Social Work Degree Guide for Single Parents


According to a 2017 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, more than two million students in the U.S. raised children without a partner while earning their undergraduate degrees during the 2011-2012 school year. This amounts to 11% of the total population of the country’s undergraduate students that year. The report also found that women of color make up a significant portion of this population.

Many single parents want to earn a degree so that they can provide better lives for their children. Unfortunately, these same students face unique challenges, such as accessing daycare services, paying for school, and trying to earn their degrees while working to support their families. As a result of these obstacles, only 31% of single mothers 25 or older held a college degree in 2015, compared to 40% of women overall and 54% of married women.

In addition to the everyday challenges of school itself, single parents also face higher rates of debt than their married and nonparent peers. For single parents, earning a degree in social work may seem impossible, both financially and when it comes to juggling school and childcare. Luckily, many schools now offer resources and support for single parents. Financial aid options can ease some of the monetary burdens of school. Social work students can apply for a variety of scholarships and single-parent grants. On-campus resources like daycare, family housing, and child-friendly study areas also help single parents navigate their academic responsibilities. Below, students can find a scholarship guide that lists more than a dozen financial aid opportunities for social work students with children.

Finding a Social Work Program as a Single Parent

Social Work Schools with Daycare Services

More than 1,500 universities and colleges offer some form of childcare to students with children. Students can find a list of schools with on-campus daycare services here

In addition to daycare and babysitting services, some schools offer resources for student parents such as mentoring, family counseling, free on-campus meals for children, on-campus family housing, and family-centered activities and events. Some schools boast scholar programs designed for students with children; the programs may offer family housing that includes on-site daycare, meals, and community support. Other schools offer family centers that serve as a nexus for resources. Below, students can find a selection of schools with social work programs that offer amenities and support for students with children.

Texas Woman’s University: TWU offers an afterschool program for children five and under and boasts a student organization called Student Pioneers Also Raising Kids.

University of Iowa: UI’s Family Services Office offers childcare services such as subsidies, summer camps, back-up care, and care during exams. The school’s campus also boasts lactation rooms and breast pumps.

Eastern Michigan University: At EMU, student parents enjoy resources like the Children’s Institute, an all-day care center for children up to six years old.

Brigham Young University: Women’s Services and Resources at BYU offers grants for single parents for college and connects student parents to outside support.

Champlain College: In addition to community and social events, the school’s Single Parents Program offers free counseling, tutoring, and career advising.

St. Catherine University: The school’s Access and Success program helps students with children access food, transportation, childcare, housing, and financial assistance.

Getting a Social Work Degree Online

Students with children should consider the benefits of earning their social work degree online. Earning an online degree typically costs less than earning a degree in person. Distance students also save money on costs associated with housing, on-campus dining, commuting, parking, and other campus fees. Distance learning also allows parents to work from their own home, saving money on daycare or babysitters.

Student parents may also appreciate the flexibility of earning their social work degree online. Asynchronous courses allow students to complete their assignments according to their own schedule, accommodating parents with busy lives. Online learning also eliminates the time, money, and stress spent commuting to and from campus. Students pursuing their online degree in social work can typically compete any internship or practicum components at a site local to them.

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Other Tips for Single Parents Going to School for Social Work

  • Connect with Other Student Parents: Student parents should reach out to other parents in their program. Friends not only provide community and support, but may know of childcare services or want to share the cost of a sitter.
  • Reduce Outside Commitments: Juggling school and parenting creates enough stress on its own. If possible, student parents should resign from unnecessary outside commitments and avoid taking on new responsibilities during the school year.
  • Take a Smaller Course Load: Rather than cramming too many courses into a semester and burning out, students should consider taking fewer courses each semester even if it means a delayed graduation date.

How to Pay for a Social Work Degree as a Single Parent

The following section illustrates how single parents can pay for their social work degree. For more information, students can also visit this page.


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) serves as the first step toward earning financial aid for college; such aid includes federal grants, loans, and work-study programs. The FAFSA also provides information that state and local schools use to determine which students qualify for financial aid and scholarships. Students can typically access the FAFSA on October 1 of the year prior to the year for which they require aid. For instance, the FAFSA for the 2019-2020 year opens on October 1, 2018, and closes June 30th, 2020. Because of limited funds that award students on a first-come-first-serve basis, students should complete and submit their FAFSA as soon as possible.

