The Scholarship Process for Single Parents
by Kathleen Marie
Attention single parents! Have you been thinking of returning to college to earn that bachelor’s degree you “temporarily” postponed in favor of marriage, children, a job, or all three? Are you tired of not being taken seriously because you do not have a degree in your field? Are you still postponing that degree because you think you are too old, classes are too hard, or college is too expensive?
Well, wait no more! Colleges are seeing a big increase in the number of older, returning students on their campuses, and many of these students have children. These students are realizing their dreams of graduating from college to go on to a more satisfying and better-paid career. “It’s too risky to quit my job,” you say to yourself. You’re right! It’s a risk, but think of going to college for four years as a business deal. You are an entrepreneur who is willing to invest your talents and four years of your time. All businesses take risks, if they feel the risks will pay big dividends.
What are the dividends you can expect after four years in college? You will gain a more rounded view of the world, catch up on current events, have professors guide you on your way, but most important of all, you will earn more money at a position you enjoy.
“Well,” you say, “that’s all fine and good in theory, but what about putting it into practice?” Well, that’s what this article is about. Returning to college and supporting yourself and your family can be compared to running a home business. Start by choosing from several methods to support yourself and your family:
– Work full- time and attend college full- time – Work full- time and attend college part- time – Work part- time and attend college full- time – Work part- time and attend college part- time
– Don’t work and attend college full- time or part- time
You will need to assess your own individual wants and needs when choosing. I found that it was possible to succeed as a full- time student and single parent of four children. I first enrolled in a community college and worked part-time and went to school part-time. This was the slow approach. The next semester, I chose the last option. I quit working and attended college full-time. My main concern at this time was finances. How were the children and I going to eat?
For the next year, I received AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and food stamps, but I knew there had to be a better way. By my third year in college, I was self-supporting through grants, loans, and scholarships. This was accomplished through trial and error. Following are several suggestions that may save you time and energy in your return to college.
Registering in a university takes time and perseverance, so dig in and start early. Fall semesters usually start in late August or early September, and Spring semesters usually start in January. Whether you plan to begin classes in Fall or Spring, begin the application process six months ahead of time. Find out from the university how long the process will take. There is usually an application form to be completed, a registration fee to be paid, and official transcripts that you must request from either your high school or a university if you have attended one before. There may or may not be an entrance exam required.
Ask plenty of questions. For example, will you need to take an ACT or SAT test1? Will you need to take any preparatory courses? How many hours are considered full-time at your university? Usually 12 hours or more is full-time and six hours is part-time. This usually means that four classes make up a full-time load, since many classes are three hours per week.
Next, go to the financial aid office and pick up a financial aid packet. They will have information about the different types of aid available, and can advise you what you may qualify for. There will usually be several forms to fill out where you will list all your assets and apply for financial aid. There may also be required documents to gather together. Financial aid (Free Application for Federal Aid or FAFSA) forms are available on January 1 of each year. The sooner you complete the FAFSA after January 1, the better your chances for a Pell grant.
Speak with a financial aid counselor to learn the exact procedure you need to follow. Then follow the instructions to the letter. If you are interested in Federal work-study, find out if it will lower your outstanding need. Work-study jobs are usually campus jobs that are set aside for full-time or part-time students. The hourly wage starts at the federal minimum level and increases depending on the job. Work-study students receive regular paychecks to be used for daily living expenses.
Outstanding need is the estimated amount of financial need deemed necessary for the student to take care of living expenses while attending classes, after your assets have been deducted. The amount of the grants and loans you are eligible for is based on this outstanding need.
Types of Financial Aid
– Grants: A grant is money given to you that you do not need to repay. There are Pell grants from the federal government, and your state may also have grants for college students with an outstanding need.
– Loans: Loans are monies lent to the student that you will need to repay upon graduation from college. However, these student loans are usually at a lower interest rate and lower monthly payments. Usually you have six months after graduation before you begin repayment. Be careful with loans from semester to semester, as they can add up quickly. They are painless to get and painful to
– Scholarships: Scholarships are a relatively untapped resource of financial aid that are attractive because they also do not need to be repaid. Since this is such a large untapped resource for the returning student, we will focus on the process of applying for scholarships.
