General Education

A Survival Guide for College Students With Children

A Survival Guide for College Students With Children
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Nedda Gilbert July 15, 2019

Going back to college while raising children? Here's what you need to know—from on-campus childcare to family housing, scholarships, grants, and specialized course scheduling.

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Returning to college with a child in tow__ can be daunting. For many parents—single, married, or in a partner relationship—managing school as an adult involves a tough juggling act. Mom and dad students can be stretched to the breaking point by a trio of demands: school, work, and parenting. When a ball drops, it’s usually school.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Financial aid and scholarships for students with children
  • States with the highest rate of community college on-campus childcare
  • The top colleges and universities for students with children

How many students have children?

You might think student-parents make up a small niche demographic; you’d be wrong. According to an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research Institute (IWPRI), nearly 3.8 million students are raising children while attending school. That’s one in every five college students.

These students face several daunting challenges. Many have no partner to rely on, for one. The situation is particularly acute for women; according to the IWPRI, “roughly 2.7 million (70 percent) of college-going parents are mothers,” and 1.7 million of those are single moms, a number that “represents more than the two-in-five parents going to college.” Compounding the challenges even further is the fact that student-parents are more likely to be raising children preschool-aged and younger, an age at which children require constant supervision.

Clearly, student-fathers and mothers need a support system if they are to pursue and complete their associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. And there’s some good news on this front: some schools do indeed recognize the struggles parents face and have programs that offer assistance. Many resources—including financial aid—tilt toward single mothers, the group dominating the population of college parents today.

How to find the best school for students with children

So what kind of parent-friendly support can you expect? At a minimum, you’ll find some institutions offer on-campus childcare. If that’s all you need, know that these resources exist but that they can be scarce; even those institutions that offer this service often have a waitlist. Beyond daycare, you may find childcare subsidies, academic mentoring, school-specific tuition assistance, private foundations offering scholarships. and family-friendly housing.

There’s even a standout group of colleges that provide a comprehensive suite of services for student-parents: quality childcare, year-round family housing, financial aid, mentoring, career services, and parenting workshops all wrapped into one program. Enroll in one of these schools and you may find being a parent AND going to college is suddenly doable.

Sound too good to be true? If you’re one of the lucky few who find an immersive year-round program, it can make a world of difference. Further, they’re tough to find. How do you even begin to identify these programs? How do you even find a school that offers childcare?

Preparing for college as a student-parent

Unfortunately, no single website or organization lists every parent-friendly resource and scholarship available to mothers and fathers. Grants for moms and dads, in particular, are niche funding sources hidden across the Internet like scavenger hunt items. It’s tough to take the first step when you don’t know where or how to begin. To help you get started, we’ve curated some lists and compiled some of what we feel is the best advice for student-parents.

Start local

Student-parents often find the best resources are in their own communities and geographic areas. Many offerings—financial and otherwise—are specific to a region or state.

Contact your target schools for financial aid

The biggest roadblocks for parents are paying for college and finding childcare. To learn what assistance is available in both areas, reach out to your target schools. Admissions officers and school counselors can point you to financial aid sources, scholarships, and support programs geared to parents (some specifically for single parents) at their own institution.

Many scholarships are school-specific. For example, the Mary Jane Young Undergraduate Re-Entry Scholarship for Women is available to single mothers over 25 years of age who have delayed their education by at least ten years to raise a family, have inadequate funds to pay for college, and plan on attending Minnesota University at Mankato. School counselors and admissions officers should be aware of such local scholarships and other options — such as subsidized child care — available at a range of community colleges, vocational schools, and four-year institutions in your area.

When it comes to funding, think outside the box

Research what scholarships, if any, are available from your place of worship, national faith-based organizations, and your employer (including tuition benefits). Look for awards based on gender, background, ethnicity, age, status as a veteran (if applicable), or even your projected major.

Some scholarships are merit-based, others income-based, others still discipline-based (there are, for example, a number of scholarships aimed at encouraging women to enter STEM fields). Don’t be locked in by your status as a parent. You will likely qualify for other scholarships or grants.

If you are working full time, don’t forget to check in with your employer. Tuition benefits are a common perk often overlooked by employees. Explore all of your options.

Consider online study

Because parents have to balance family commitments, it’s important they choose a program that fits their lifestyle.