All students, regardless of their age, ethnicity, academic standing, or financial background, should fill out the FAFSA. In addition to qualifying for federal aid, many states and schools require that students submit a FAFSA to earn scholarships. The documents required to fill out the FAFSA include a social security number (dependents must also provide their parents’ social security number), driver’s license number, an alien registration number (if applicable), federal tax information, records of untaxed income, and information on any cash and investments. Single parents should note their income and number of dependents; these numbers affect the type and quantity of financial aid students receive.

Types of Financial Aid Available to Single Parents

Scholarships: Scholarships serve as need- or merit-based awards that students do not pay back. In addition to federal scholarships, students may earn scholarships from their state, school, or academic department. Some organizations such as nonprofits, community centers, religious institutions, or businesses may also award scholarships. Scholarships may recognize students based on their academic or community service achievements, cultural heritage, religious affiliation, life circumstances, or academic interests. Single parents should research scholarships at all levels to receive the maximum amount of aid. Some renewable scholarships require that students maintain a minimum GPA.

Grants: Grants serve as a form of needs-based financial aid that students do not pay back. Students attending a four-year social work program may qualify for federal grants such as Pell Grants, Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants, and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. Students may also receive grants from their state, school, or local organizations. Most grants require that students maintain a standard of academic success and have financial need.

Federal Loans: Federal loans provide students money to pay for school. Loans require that students pay back the money they receive with added interest. Federal loans typically feature a lower interest rate than private loans, saving students a significant amount of money over the course of their education. Federal loans usually offer more flexible repayment options than private loans. For instance, students who receive federal loans can often wait until they finish school to start making payments. Students experiencing financial difficulties may also postpone their payments. Students in certain jobs, like teaching, may qualify for a loan forgiveness program.

Private Loans: Unlike federal loans, private loans come from private banks and lenders. Private loans typically feature higher interest rates than federal loans and may end up costing students significantly more over time. They may also feature stricter repayment options that require students to make payments during school or directly after graduating. Private loans do not offer loan forgiveness programs. Students should think carefully and explore other options before taking out private loans.

More Ways for Single Parents to Save

Employer Tuition Assistance

Single parents should check whether their job offers an employer-sponsored tuition assistance program. These programs serve as a way for employers to help their employees earn undergraduate or graduate degrees. Most employer tuition assistance programs provide reimbursement for costs associated with school. Most of the time, this money does not count toward taxable income.

According to section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code, employers can grant up to $5,250 of tax-free tuition assistance per year — a sizable chunk of student expenses. Students who receive tuition assistance must use 100% of their award on tuition, books, fees, and supplies. Student may not, for instance, use this money for childcare, housing, or other costs associated with life outside of school. To receive reimbursement, some employers may require that students maintain a minimum GPA or agree to continue working for the employer for a period of time after graduating. Others may require that students complete a specific program or courses relating to their job.

Some schools and universities also offer tuition waivers or reductions to student employees. These waivers and deductions may involve student teaching, research assistantships, or lab assistantships. Students do not need to include these awards as part of their income. Other employers may award scholarships that support employees or dependents of employees. Unless the scholarship provides a living stipend, recipients do not need to include scholarship amounts in their income.

Childcare Grants

A 2017 study from Child Care Aware of America found that, in many states, the annual cost of center-based childcare equalled the cost of tuition and fees at a four-year university. In some states, the cost of childcare even exceeded the cost of college tuition. In other words: student parents pursuing a four-year degree in social work may find their costs doubling after they combine tuition and daycare. Many single parents may find this expense impossible to cover.

To help parents afford childcare while they pursue their degree, some federal organizations provide grants designed to help low-income single parents. These grants help schools and universities offer affordable childcare so that single parents can attend class. For example, the U.S. Department of Education boasts a program called Child Care Access Means Parents In School (CCAMPIS). This program provides funding for schools and colleges to support or create on-campus childcare programs that primarily serve low-income students with children.

At the state level, the Child Care and Development Block Grant helps low-income parents afford childcare. This grant draws from the Child Care and Development Fund, a federal fund that subsidizes childcare for low-income families. Outside of grants, some childcare centers may also charge parents on a sliding scale, providing more affordable pricing for low-income families.

Tax Breaks

Single parents qualify for several tax credits that can save a significant amount of money. The Child Tax Credit, for instance, provides $1,000 for every child under the age of 17 who lives at home. To help allay the cost of childcare for working parents, the Child and Dependent Care Credit allows parents to collect between 20% and 30% of up to $3,000 worth of qualifying childcare expenses for a child 13 years old or younger. Expenses for two or more dependents may total up to $6,000. These expenses can include daycare, summer camp, or babysitters.

