Being a single parent and returning to school, or starting an undergraduate, vocational or graduate degree can be incredibly daunting. Statistics show that many single parents drop out of the college environment when it becomes difficult or impossible to care for their children.
Education finances compete with those of day care, independent housing and possibly child support payments if custody is shared. Also, the time it takes to attend classes and study can compete with a job.
Student loans for single parents can make the difference when attempting to obtain a degree as a single parent.
First, someone with single parent status should consider all other means of financial support before applying for loans.
The Pell Grant is a federal grant that pays all eligible applicants a certain amount of money that is not a loan and does not have to be repaid. Often single parents with a certain family income can qualify for a Pell, if they meet scholarship criteria as well. A Pell can be particularly helpful to a single parent because in some cases an eligible student can get one if enrolled half time or less.
Also, the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) is a federal program that is awarded to the most needy of students. Like Pell Grant recipients, preference is given to students with low family financial contribution. The dollar amount awarded is less than a Pell, but it’s still substantial.
Getting back to outright loans: single parents should first apply for federal loans via the FAFSA (Free Application For Student Aid). This will automatically match the needs of a single parent’s tuition costs and take their dependents into consideration when calculating their loan maximum.
Applying with FAFSA will likely produce the best loan combination with the most competitive interest rates. Some federal loans are subsidized, which means that if a student needs to take a break from school due to financial or personal pressures, interest is not capitalized during that time so the balance won’t be higher when repayments resume.
This is not to say private loans are not competitive as well. There are thousands of lenders out there competing for your business, but they are more likely to have varying interest rates over the life of the loan and more likely to be open to selling your loan to yet another loan holder.
If a single parent has maxed out loans made by the government and has not found a private loan to fill in the gaps according to his or her repayment needs, it would be helpful for him or her to check out single parent programs made by individual schools.
For example, well-endowed universities sometimes have programs that provide on-campus housing for a single parent and the child/children at a reduced rate, relieving the need for extra loans. Additionally, childcare can be provided at little or no cost, through a school cooperative with other single parents.
A school interested in attracting students from all circumstances usually has a financial aid office that works closely with the single parent student to locate and obtain funding through federal sources, scholarships, grants and loans from community or business sources.
The financial aid administrator often has the authority to make adjustments in a parent’s financial aid status, which can help him or her obtain the most beneficial aid package possible. For example, if you are a single parent but your own parents still claim you as a dependent, the officer may be able to change your status to independent to better reflect your financial need for higher education.
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