Guide for Single Parents

While college education provides opportunities for career entry and advancement, it also presents significant financial and personal challenges for single parents. According to a 2017 report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), approximately 2.1 million U.S. students raised children without a partner in the 2011-2012 academic year. This translates to 11% of all undergraduate students.

Approximately 2.1 million U.S. students raised children without a partner in the 2011-2012 academic year. IWPR

Among this group, single mothers face the biggest difficulties due to gender discrepancies in pay and the cost of education and childcare. Relatedly, women of color are the most likely to be single parents, according to the IWPR report. While the rate of single mothers attending college more than doubled between 1999-2012, the rate of those dropping out due to work and family challenges also increased. Only 31% of single mothers age 25 or older held a college degree in 2015. This percentage, when compared to the 54% of married women and 40% of women overall who held a college degree, reveals the particular obstacles single mothers face in their pursuit of education. Single mothers also risk higher levels of student debt than their married and unmarried counterparts.

Fortunately, flexible criminal justice programs provide single parents with the tools they need to earn their certificate or degree without compromising work and family obligations. Ample financial aid options also exist to help single parents. This guide provides information on federal and state loans, grants, and scholarships. Students also gain insight into employer assistance programs, childcare support, and tax breaks. Private scholarships represent another great option, and this guide details 15 such opportunities.

Finding a Criminal Justice Program as a Single Parent

Criminal Justice Schools With Daycare Services

Without accessible childcare, single parents cannot afford to pursue postsecondary education. Luckily, over 1,500 colleges and universities provide some form of childcare services, whether through on-campus facilities or with partner organizations. Single parents benefit from federal, institutional, and employer support to pay for these services. This guide provides in-depth information on funding opportunities in later sections.

Colleges and universities recognize that single parents face distinct challenges beyond financial concerns. Schools train academic advisers to help single parents create course plans that accommodate hectic work and family schedules. Criminal justice professionals can apply prior academic and work-related experiences into transfer credits, reducing cost and expediting graduation. Universities house adult success centers, which help nontraditional students through peer mentoring, skill-building workshops, networking events, quiet study areas, and even free meals for their children. Single parents also benefit from their own campus groups and national organizations, including Single Parent Advocate. The list below details schools that offer criminal justice programs along with childcare and other services for single parents.

  • California State University – Fresno Fresno State provides care services for infant-toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children. The university also offers support groups for LGBTQ parents.
  • John Jay College of Criminal Justice Through its Children’s Center, John Jay offers care services for kids of all ages. College faculty and staff benefit from discounted care and meal plan rates.
  • University of Utah The UKids program provides day and evening care services. And through the Center for Child Care and Family Resources, single parents access financial assistance and health services, including pregnancy support.
  • The University of Texas at Dallas Students apply for childcare through the Dallas International School, which provides on-campus, evening programs for children of all ages. Single parents of children with learning disabilities and related challenges enjoy support from the Callier Center for Communication Disorders Child Development Program.
  • Eastern Michigan University EMU provides on-campus daycare and preschool through its Children’s Institute. Single parents also gain support from the Collaborative – Ypsilanti YMCA Child Development Center.
  • Delaware State University DSU offers childcare through its Early Childhood Laboratory School, including full-day programs for toddlers and preschoolers.

Getting a Criminal Justice Degree Online

For single parents, distance education represents an affordable and accessible option. Colleges and universities provide online tuition incentives through discounted prices and rates that disregard residency status. The latter provides added cost flexibility that enables students to pursue higher education outside their state. To further incentivize distance learners, schools offer scholarship and grants specifically for single parents.

Beyond cost, scheduling presents another major obstacle for single parents who must plan their day around job obligations and their child’s needs. Fortunately, online criminal justice programs provide asynchronous classes. Through user-friendly and integrative learning software, like Blackboard and Canvas, distance learners can access course materials, engage instructors, and collaborate with peers at their convenience. Learning flexibility also leads to financial savings. Online students do not need to worry about paying for campus housing and, because they rarely visit campus, cut down on commuting time and costs as well. Criminal justice programs usually comprise internships and practicum, especially at the postbaccalaureate levels. Schools allow online students to fulfill these requirements with local organizations, including current employers.

Other Tips for Single Parents Going to School for Criminal Justice

Schedule Effectively

Even with the enhanced flexibility of an online program, single parents need to exercise a high degree of self-discipline when it comes to their studies. By creating a schedule and sticking to it, they can better juggle their studies, work, and family responsibilities.

Build Tech Skills

To facilitate integrative learning, colleges use such technologies as course management software, virtual databases, and cloud storage. Students should seek assistance from their school’s library and tech services to brush up on these crucial skills.

Find Support

Single parents benefit from childcare services, adult success centers, and their own student groups. Professional organizations represent another option, such as Alpha Sigma Lambda, an honor society specifically for nontraditional students.

How to Pay for a Criminal Justice Degree as a Single Parent

Single parents benefit from multifarious financial aid opportunities, including federal funding, employer reimbursements, and private scholarships. This section provides information on how to locate and obtain these resources.