Single parents pursuing a degree may also qualify for education tax credits. For instance, the Lifetime Learning Credit allows students to receive 20% of the first $10,000 of their education expenses or up to $2,000 per tax return. These expenses may apply to undergraduate, graduate, or professional courses. Students may earn a Lifetime Learning Credit for as many years as they qualify. Students may also qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), which fully covers the first $2,000 of educational expenses and then covers 25% of the remaining expenses up to $2,500. If the credit brings a student’s taxes to zero, the student can collect up to 40% of the remaining credit as a refund. Students can collect this credit for up to four years.

Scholarships for Single Parents Going to College

Downer Bennett Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Nontraditional undergraduate students at the University of New Mexico may apply for this scholarship. The scholarship awards single parents.
Amount: Varies

Newcombe Scholarships for Mature Women Students
Who Can Apply: The Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation provides funds to schools to award their own scholarships. Scholarships recognize students 25 years or older who possess at least 60 credits of coursework toward their bachelor’s degree.
Amount: Typically around $2,858

Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund
Who Can Apply: Single parents who live in Arkansas and who wish to pursue their bachelor’s degree may apply for a scholarship through this fund. Applicants must possess a 2.0 GPA, meet income requirements, and complete a FAFSA.
Amount: Varies

The Michael S. and Jeffrey C. Hagler Scholarship Fund
Who Can Apply: Idaho Community Foundation awards this scholarship to single mothers who live in Idaho, demonstrate financial need, and plan to pursue a degree at Boise State University or the College of Western Idaho. The foundation may give preference to veterans.
Amount: Varies

Marie Ferraro Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Single parents pursuing their undergraduate or graduate degree at Buffalo State University may apply for this scholarship. Applicants must possess a minimum 3.25 GPA.
Amount: Varies

Capture the Dream Inc. Single Parent Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Low-income single parents who live in the San Francisco Bay Area may apply for this scholarship. Applicants must submit an essay, cover letter, resume, and letter of recommendation.
Amount: $1,000

Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Support Awards
Who Can Apply: Each year, the Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation awards five scholarships to low-income mothers working toward their degree. The foundation awards scholarships based on financial need, career and community service goals, and individual circumstances.
Amount: $5,000

The ANSWER Scholarship Endowment
Who Can Apply: Foundation for the Carolinas awards single-parent scholarships to students 25 years or older. Applicants must currently attend a four-year school in Mecklenburg county, North Carolina or nearby counties. Recipients must maintain a 2.5 GPA and attend Mentors for Moms meetings.
Amount: Varies

Emerge Awards
Who Can Apply: Emerge awards scholarships to Georgia women whose personal circumstances or hardships interrupted her education. A large portion of recipients include single mothers who exhibit financial need, a will to overcome diversity, and a dedication to community service. The scholarship provides funds for tuition and fees.
Amount: Typically $2,000-$7,000

Emporia State University Single Parents with Children Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Single parents enrolled as an undergraduate or graduate student at ESU who exhibit financial need may apply for this scholarship. Recipients must maintain a 2.75 GPA and reapply each year; students may renew the scholarship for up to three years.
Amount: $2,000 per year

The Coplan Donahue Single Parents Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Undergraduate and graduate students at Minnesota State University, Mankato who identify as single parents may apply for this scholarship. Applicants must submit an essay in which they describe themselves, their parenting philosophy, and what they plan to do once they graduate.
Amount: $1,000

The Bruce and Marjorie Sundlun Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Rhode Island Foundation awards this scholarship to single parents who live in Rhode Island and plan to pursue a postsecondary degree. The foundation gives preference to applicants who either used to or currently receive state aid and possess a record of incarceration.
Amount: $1,500

The Ford Opportunity Program
Who Can Apply: Each year, the Ford Family Foundation awards this scholarship to single parents who live in Oregon or Siskiyou County, California and plan to pursue their bachelor’s degree at a school in Oregon or California. The scholarship also provides professional development, academic counseling, and emotional support.
Amount: 90% of school expenses

Altrusa’s Olive Gillespie Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Western Kentucky University awards this scholarship to single female parents, either widowed or divorced, who demonstrate financial need. Seniors, juniors, or sophomores who possess a 3.0 GPA may apply.
Amount: $500

Women of Oakland University Critical Difference Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Women of Oakland University awards this scholarship to single male or female parents whose life circumstances forced them to take a break from their education for a year or more. Applicants must possess 16 credits of coursework from OU or another accredited institution and a minimum 2.5 GPA.
Amount: Varies