Being a single parent while attending college can be hard, but it is possible. My journey throughout college has not been a straight and easy path, and after I became a mom at the age of 23, it definitely didn’t get any easier.
College is hard enough as it is –and when you are young, you usually don’t have life all figured out either. I sure didn’t. I changed my mind many, many times about what I wanted to do with my life. So when I found out that I was pregnant with my now two-year-old little girl, my whole life was in for a BIG reality check. Me? A mom? I didn’t know the first thing about being a parent.
My life was all about school and friends. What was going to happen in my life? How could I possibly get through college as a single mom? How would I study with a little one? Let’s just say a billion thoughts ran through my mind.
Then it finally dawned on me—if my mom could do it, I could too. Right?
My mom was the one person I looked up to on a daily basis. She raised me as a single parent while attending college and working. Throughout my childhood, she earned a Bachelor’s degree and two Master’s degrees while raising me (as a single parent) and working a job. Talk about perseverance!
After I had my daughter, I didn’t want to give up on school or take a break so I started a new school semester one week after I was discharged from the hospital with my newborn daughter. Talk about a transition… especially since postpartum is no joke (I had really bad postpartum depression).
My first semester as a new mom was a struggle. I had to not only learn how to be a mom to a newborn but I had to learn how to be a college student with a newborn. Although I struggled initially, I finally found a balance and just finished my next-to-last semester with straight A’s for the first time ever! Let’s just say I teared up a little bit when I saw my final grades.
There were so many times where I contemplated if I could even do this and if continuing my education was even possible. When life becomes overwhelming, it’s hard not to get discouraged. However, I’ve learned that perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity is power. You can overcome anything.
My college experience as a single mother has been an eye-opening journey to my potential. I’ve managed to balance:
- being a full-time student and parent to a very feisty, strong-minded toddler
- successfully passing exams with some of the highest grades in my classes
- my daughter getting sick multiple times (which meant missing class)
- and dealing with my own health issues
Overall, my daughter has been my biggest motivation to get through college, just like your child(ren) will be. Personally, I believe becoming a parent was the extra push I needed to really focus on school and not let distractions get to me.
If you’re a single parent thinking of going to college and currently trying to figure it all out like I had to do, I want to share some helpful tips that I learned from my own experience and I hope they help you as well.
10 Tips For Going To College As A Single Mom
1. Remember you are not alone.
There are so many single parents going through similar situations and attending school. You CAN do this, as many others have before. Reach out, make friends with other classmates who are also single parents, and join support groups on social media if it will help. Talking to others in the same situation will make you feel less alone, give you inspiration, and help you learn new coping skills.
2. Don’t feel guilty. Think of the bigger picture.
You might feel guilty that by going to school you are taking time away from your kids. I still do sometimes. But you need to remember WHY you are going to school and that you are doing it for them as much as yourself. Ask yourself: What kind of life do I want? What will my life be like once I’m done with school? If your children are a little older, you can also explain to them why you are going to school and get them involved. They will be proud of you!
3. Prioritize and work on time management.
Some classes you will find easier than others and you might not have to study as much. Other classes may be more challenging and you find that you need to spend more time on them (e.g., studying, homework). This is when you will have to plan what you need to cover each day to stay on track and prioritize what is most important.
As parents, we don’t have as much free time as other students so this is crucial. Late nights and early mornings were common. A few times while trying to study this past semester, my daughter would lay across my notebooks, say “mommy” on repeat, and refuse to play with her toys because all she wanted was my attention—so use your study time wisely.
4. Take time for yourself. Breathe.
I can’t express enough how important this is. Life can get a little overwhelming while juggling being a full-time college student and full-time parent, even more so if you are working. Personally, I can recall many nights where I have just broken down and cried after I put my little one to sleep. In times like these, you just have to remind yourself that it will be okay and all of your hard work will be worth it. Think of the end result. Taking time for yourself also allows you to relax, free your mind, and/or just spend free time with your little one. You don’t want to get burned out!
5. Apply early for financial assistance.
Early is best! There are many resources available that allow single parents to attend or go back to school. This includes scholarships, grants and financial aid like school loans. You can find scholarships and grant resources on websites such as Scholarships.com, Fastweb, and through the college’s website, you are planning to attend.
For financial assistance, colleges usually require you to fill out a FAFSA online. Once accepted to the school, they will review your FAFSA application and offer you an award for financial assistance to help you cover tuition, fees, books, housing, etc. This award is also calculated based on demonstrated financial need and family contribution.
6. Have reliable help for childcare.
Imagine this: You have a huge final exam coming up that you’ve been studying nonstop for the past two weeks. The day of the exam finally comes. You feel ready and well-prepared. You start getting ready to leave the house but then your child’s babysitter calls and informs you that they can’t watch your child today due to an illness. Your heart sinks and you begin to stress because if you can’t find childcare, you can’t make it to your exam. Trust me, you never want to be in that situation—so having reliable childcare is a must!
Applying for childcare assistance can make a huge difference too if you are tight on finances!
7. Register for as many online classes as you can.
I love that colleges offer online classes and degrees. It’s super helpful when you are a single parent and it makes attending school much easier. With online classes, you are flexible to do your school work at home and in your own free time.
8. Have a source of inspiration and support from those around you.
Write down your goals, save your favorite motivational quotes, join support groups, etc. I constantly read posts on a few group pages on Facebook and it is super helpful since they are from students going through similar situations and it’s nice to get outside advice. Having a support system, whether it is family or friends, that are willing to help you and be there for you is essential. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
9. Learn to say ‘no’ and realize that you will lose friends.
If you are a full-time college student, there is no doubt that you will be busy (especially as a parent). Unfortunately, some friends might not understand this. They may get mad that you never have time for them anymore or that you say “no” when they ask if you want to hang out. This is okay! While attending school, you are growing and changing as a person all while working towards your future.
I’ve lost most of my “friends” now that my priorities have shifted to college, studying and my daughter. I have a very small circle now and honestly, it’s much better. The way I see it is: my future and my daughter’s future is way more important than hanging out. Those who are true friends will be supportive of you and your effort of trying to better your life for yourself and child.
With that being said, friends will come and go throughout your life so be open to meeting more people who understand and support the struggle. Let go of the ones who aren’t.
10. At the start of classes, talk with your professors.
Let your professors know that you are a single parent beforehand. Explain your situation as they will be more understanding when an emergency pops up and some are even willing to help. For example, one of my professors told me that I could bring my daughter to class if I ever needed to!
Trust me, I know how hard it is sometimes to not doubt yourself. You may wonder if you can even pull this off. But if I can do it, you can too. The hardest part is getting started and ignoring that voice of fear. Don’t let fear stand in your way. Let your children motivate you and don’t give up on your dreams.
Do you have any other tips for single parents in college? Please share in the comments below!