Investing in further education is one of the best moves you can make as a single mother, whether you’re looking to improve your standard of living, trying to put money aside for a house or your children’s education, or just trying to make ends meet and have a little bit left over every month.
Of course, it’s a little overwhelming to think about how to fit classes into your schedule, especially if you’re already working. However, the extra work will be worth it in the long run. Women with degrees (whether Associate’s degrees or Bachelor’s or beyond) are much more likely to find a job that pays better than a living wage. If you can’t swing a degree at this time, even making the effort to become certified in an in-demand skill can be worth more money to you almost immediately (especially if you undertake extra training to qualify for a higher position in your present company)
The good news is that all types of educational institutions, from vocational/technical schools to private colleges, have long experience dealing with the special needs of the single mother. They understand that financial aid is a must, as are child-friendly facilities (or even on-site child care) and convenient class schedules that let you maximize your study time at home. There are even online colleges where you may never need to physically be present, as long as you have internet access.
Continuing education has become such a necessity for so many different people over the years that the terminology has become a little confusing. Here’s a quick, common-sense way to sort through the various options:
- Certificates: These are basically certificates of completion, showing that you have learned a particular skill or are knowledgeable about a small area of a larger subject. These can be very valuable, especially in the tech world. They are not necessarily “low-prestige”, just because they are the quickest, shortest type of degree. They can be highly rewarded, depending on the industry or skill.
- Associate Degree: This will typically represent the first two years’ worth of a 4-year course of study. It may be offered in many contexts, from community colleges to private universities.
- Bachelor’s Degree: Received after completing the full undergraduate course of study, usually three or four years at a college or university.
- Advanced Degree: Graduate degrees such as Master’s, Doctoral, Advanced Study, etc.
- School: of course you went to primary and secondary school; but there are schools beyond that level as well. Schools tend to grant certificates and Associate degrees. Think of a School of Cosmetology, or a Vocation/Technical (Vo-Tech) School.
- College and University: Historically, these have been different institutions, but today they are essentially the same thing. (In case you’re interested in the history, a College was meant to have an educational focus and awarded undergraduate degrees, while a University might contain several colleges, and could accept students for advanced study.)
- Community College: a College that offers 2-year programs and certificates. They will generally have most of the same subjects as a regular college, but abbreviate some of the courses that are not critical components of the area of interest.
Of course, if you haven’t yet obtained your diploma for high school, you’ll have to pass the GED (General Educational Development, also known by other names such as General Equivalency Diploma) test before you can apply to any higher educational institution. There are exceptions, but the general rule is that having a GED (if you do not already have your high school diploma) will make the process run more smoothly.
This test shows that you have mastered the skills high school was meant to teach, and are prepared for the more demanding work you’ll find in higher education. That sounds scary, but it’s not—if you were able to handle high school, you’ll do fine in any college. The only thing that makes it more demanding is that YOU are responsible for it—not your teachers, or your parents, or your older brother. The topics and homework are not especially difficult for people who have completed high school or have a GED. It just takes discipline and strong motivation. And what could be more motivating than knowing you’ll be qualified for a higher-paying job for the rest of your life?
Preparing For The GED
Look in a local library or bookstore for one of the following popular GED preparation guides:
- McGraw-Hill’s GED
- Complete GED Preparation by Steck-Vaughn
- Kaplan GED by Simon & Schuster
- Petersen’s Master The GED
Find A GED Test Center
Now that you’ve got your high-school diploma or GED, you should be armed with SAT scores that let colleges know how well you’ve done. You just have to decide how to go about choosing what type of school you want to go to, and make applications to your choices.
The important things you’ll want to find out about any schools you’re considering are:
- What will your financial aid package look like?
- What kind of schedule will you be able to construct?
- Given that schedule, how long will it take to earn your certificate or degree?
Any school, college or university you contact will be able to help you map out your financial aid picture. This is most easily done in person, so the best way to go about it is:
- Contact the schools’ Financial Aid office and ask them to send a catalog. The catalog will have all kinds of information, including courses and classes. (This will be fun to browse while you’re waiting to hear about financial aid.) But most importantly, it will list the information the college needs from you to estimate financial aid. Once you’ve prepared this information, make at least one copy, because any other school you apply to will need the same basic information.
- Assemble the required information and send or bring it in.
- Once they’ve contacted you with a determination, make an appointment to see a Financial Aid representative if you have any questions or confusion about the aid amount, and how much money you’ll owe when your degree is complete. Many people are surprised to find that their “aid” is actually a loan that must be repaid, so be very sure you understand the types of aid in your package before committing to anything.
Of course, some schools may allow you to do all of this online, but it’s still a good idea to talk to someone in person to make sure you understand everything completely. Besides, you’ll get a good feel for the character of the school and its staff.
Below are some links that might be helpful while you’re searching for schools that offer the degrees you need.
Community College Finder
Four year colleges
Job/Career outlooks, listings of state universities by various criteria
Scholarships and Grants
Sometimes the financial aid you’ll receive through your selected college will not cover enough of your expenses (tuition, books, etc.) to make college affordable. There are many scholarships and grants that can help you close that gap. Here are just a few that are especially tailored to single mothers. You can find lots more by searching online.
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