Scholarship Application Process
– Compile a list of organizations: This is the first step in applying for scholarships. There are several sources in the reference section of your public and/or university library. For example The College Blue Book by the Macmillan Publishing Company is subdivided according to your subject major, ethnic group, home state, and the college you will attend. Take your time to browse through these references. There are scholarships for men and women who belonged to the Boys and Girls Clubs as well as awards for students whose parents worked for a certain company.
If you have access to the Internet, there are many websites online that offer information on scholarships. Some send periodic updates to your email on scholarships that you are qualified for. You must first complete an information page on yourself, what your major is, what are the characteristics that make you eligible for certain scholarships and ineligible for others, etc. The services filter various databases and shows only those scholarships that match your profile.
Put your best foot forward. Make the most of the fact that you are trying to improve your life. If you have volunteered in the past or received awards, mention them. You want to portray yourself as a person who is serious about your college career. You know what your objectives are, and you feel optimistic about your ability to succeed. In other words, you want to portray yourself as a person
that this organization wants to back up financially. Put yourself in their place. If you have money to invest, you will invest it where you know you will get a good return on your investment. If the readers of your essay feel that you are determined to succeed, and have the ability and perseverance to do so, they will feel good about investing in you.
Be creative in fulfilling the eligibility requirements listed on the application form. For example, another scholarship I applied for was a memorial scholarship. I fit all the requirements except one. I was not a member of an honor society or an organization that worked for charitable affairs. As I read through the application, it struck me that I did not belong to any organization simply because raising four children alone and being a full-time student took every spare moment of my time.
I stated this in the application form under the section asking for a list of awards and the group in which I was a member. I also stated that I felt I set an example to all my co-students because I could hold a good GPA (3.8) in addition to all my other responsibilities. When I submitted the application, as with all the applications I submitted, I didn’t know what my chances were, but I knew I had to try. I was awarded the scholarship! It was a great surprise, but I was playing the odds.
The more applications you submit, the more chances you have for winning. I would say that I won five out of every 20 applications submitted. Of course the expense of postage for mailing 20 applications plus 20 SASE is between $15.00 – $20.00, plus your time. Scholarships range from $500 to several thousand dollars. Not bad for a $20.00 investment.
– Reference Letters: Three reference letters are usually required. These letters are just as important as the essay you write. First, look for people with status in the community with whom you have a professional association. Try to receive a letter of recommendation from a professor or advisor who knewyou well during college. If you don’t have this resource, professional recommendations from your employer or other sources are also acceptable. Reference letters from friends should be your last option. They don’t necessarily need to state that they are your friends in the letter, unless the organization specifically requests letters from friends. Relatives are usually not acceptable as references. Once you are in college, find time to visit your professors during office hours. Not only will you learn more about the subject matter, but each professor is a prospective reference letter writer.
Don’t be timid about approaching people to write a letter for you. I found that everyone that I asked was happy to write a letter. This was a nice surprise as I felt at the time that I would be imposing. I also asked that they send me an electronic copy of the letter so I would have a copy when I needed another reference letter from them.
Give your references a copy of the application so they will have the address and the topic that your essay covers. It is also helpful if they can write their letters along the theme of your essay. For example, another scholarship I applied for required an essay on the topic of overcoming personal adversity. I gave each person a copy of my essay and asked that they angle their reference letters to the subject. The application will also state whether the reference letter should be mailed directly to the scholarship committee, or returned to you so you can mail all the documents together.
– School Transcripts: Transcripts are almost always required. Most of the time official transcripts are required, although unofficial are sometimes accepted. Check with your college to see how long it will take to have the official transcripts mailed, and then allow an extra week. My college would take ten working days to mail out a transcript, so I would apply for it three weeks in advance. They also charged $3.00 per transcript.. Twenty transcripts at $3.00 each added up to $60.00. Add this $60.00 to the $20.00 for postage, and the returns are still phenomenal. Besides, you won’t need all 20 at once.
