At a Glance: When you’re faced with the demands of both school and parenting, make time to plan — for studying, financial help, childcare and more.
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Here are some statistics that might surprise you: In 2014, more than one-fourth of U.S. undergraduates, or 4.8 million students, were raising children. More than 70 percent were mothers, and 2 million were single. More than half devoted 30 or more hours a week to caring for their dependents.

If you’re a member of this growing demographic, you’ll recognize the challenge these competing demands pose to finishing college. Planning is key.

Ensure the kids are all right

Reliable childcare should be priority No. 1, say experts. Some parents believe that enrolling in school will make children ineligible for state or local welfare, or childcare benefits. In fact, the opposite is often true: Staying in school may be required to keep childcare subsidies. Check with your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency to learn about benefits and early childhood education programs that accept them.

Financial aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) takes into account how many people you support when determining how much assistance you’re eligible for. A number of states have funding available for parents. Make sure to research these options early — the annual deadline for the federal aid application is June 30.

Private support

Every year Soroptimist, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls, gives away more than $1.6 million, much of it to parents pursuing an education. The Live Your Dreams Awards may be used for childcare, among other costs. The nonprofit Scholarship America maintains lists of targeted scholarships, including a number of programs that fund college for single mothers and other nontraditional students. 

In conjunction with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the University of Phoenix awards annual scholarships recognizing America’s Most Inspirational Mom.

Sell your strength

Like other nontraditional students, you may not realize your ability to juggle multiple challenges is desirable to colleges and employers. Admissions counselors and recruiters are looking for all kinds of diversity, including life experiences that prepare students to persevere when things get tough. Don’t be afraid to describe your experience overcoming hardship in admissions essays and scholarship applications. It’s more likely to set you apart than to set you back.

Calendar control

The better you manage your time, the better you’ll be able to compensate for the inevitable disruptions that come with caring for kids. Block off your study time.

Set an example

Working toward a degree while paying the bills and taking care of others is a lot. Aside from the doors a degree could open, possibly the biggest payoff is the increased likelihood that your children will grow up seeing college graduation as their destiny. Only 54 percent of students whose parents had only a high school education enrolled in college immediately. Compare that to the 82 percent of students whose parents went to college. Remember this when you get frustrated or feel overwhelmed — it will all be worth it in the end.


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