in honor of one of its preeminent contributing members. Here are the eligibility requirements:
- Must be a first-year college student and a child of a first responder, a firefighter or a law enforcement officer who was either permanently disabled or died in the line of duty;
- Must demonstrate financial need;
- Must show a strong academic record with a minimum 2.7 GPA, as well as an exemplary personal record and community involvement;
There are no requirements for the degree program, but engineering students may enjoy preference in the selection process. There are also no state residency requirements.
Scholarship recipients receive $20,000 over four years of the program. Applications are accepted until June 15, 2022, only.
The University of North Texas (UNT) is the David J. Ewing Scholarship administrator, which PepsiCo employees established. Eligibility requirements include:
- Enroll as an undergraduate student in a degree program offered by an accredited post-secondary institution (First- and second-year students may be enrolled as undecided majors and still qualify for the scholarship);
- Be a full-time student during the entirety of their college experience unless part-time enrolment is necessary due to the fewer credit hours required to graduate during their final semester;
- Have one or two of their parents deceased during their working years; and
- Meet federal dependency requirements based on their date of birth, civil status and children
Applications will only be considered when these contain the following documents:
- Two letters of recommendation
- Official transcripts
- A two-page essay detailing professional goals and financial need
- Student Aid Report copy with EFC and responses to dependency questions
The Georgia Public Safety Memorial (GPSM) Grant Program is open for dependent children, both natural and adopted, of the State of Georgia’s Public Safety Officers who were permanently disabled or died in duty. The parent/public safety officer must have been either a part-time or full-time employee, whether appointed or elected, of the State of Georgia at the date of the accident or death.
The dependent child/applicant must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- Must be enrolled as a matriculating, full-time student at a unit of either the University System of Georgia or the Technical College System of Georgia; and
- Must maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) based on the certification issued by the institution
The scholarship amount equals the eligible student’s cost of attendance, less the amount of financial aid. Eligible students can only avail of the scholarship for 12 quarters or eight semesters of full-time study. The scholarship should be renewed annually without guaranteeing that the prior award year recipients will get the full-ride scholarships in the current year. Students in distance learning or online programs are welcome to apply, provided their post-secondary institutions are accredited.
Low-income but high-performing Plano ISD high school seniors, should look into the Hendrick Scholarship Foundation program! They must be academically capable with at least a 2.5 GPA and demonstrate financial need and personal drive. Students selected for the program should first earn their associate degree at Collin College and pursue a bachelor’s degree at their preferred university.
The maximum scholarship award is $15,000 for the four-year award, and it’s divided into $1,500 for the first and second years, followed by $6,000 for the third and fourth years. But the actual amount varied depending on GPA and demonstrated need. Hendrik also provides its recipients with a success coach that provides mentoring, coaching and academic planning services to increase the chances of success.
Guide for Students from Single-parent Families in Hacking the FAFSA
Students with parents who aren’t married, haven’t been married, or divorced may find the FAFSA a bit more complicated. But there are effective hacks that can result in maximum federal financial aid!
#1 Choose the right parent to declare
Federal aid is granted based partly on your family’s current financial situation, as described in the FAFSA. You must provide accurate and complete information about your parents’ income – or in the case of a single-parent household, the right parent for the highest possible amount. Here’s where it gets tricky since the parent you declare on the FAFSA may not be the one that truly counts, aid-wise!
Keep in mind that the parent-related information entered into your FAFSA application will be used to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC considers your family’s tax and income information, including assets, benefits and untaxed income, and the number of individuals in your family and college students during the award year.
With that said, who should you declare as a parent or parents for maximum aid? It depends on which of these family situations you fall into. If your parents are still legally married, you should put both of their information on the FAFSA. If they are divorced, you must put only one parent’s information on the FAFSA.
But which parent, you ask? For FAFSA purposes, keep in mind these tips:
- If your parents are still living together during the application period, your FAFSA must contain both of their information. This is true whether they were never married or have been divorced. (For many reasons, separated or divorced parents still choose to live under the same roof)
- If your parents do not live in the same household, indicate your custodial parent’s information (i.e., the one you physically live with most of the time or live with more than the other parent). This is less about who has legal custody but with whom you spend the most time and who provides the most financial support.
- If you live equally with both parents, your best choice is the parent who provided the higher financial support in the prior year.
In the case of parents who remarried or who are living with new partners but aren’t legally married, the following rules of thumb apply:
- If your custodial parent has remarried, you must report your stepparent’s information. You don’t report the information of your non-custodial parent or the non-financially supportive one.
- If your custodial parent has a new partner but isn’t married, your custodial parent’s income information is the only one you must report. But there’s an exception – if your custodial parent’s new partner is pitching in to pay the utilities and rent, their contributions should be declared as nontaxable income.
- If your custodial parent and their partner are in a common-law marriage as recognized in your state, then the latter is considered a stepparent. The latter’s income information must then be declared in the FAFSA.