One option is to enroll in an online learning program. Online formats offer a good option for student-parents because they provide convenience and flexibility. Pursuing an online degree can solve many of a parent’s problems by offering self-paced study, part or full-time options, and the ease of accessing classes from home.

Instructors and professors in online programs understand the demands on parents. They tend to be less rigid about strict deadlines and assignments. A sick child that requires care is less cause for panic if a paper is due or a class needs to be missed. This supportive learning environment may make the biggest difference for student-parents in overcoming obstacles to completing their degree.

Know what you need

Schools and organizations offer a wide range of benefits to student-parents. Here’s a list of the types of resources available, so you know what to ask for when you go searching for the right options for you:

  • Specially tailored, accelerated programs or unique formats for adult learners
  • Weekend or evening office hours for administration or academic counseling (selecting classes, etc.)
  • Hybrid classes that combine face-to-face study with online study
  • Flexible options: weekend and evening classes, and early-morning-before- work-begins classes
  • Dedicated on-campus cohort groups and built-in social supports to help the transition back to school and into student life with peer-to-peer engagement
  • Campus housing specifically for parents
  • On-campus child care
  • Wraparound services that include year-round housing and built-in financial, educational, and child care supports
  • Subsidized child care
  • Subsidies for transportation
  • Mentoring and tutoring

Now that you have a better idea of what’s in play for student-parents, let’s look at some lists of sources for finding scholarships, community college daycare, and family-friendly schools.

Private scholarships for returning college students, parents, and single mothers

The list below provides examples of the types of scholarships available to student-parents. It is by no means comprehensive. You can search for more scholarships using the College Board website or FastWeb.

  • BK Krenzer Reentry Scholarship: Open to any nontraditional student reentering education after a break who is pursuing any kind of engineering major as an undergraduate.
  • Dr. Wynetta A Frazier Sister-to-Sister Scholarship: This scholarship is awarded to African-American women returning to school after a break due to hardship or family responsibilities.
  • The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting: This organization offers six scholarships for returning students; five of them are exclusively for women, with a preference given to minority women and mothers.
  • Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund: This is awarded to low-income women 35 years and older who are U.S. citizens pursuing their first degree. It is available to students pursuing a bachelor’s, an associate’s, or a vocational degree.
  • The Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation: This foundation offers awards to low-income women to assist with school expenses and tuition. Applicants must be parents of at least one minor child and must be at least 17 years old. Awards are given for bachelor’s, associate’s, or vocational degrees or certificates. The foundation provides up to five $5,000.00 awards annually.
  • PEO Program for Continuing Education: PEO’s slogan — “Women helping women reach for the stars” — explains the organization’s mission well. The PEO program offers both loans and scholarships to women whose education has been interrupted for at least 24 months and who want to continue.
  • Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards: This award is exclusively for mothers who are the primary breadwinners for their families and who have overcome hardship such as domestic violence, alcohol and drug use, and/or poverty. The organization awards over $1.5 million in scholarships annually. Domestic awards range from $3,000 to $5,000; three international awards are available at $10,000 each.

On-Campus Childcare

In 2016, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) reported that as the number of parents enrolled in degree programs steadily increased over the previous decade, the availability of on-campus childcare declined. This poses a real challenge to student-parents.

The IWPR argues that affordable on-campus childcare is key to helping parents get through school. Studies find that access to these services is critically tied to college success and completion for student-parents. For example, Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY reported to IWPR that parents who utilize their on-campus daycare services are three times as likely to graduate on time as those who do not.

If you’re a parent who is returning to school, on-campus daycare might speed your studies and enable your success. As you contact prospective schools to determine the availability of childcare options, you should also inquire about daycare waitlists. With fewer spots available than there are young children in need of care, some on-campus centers are unable to accommodate everyone. In Washington state, for example, waitlists for on-campus daycare list 80 children on average.

Many parents returning to college start out at the community college level. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), here’s an overview of what you can expect state-by-state in community college childcare options:

  • California has the most community colleges in the nation, and fortunately an abundance of childcare programs. In California, 84% of community colleges provide on-campus childcare, welcome news for those who live in the Golden State.
  • If you live in Delaware, Nevada, or Rhode Island, the news is even better. Every single community college in these three states offers on-campus childcare.
  • In the states of Louisiana, Indiana, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and West Virginia, fewer than 20% of community colleges offer on-campus childcare that a spot may be tough to find at these schools.
  • Vermont and Alaska earn the poorest grades. None of the community colleges in these states offer on-campus child care.