Keep track of potential scholarship donors. Create a word processing document or spreadsheet on your computer, or buy a spiral notebook that you will use only for listing organizations that offer scholarships, and the pertinent information regarding their scholarships. When you come across an organization that matches your eligibility criteria, note each of the following criteria in your organizer:
- Name of the organization
- Contact person’s name, telephone number, and email for questions
- Important dates such as the date due (the date it must be postmarked by)
- Method of submission: postal mail or electronic submission
- Eligibility requirements – make sure you get them all, as there may be quite a few
- Any other information that will help you in sending off your application package.
I also made a practice of checking the bulletin board at my university’s financial aid office every two weeks. You don’t have to be a student to do this. There may several months without a listing that you are eligible for. One year I only found two that I was eligible for, however, I was awarded both scholarships.
Applying for scholarships is playing an odds game. Odds are that the more applications you submit, the better your chances of being awarded several scholarships. Apply for every type of scholarship that you are even minimally eligible for.
– Request a Scholarship Application: Create a form letter to request scholarship applications from each organization on the list you created. This letter can be copied into the body of an email or sent via postal mail. This is a short letter, conveying a little information about yourself and then requesting the application.
In the first paragraph of my letter, I gave my name, my major, and the university I was attending. I also gave my age, and included the fact that I was a single parent of four children. The second paragraph consisted of a couple of lines requesting that the organization send me an application form so I could apply for their scholarship. If you are required to send this letter by postal mail, include a SASE (self-addressed, self-stamped) envelope.
When you receive the scholarship application, look at the due date and allow yourself enough time to complete the application process. In addition to the application form, a personal essay, reference letters, and official transcripts are usually required.
– Personal Essay: The scholarship essay is usually of a personal nature. It may be about your career goals or a type of biography. Some will ask specific questions about your life, others will ask a general question regarding an ideal served by their organization. For example, an application I filled out for MANA (Mexican American National Association) requested an essay on the Hispanic woman and education. When writing your essays, make them short, informative, and upbeat. Avoid the “poor me” tone.
Although my situation was dire, I avoided this tone with simple statements such as, “I am a single parent of four children.” I did not elaborate on this statement; I let it speak for itself. If the scholarship is based on financial need, state your struggles in a factual manner. The readers of your essays will appreciate brief, factual statements that allow them to bring their own emotions to your story.
Sample Scholarships and Services for Single Parents
– The most common source of scholarships for single parents is the college or university. Check with the school you plan to attend, and inquire about grants for single parents or adult students. Many community and four year colleges and universities provide scholarship programs for single parents and offer support services as well. For example, Brigham Young University Single Parent Scholarships – from The Marriott School are offered to a single parent (mother or father) with dependent children going back to school after at three years;
The Univ of Wisconsin-Eau Claire -Richard & Joan Fleming Single Parent Scholarship is offered to single parents demonstrating financial need not met by the usual forms of financial aid. The Green River CC Foundation provides single parent scholarships to students who have at least one dependent child living at home.
– The Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund. The Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund provides scholarships to single parent residents of Arkansas to help pay for education.
– Raise the Nation Foundation. The Raise The Nation Foundation provides scholarship awards to single parent women to help complete their college education or pay off student loans. The mission of the foundation is to assist single parent women to achieve financial independence for their families.
– The Jeannette Rankin Foundation. The Jeannette Rankin Foundation awards grants to low-income women seeking to a college education.
– On-Campus Child Care Services. Because of the rising need for child care services on college campuses, Congress has approved a significant increase in program funding that provides child care for single parents in financial need. The Child Care Access Means Parents In Schools (CCAMPIS) budget rose in 2001 to $25 million from $5 million in the year 2000. In its first two years, CCAMPIS supported child care centers at 87 colleges, and includes nearly 300 additional
– State Higher Education Agencies. Many states offer financial aid to students for need or other criteria. A well known example is the Georgia HOPE Scholarship, which guarantees students tuition-free college if they maintain a B grade point average. Check your state’s higher education agency to learn about offered programs.
– Many community organizations and foundations offer aid to to minorities or women returning to school. To find these opportunities, check with your financial aid office or research financial aid guides in your college or public library.