If you aren’t living with your parents, you must report both of their information based on the abovementioned scenarios. The exception is when the persons you’re living with are your legally adoptive parents.
You may also consider working your parents’ marital situation to your advantage. You may, for example, choose to live more with a parent who has less income, meaning your EFC will be lower and your financial aid can be higher. But don’t commit fraud by falsely reporting your custodial parent based on income!
When in doubt, you should always ask for the assistance of your university’s financial aid office! You will also be provided with useful information about application deadlines and approval.
#2 Put in complete and accurate information
Applicants for federal aid must share their parents’ information and their personal information, and these must be complete and accurate as much as possible. The federal government doesn’t take kindly to inconsistencies, among others, on the FAFSA form, and it has ways of finding out the bottom line.
You must be ready with the following information even before filling out the form and, thus, minimize mistakes on filling out the FAFSA form.
- Your Social Security number
- Your driver’s license number
- Your parents’ Social Security numbers
- Federal tax information for both you and your parents (i.e., the parent/s you’re declaring on the FAFSA form)
- Untaxed income information, including child support received by your declared parent
- Information about assets, such as cash, investments and other liquid assets, as well as business income
- Date of separation or divorce of your parents
Your university may require additional documents to support your FAFSA declarations, such as a copy of your parents’ divorce agreement. However, these additional documents will not be required when submitting the FAFSA form.
Suppose your parents’ divorce settlement has specific details of who pays for what of your college costs, your FAFSA application becomes easier to fill. Your custodial parent must still provide their income information, but the divorce settlement’s college support plan means the EFC burden doesn’t fall on their shoulders.
Double-check every required field on the FAFSA form before submitting it! You may get less than your expected financial aid due to a simple mistake in your declared parent’s income information.
#3 Avoid oversharing information
Oversharing has become the norm in the age of social media, but it is strongly discouraged when applying for federal aid! You don’t want to report the income of both your parents when only one is required. You must remember that the lower your declared family income, the more chances you will qualify for a higher amount. Your goal is to demonstrate significant financial need.
You should then report the income information of your custodial parent only on the FAFSA form. You may need to disclose information on your non-custodial parent’s income by certain private schools regarding their financial aid. But on the FAFSA form, keep the information focused on your custodial parent.
Also, report alimony as part of your custodial parent’s income information. But you can report child support separately since it’s untaxed. This way, you won’t make the mistake of over-reporting income and, thus, receive more financial aid.
Guide for Single Parents About Tax-advantaged College Fund Opportunities
And speaking of tax information, single parents have a few effective college savings opportunities arising from tax-related programs. First, the Education Savings Bond Program allows taxpayers to maximize the interest earned on certain government bonds redeemed to pay for their children’s tuition. This means the federal government won’t impose taxes on the interest earned and, thus, more dollars can be used for educational payments. The current qualifying bonds include Series I and Series EE Bonds.
But there are qualifying terms and conditions, including:
- The bonds must be in your name or your joint name (i.e., as spouses); and
- Your 2021 modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must be less than $97,350 (single) or $153,550 (married)
For 2022, the MAGI must be less than $100,800 (single) or $158,650 (married).
Second, you can consider either a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) or a 529 Plan. Both have been expanded in their use through the SECURE Act, where up to $10,000 can be used for payments of student debt or apprenticeship costs. Both offer tax-deferred growth provided their funds remain invested in the program.
Consider the differences between the ESA and 529 Plan before investing. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, so you must decide based on your unique circumstances and the plans’ differences, including:
- ESA has a maximum annual contribution of $2,000 per year per child, while the 529 Plan allows $235,000 – $529,000 depending on your state’s laws.
- ESA funds can pay qualified educational costs for private kindergarten, elementary and high school education, and the withdrawals are tax-free. 529 Plan withdrawals are tax-free, provided these are used for qualified education costs.
- The 529 Plan has no interest income limitations, but the ESA interest inclusion has limitations based on MAGI.
Third, look into tax credits related to qualified college tuition. The most notable is the Lifetime Learning Credit, which can result in up to $2,000 in annual tax savings or 20% of the first $10,000 spent on qualified educational costs. Note the MAGI requirements for full credits that, in 2022, was $160,000 – $180,000 (married, joint filing) and $80,000 – $90,000 (single).
Check with your state, too, since tax credits for 529 Plan contributions may be provided. Vermont, for example, has a $250 maximum tax credit for every beneficiary, while Indiana residents can get up to $1,000 per year.
Most importantly, check out the tax breaks for single parents granted by the federal government! Single parents who declare themselves as the head of household can claim a dependent exemption for themselves and their children. The dependent exemption is on top of the higher standard deduction, meaning fewer taxes paid.
Look into the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program with three tiers of credits depending on the single parent’s income and the number of children under their care. Qualified single parents must be in the low- to moderate-income earners classification and can receive more than $6,000 in tax credits.