Established as part of the 1965 Higher Education Act, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) operates under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The FAFSA stands as one of the best financial tools for students because it enables them to apply for grants, loans, and work-study positions simultaneously. The FAFSA also provides information that helps students find suitable schools, calculate college costs, and develop practical loan repayment plans. Any U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen, regardless of age, may access FAFSA awards as long as they meet basic eligibility criteria. These include demonstrable financial need and enrollment/acceptance in an accredited postsecondary program.

The FAFSA stands as one of the best financial tools for students because it enables them to apply for grants, loans, and work-study positions simultaneously.

The FAFSA opens on October 1 for the next academic year. To start their application, students should apply for a Federal Student Aid ID. This ID works as a government-approved electronic signature and enables students to access all FSA systems. To make the application process easier, students should ready the following information: Social Security number (or Alien Registration number), driver’s license (or state ID), and federal tax information and returns. Because students apply for 2019-2020 financial aid as early as October 1, 2018, they must use 2017 tax information. As part of the FAFSA process, students also need to provide records of untaxed income and all assets, including child support received, investments, and the current balances in their checking and saving accounts. Income factors heavily into demonstrated need, so single parents, especially mothers, qualify for bigger loans and grants.

Types of Financial Aid Available to Single Parents

Students do not need to repay scholarships. Scholarships generally come from colleges and universities, such as the merit-based Dean’s Scholarships. Criminal justice departments may issue their own awards, like these scholarships from Texas State University. Single parents can also seek out scholarships from local business and associations. Professional organizations are another great source of funding, such as the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, which provides specific scholarships for women and minorities on top of their general awards.
Like scholarships, students do not need to pay back grants. The FAFSA facilitates the Pell Grants, which is available to all students; the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, for students with exceptional financial need; and the TEACH grants, for students with career interests in education. Students can also access state grants by contacting the relevant agencies. As noted earlier, single parents benefit from bigger federal grants, especially Pell funds, due to the high level of their demonstrated need, which factors in income and number of children.
Federal Loans
Unlike scholarships and grants, loans represent money students need to pay back. Luckily, federal loans come not only with lower interest rates but also subsidization, so interest does not accrue while students are still in school. Graduates can prolong this grace period by pursuing work with organizations like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and Teach for America. Through the FAFSA, students can access the Perkins Loans and the Direct Loans, which come in the forms of PLUS, subsidized, and unsubsidized awards. Graduate students cannot access subsidized loans through the FAFSA.
Private Loans
Single parents should use home equity and other private loans carefully, saving them for when all other financial aid opportunities have been exhausted. This money usually comes from credit unions, banks, and other private lenders, which charge higher interest rates than the federal government. Additionally, students who borrow private loans usually do not benefit from subsidization. This means interest accumulates and borrowers need to start repaying while they are still in school. Students can learn more about loan repayment through the FAFSA website.

More Ways for Single Parents to Save

Employer Tuition Assistance

Employers understand the importance of up-to-date skill training and education for effective job performance. This is especially true in the criminal justice field where research, best practices, technologies, and government regulations change frequently. To this end, single parents can usually count on financial assistance from their employers. This can come in the form of tuition reimbursement programs, waivers and reductions, and even employer-sponsored scholarships. Reimbursement programs represent the most common form of employer assistance. Here, companies either pay tuition directly or they ask employees to make initial payments, reimbursing them after they receive semester grades. Single parents who face the latter scenario should budget accordingly so that they can make these payments without crippling their finances.

While employer tuition assistance is a great way for single parents to pay for college, specific guidelines exist.

Criminal justice professionals who work for higher education institutions can earn their certificate or degree for little to no cost through tuition reductions and waivers. The major drawback here is lack of choice since students must enroll in a program with the school they work for to reap these benefits. Businesses and organizations may also offer private scholarships to incentivize their employees to return to school. These awards usually entail a competitive application process.

While employer tuition assistance is a great way for single parents to pay for college, specific guidelines exist. According to federal law, employers can only provide $5,250 in tax-free assistance every year. This number is cumulative, so students cannot bypass it by working for multiple employers. Companies may require students to maintain a minimum GPA and obtain their certificate/degree before a certain date. They can also stipulate that employees remain with the company for a period after graduation.

Childcare Grants

Childcare cost represents one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in the pursuit of a college education. According to the 2017 report by Child Care Aware of America, the cost of center-based childcare exceeds public college tuition in 28 states and the District of Columbia. This cost poses a particular burden for single parents, who routinely earn less than two-parent households. Massachusetts is the least affordable state for childcare. Single parents in this state earn an average income of $28,389 and must pay up to 71% of this amount towards center-based infant care. Even among the most affordable states, like Mississippi, Maine, and South Dakota, childcare costs exceed 25% of annual income for single parents.

Fortunately, federal organizations provide childcare grants to low-income single parents who want to attend college. Facilitated by the ED, the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) Program provides funding to colleges and universities. Single parents who attend participating schools may apply for CCAMPIS grants to help pay for on-campus and other forms of approved childcare. Students should consult their prospective schools for application details. The process involves FAFSA information, including estimated family contribution and Pell Grant eligibility.

