Going Back to School as a Single Parent? 5 Steps to Take
Here’s a scenario many single parents may recall: You’ve finished your workday, picked up your child (or children) from daycare, cooked dinner, supervised homework and playtime, read a story, and turned out the light. Now you’re on the couch or at the dining room table thinking about your next move. Will it be another night in front of the television, or will you get back to your research and make a decision about going back to school?
When you’re a single parent, you have little “me” time. It’s difficult to imagine sacrificing those precious minutes to do more work. But if you focus on the future and commit yourself to fostering an enjoyment of lifelong learning, the choice becomes easier.
We spoke with former Ashford University Enrollment Services Manager Andrew Torpey, who described that the process of starting school can be “overwhelming” for single parents. Torpey recommended parents take the following steps before classes begin.
1. Find a structured study time that works around your child’s schedule
Adding school into the mix of everything else a mom has to keep track of may seem like a daunting idea. After all, the rest of the world isn't going to slow down just because you're taking classes now. “Time management is a challenge that plagues all college students,” according to Torpey. There are many ways to work in studying, including setting a regular family study time, where you and your children sit down together to each read or do homework.
2. Communicate with your child about your decision to start school
Expressing your interest in learning to your children can not only prepare them for the changes ahead, it can also foster in them a similar passion for their education. Your children will be part of your support system, and staying open and honest about your goals – and how they’ll affect your family’s future – is crucial to a smooth transition. Katrina Harvey, who graduated from Ashford in 2016 with a Master of Arts in Organizational Management, did just that: “I let [my daughter] know that education is one of the most important things that she could have in her life. Gone are the days when you’re able to get a good job without some formal education.”
3. Create a daily to-do list
“When college starts, life doesn’t stop, which makes it especially challenging for a single parent to make time for studying and homework,” Torpey says. Aside from setting up a schedule for you and your family’s study time, crafting a simple daily and weekly to-do list can help you prioritize your tasks. When you write down the list of things you need to do, you can then select the duties that are of the most importance, whether that’s getting grocery shopping in, helping your child with their homework, or finishing an assignment.
4. Consider college grants for single fathers and mothers
Just like scholarships available for traditional college students, there are grant opportunities for single parents. The Federal Pell Grant program is a great example of federal funds often awarded to single parents, though there is a variety of other financial support options available online. There are also grants specific to single mothers and single fathers, as well as grants for those who wish to pursue a STEM or medical related degree.
5. Be open to asking for help
While there are a number of websites, guides, and blogs to help you choose a college, single parents lacking an immediate support system need someone to talk to during the application process, and after they begin school. According to Torpey, that’s when the admissions office can play a major role in that student’s life.
“Admissions advisors are trained to be experts in process and people,” he said. “[They] are encouraged to provide flexibility when available, but are also empowered to help students seek out solutions and problem-solving issues that get in the way.”
Torpey recalled a scenario in which a single mother pursuing a career in the education industry struggled with attending school in her community because the schedule didn’t align with her childcare and work priorities. When she researched online universities, she got in touch with the admissions team at Ashford University.
“The admissions representative created a plan with her,” he said. “Despite the obstacles and uncertainty, they created a plan which will allow the student to enroll in August 2015.”
Written by Ashford University staff