Guide for Single Parents in Dealing with Your Children Leaving for College
While there are plenty of issues about raising children as a single parent, there are also many benefits to the arrangement. But it also takes commitment, compassion and care – and hard work, to be honest – for you and your children to enjoy these benefits!
Your children may have a stronger sense of responsibility in making everyday and life decisions that balance out their greater freedom. You also have more freedom in making decisions for your family, although you will also have days when the burden becomes heavier than usual. You and your children may also form stronger familial bonds because of your shared experiences.
But here’s the thing about children: They grow up, leave for college and forge their path! You may experience separation anxiety, which can be more profound than your children’s feelings, as a result. Your children striking off on their own during their college years also changes your relationship!
The changes are brought not just by the geographical distance, including the fact that you’re not living under the same roof, but also because the college years are formative. Your children may be torn between dependence and independence, such as cooking their meals but asking for help with the grocery bill once in a while. Your children’s limbo may even confuse you for a while!
Fortunately, separation anxiety and limbo can be overcome with planning and patience. These tips are useful in navigating the limbo that parents send their children to the college experience.
- Establish the ground rules for communication even before your child leaves for college. What are the preferred means of communication – phone calls, video calls, texts or social media? When can each party call the other – specific times, particularly with different time zones? Respect your child’s privacy and preferences and trust that your upbringing made them responsible.
- Accept that your roles and responsibilities as a parent have changed. Your familial bonds will stay, but the relationship will undergo changes starting with their need for more independence, freedom and privacy. The best you can do is remind them of your family values and wish them the best in college and life.
- Enjoy your hobbies or pursue new ones so you won’t feel the effects of the empty nest syndrome for a prolonged period. If you don’t have children to care for in your home, now is the time to enjoy your hobbies more.
- Avoid rushing in to rescue them and fix their mistakes. They are young adults now, but you must trust your child to solve their issues, if possible. But don’t hesitate to offer your assistance, too, especially in case of mental health issues.
- Send care packages and other expressions of love from your home. While calls and emails are great for staying connected, sending things that your child will enjoy using their touch, smell and taste are even better. Think of a favorite dish or dessert, a care package, or practical things.
And don’t forget to visit your child in college, too! The Parents’ Weekend is an excellent time because your child can spend more time with you instead of being torn between you and their studies.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best things to do to get more scholarships?
Both need- and merit-based scholarships can be competitive because of the limited scholarship dollars available for the award year and the eligibility requirements. You must then be smart about applying for scholarships and winning most of them!
- Start as early as possible, preferably on or before your junior year in high school. You may not yet be able to file the scholarship application forms, but you can start researching the eligibility requirements, documents and deadlines.
- Use Cappex, Unigo and Fastweb, among other scholarship matching tools, to facilitate your search for the best scholarships across the country. Keywords and filters make the task easier and faster.
- Ask for assistance from your academic advisor and your school’s guidance scholar about private scholarships in your area and preferred colleges and FAFSA.
- Work with your family and friends, too.
- Work on your grades and look beyond them since there are scholarships that also consider extracurricular activities, community involvement and professional interests.
- Be mindful of your online presence, particularly in social media and LinkedIn. You may be evaluated based on your online activities since these reflect your personality.
And don’t be shy about applying to as many scholarships as you can!
What is scholarship stacking?
If you win more scholarships, you may be able to stack them and enjoy more tuition reductions. But be aware that colleges and universities have strict rules about stacking scholarships, particularly when these are institutional scholarships. Students, however, may be allowed to stack external and endowed scholarships.
Are there other government programs aside from FAFSA that single parents can access to make life easier for their families?
Yes, there are plenty of other government-sponsored programs that single parents can access to benefit their children aside from educational scholarships and grants. Single parents can apply for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the Housing Choice Vouchers program, and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program for housing assistance. Food assistance comes in the way of the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and National School Lunch Program. Single mothers may also qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Are federal student loans a good idea for students from single-parent families?
These are good choices when bridging the gap between the total cost of attendance and the number of scholarships granted for the academic year. These usually have lower interest rates and better repayment terms than private loans and better income-driven repayment, deferment and forbearance plans, even a few loan forgiveness options.
What should be considered when taking out private loans?
But private loans have their merits, too, particularly when all other options have been exhausted. You may get higher loan amounts, benefit from a quick and convenient application process, and get competitive interest rates if you have good credit. But be careful, too, as private loans tend to have fewer loan repayment and forgiveness options, not to mention no income-driven payment, deferment and forbearance plans.
- Scholarships for students from single-parent families are aplenty, but you must be patient in applying for them.
- Apply for FAFSA as it is used in many private scholarship programs to evaluate financial needs among applicants. Be wise in choosing the parent whose income you will declare in the FAFSA form.
- Stack your scholarships whenever possible.