Single parents may also seek financial assistance through the Child Care and Development Fund. Individual states operate their own childcare programs and funding opportunities. Active military personnel and veterans can access exclusive support through Child Care Aware of America. Students should also consult the federal Office of Child Care, Head Start Centers, and their own schools for other programs and awards.

Tax Breaks

To help pay for college and save money in general, students should take advantage of tax breaks. By filing as head of household, single parents pay fewer taxes and access a larger standard deduction. In 2017, this amount caps at $9,350. To qualify as head of household, an individual must be unmarried on the last day of the year. They must also contribute over 50% to the household finances and their children must stay with them for more than half of the year. Those from low-income or moderate-income families may apply for a refund through the Earned Income Tax Credit.

By filing as head of household, single parents pay fewer taxes and access a larger standard deduction.

Single parents can claim exemptions and earn tax credit through their children. As head of household, a single parent may apply for the dependent exemption, which allows them to enjoy an amount of untaxed income for each child under their care. Note that only one parent can claim a child as their dependent, so when parents equally share custody, they must decide who among them can file for this exemption. Single parents who make under $75,000 can also file for a $1,000 child tax credit for each dependent age 17 or younger. If an individual’s child tax credit exceeds the amount of taxes they owe, they can apply for additional child tax credit, which allows them to get a refund for the unused portion.

Finally, single parents benefit from child and dependent care credit, which equals up to 35% of approved costs. To be eligible, the applicant must earn income and enroll full-time in a postsecondary program. Their child needs to be under 12 years old. The care provider cannot be the child’s other parent or the applicant’s dependent. Additionally, single parents need to deduct employer childcare contributions from total costs.

Scholarships for Single Parents Going to College


Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund Varies

Who Can Apply: ASPSF provides over 2,200 scholarships to state residents every year. Low-income single parents apply through their county agencies. Candidates cannot hold a bachelor’s degree at the time of application. View Scholarship

Patsy Takemoto Mink Foundation Scholarships $5,000

Who Can Apply: These awards are open to single mothers with dependent children. Candidates need to enroll in an accredited nonprofit school or program. They must also demonstrate financial need, career goals, and a history of community service and activism. View Scholarship

Bruce and Marjorie Sundlun Scholarship $1,500

Who Can Apply: Facilitated by the Rhode Island Foundation, this award is available to state residents. Applicants must be low-income, single parents. The scholarship committee gives preference to individuals who received or currently receive state aid and those who were previously incarcerated. View Scholarship

Capture the Dream Single Parent Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: Applicants need to be low-income single parents from the San Francisco Bay Area. They must be enrolled in a two-year or four-year undergraduate program. Application materials include a 1000-word essay. View Scholarship

The ANSWER Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: This scholarship is open to nontraditional female students who are the primary caregiver for at least one school-aged child. Applicants must be residents of a participating North Carolina or South Carolina county. View Scholarship

Bethel Foundation Grace Scholarship $3,000

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be low-income single mothers who claim head of household and full custody of at least one child under 18 years old. They also need to hold a high school diploma (or equivalent) and be eligible for the Pell Grant. View Scholarship

Sister Elizabeth Candon Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: Facilitated by the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, this award is open to single mothers with primary custody of at least one child 12 years old or younger. Applicants must be state residents who demonstrate financial need. View Scholarship

Bernice Murray Scholarship $2,000

Who Can Apply: The candidate needs to be a Vermont resident and single parent of a low-income household. Application materials include essay and recommendation letters. View Scholarship

Soroptimist Live Your Dream Scholarships $1,000-16,000

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be women who act as the primary financial support for themselves and their families. They also need to be currently enrolled or accepted into a vocational training or undergraduate degree program. View Scholarship

The Ford Family Foundation Opportunity Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: This award is open to single parents who possess head of household status and primary custody of dependent children. Students must be currently enrolled in an on-campus associate or bachelor’s program with at least one year of schooling left. View Scholarship

Women’s Independence Scholarship Program Varies

Who Can Apply: The scholarship is open to single mothers and survivors of intimate partner abuse who have been separated from said partner for at least one year (but less than seven years). Applicants also need to demonstrate critical financial need and enrollment or acceptance into an accredited U.S. program. View Scholarship

Curiel & Runion Single Mother Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: The award is available to all mothers who are returning to school. Applicants need to be enrolled in an accredited U.S. high school, college, or university. They need to maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA. View Scholarship

Jeannette Rankin Foundation Scholarship Varies based on income

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be women aged 35 or older who come from a low-income household. They also need to prove enrollment or acceptance in a regionally accredited technical, vocational, associate, or first-time bachelor’s program. View Scholarship

The P.E.O. Sisterhood Program for Continuing Education $3,000

Who Can Apply: This award is open to U.S. and Canadian citizens. Applicants need to be women whose education was interrupted but now find that they must pursue a college degree or certificate to provide for themselves and their families. View Scholarship

Emerge Scholarships $2,000-5,000

Who Can Apply: These scholarships are accessible to Georgia women whose education was interrupted or delayed. Application materials include essay and recommendation letters. View Scholarship