Paying for College

Financial Aid for Single Mom Returning to College

Question: I am a 39-year-old single mom who wants to go back to college for a second degree. I graduated in 1994 with a bachelor of science degree from a state college. I had a solid work history until this economic downturn. I am almost out of Unemployment benefits and really want to go to college for a bachelor of arts. The college I want to attend is a private college. I filled out my FAFSAand my EFC is 0. But I also understand that because I have a degree, I can't get any grants. I already don't know how to pay my rent once my Unemployment runs out and I am very concerned that my dreams of have a career I love may be impossible. Are there any other resources available to someone in my position?

Unfortunately, you are correct when you say that you are not eligible for grants … at least not for grants that come from the U.S. government. You may, however, be eligible for Federal loans … depending on how much money (if any) you borrowed when you were in college two decades ago. Of course, you might be reluctant to take on a lot of debt, and I can’t blame you.


If the college you hope to attend is well endowed, and if you are a strong applicant there, it’s possible that this school may be able to offer you institutional grants (i.e., money that comes from their own coffers, not from the government.

You can also try sites like www.fastweb.com that can direct you to scholarships for which you may qualify. However, the best money typically comes from the colleges themselves and not from outside sources. In addition, as an older returning student, you will have more limited private scholarship options than your “competition”—the high school seniors—do. However, FastWeb has several dozen scholarships in the database that are earmarked specifically for students over 30. J

Also aimed at “older” students is the Talbots Women’s Scholarship Fund. See: https://www.scholarshipamerica.org/talbotswomen/instructions.php

Another Web site to try is www.meritaid.com. If you’re flexible about where you enroll and you don’t have your heart set on just one school, you might be able to hone in on colleges that offer merit aid to non-traditional applicants.

Two more think-outside-the-box ideas:

--Start off at a community college. Your costs will be lower and, if you do well there and qualify for Phi Theta Kappa (the community college honor society) you’ll be eligible for transfer scholarships at 700+ participating 4-year schools. See: http://www.ptk.org/schol/newscholdir/list.php

--Apply for a job at the private college you’d like to attend. Most colleges offer tuition waivers for employees. You may have to start out just taking one course at a time, and you may have to settle for work that doesn’t especially excite you. But this could be a good way to generate some income while you return to school and to graduate loan-free. When I worked at Smith College, I knew several women who were employed full-time at the college and who also were enrolled in Smith’s Ada Comstock Scholars Program (for non-traditional students). One friend of mine needed 10 years to earn her B.A. (she was a single mom, too), but one of the beauties of getting older is that time does go fast! Years ago I read a quotation in “Dear Abby” that I really liked. I don’t remember it exactly, and I’ll probably butcher it here, but it went something like this:

A woman wrote to Abby and said, “I’m 48 years old and I’ve never been to college. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, but, even if I start right now, I won’t finish for ten years, and by then I’ll be 58.”

Abby replied: “Regardless of what you decide to do, you will still be 58 in ten years. So you might as well be a doctor, too!”

So, as you look down the road ahead, keep in mind that the years will pass more swiftly than you might like (even when certain days can seem endless), so pursue your dream, no matter how long it takes.