States with the greatest proportion of community colleges offering on-campus childcare options

The American Association of University Women compiled a list of the states with the greatest proportion of community colleges offering on-campus childcare options. Pulled from the full list, here are those states ranking in postion 10 or better:


  • Rank: 1
  • Number of community colleges: 3
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 3
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 100%


  • Rank: 1
  • Number of community colleges: 1
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 1
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 100%

Rhode Island

  • Rank: 1
  • Number of community colleges: 1
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 1
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 100%

New York

  • Rank: 2
  • Number of community colleges: 36
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 32
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 89%


  • Rank: 3
  • Number of community colleges: 16
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 14
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 88%


  • Rank: 4
  • Number of community colleges: 118
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 99
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 84%


  • Rank: 5
  • Number of community colleges in state: 6
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus child care: 5
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 83%


  • Rank: 6
  • Number of community colleges in state: 27
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus child care: 22
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 81%


  • Rank: 7
  • Number of community colleges in state: 48
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus child care: 38
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 79%


  • Rank: 7
  • Number of community colleges in state: 14
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus child care: 11
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 79%


  • Rank: 8
  • Number of community colleges in state: 16
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus child care: 11
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 69%


  • Rank: 9
  • Number of community colleges in state: 18
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus child care: 11
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 61%

North Dakota

  • Rank: 10
  • Number of community colleges in state: 5
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus child care: 3
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 60%


  • Rank: 10
  • Number of community colleges in state: 30
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus child care: 18
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 60%

South Dakota

  • Rank: 10
  • Number of community colleges in state: 5
  • Number of community colleges with on-campus child care: 3
  • Share of community colleges with on-campus childcare: 60%

Best colleges and universities for student-parents

  • Baldwin Wallace University offers flexible adult student scheduling, including one-night-a-week evening classes, early morning classes, accelerated five-day class programs, and online hybrid program offerings.
  • Berea College is a standout for its “no-tuition promise” to every enrolled student. student-parents will also find 50 apartments with child-friendly housing in Berea College’s EcoVillage living option. This is an eco-sustainable residential living environment that offers housing for students families; on-campus childcare services here are offered to students in exchange for their work in the school labor program, which is oriented towards sustainability.
  • College of Saint Mary offers Mothers Living & Learning, a supportive, forward-thinking program for single mothers. Here single mothers can pursue their college degrees full-time while living on campus with their children ages six weeks to ten years old. There’s on-campus daycare available. Kids eat free, and there’s a Single Parent Success Program to make sure all mothers are fully supported to success.
  • Eastern Michigan University offers high-quality on-campus childcare to children over the age of six weeks.
  • Endicott College was the launching pad for “The Keys to Degrees” single-parent program, aimed at single parents with a child/children 18 months or older. It provides year-round housing, a reserved place in the on-campus child-care center, subsidized transportation or free parking, mentoring, personal development, and other built-in support services. Two other schools participate in this program: Dillard University (New Orleans, LA) and Portland State University (Portland, OR).
  • Mills College offers family housing units with easy proximity to campus and an on-campus children’s care center.
  • Misericordia University has institutionalized the Bourger “Women With Children” program aimed at supporting single mothers of all ages. Mother-students are provided on-campus family housing, subsidized childcare for children ages two to eight, and a bounty of other academic and social supports.
  • St. Catherine University has implemented “Access and Success,” aimed at supporting any St. Catherine student raising children. The school notes that the program is open to “any student with a child(ren), regardless of income, age of the child, marital status, or degree level.” The Access and Success program supports students with housing, access to childcare, after-school programs and financial aid for both tuition and childcare costs.
  • Wilson College addresses the needs of single parents with its Single Parent Scholar program, which provides family-friendly on-campus housing year-round in addition to offering daycare to any child between 20 months and 12 years. Parents in this program also benefit from also other enrichment services such as mentoring and parenting workshops.

You’re on Your Way…

Like most returning students, you want a better life with a better salary, and you want your investment in education to pay off. Staying focused on your educational goals and earning the degree you seek is essential. To do that as a student-parent, you’ll need support.

One of the most difficult parts of the college search for student-parents is finding the right fit and resources. Fortunately, whether you’re a single mom or dad, a co-parent, a working parent or a full-time-student parent, there are dedicated programs that can make your life easier.

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.


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