Paying for school is not easy on a couple, but it can be nearly impossible for a single parent to find the money to pay tuition and other college expenses.

While scholarships and grants can help, often they’re not enough to cover the expense of college. Taking out a loan is one available option for single mothers to shoulder the rest of the financial burden.

To help single mothers pay for their education expenses, financial aid is available in the form of low-interest federal loans – funded directly by the U.S. Department of Education. But unlike scholarships and grants, these loans are borrowed money that must be repaid after graduation, with interest.

This kind of federally-funded loan is more attractive as it offers lower (fixed) interest rates and have more flexible repayment options than loans from banks or other private sources.

The 2 major types of federal student loans are Stafford Loan and Perkins Loan, both of which are available to single parents who need financial help paying for college – in many cases, regardless of income level or credit history.

The Stafford loans can either be subsidized, which doesn’t require you to pay any interest while you are still in school (as the government pays your interest), or unsubsidized, meaning it does accrue interest1 while you are still in school.

Perkins loans, on the other hand, are usually reserved for undergraduates with exceptional financial need which are subsidized, with no interest being paid while you are in school and for a nine month grace period thereafter.

How to apply for a Perkins or Stafford Loan?

As with all federal student aid, you may apply for a Perkins or Stafford Loan by completing the FAFSA. A separate loan application is not required. However, you’ll need to sign a Master Promissory Note – which is a binding legal contract that says you agree to repay your loan according to the terms of the promissory note.2

If you qualify and opt to take the loan, the funds will be distributed through your school’s financial aid department.

Important: These loans are given on a first-come, first-served basis. It is in your best interest to submit your FAFSA form as early as possible.

As far as “borrowed” money is concerned, federal student loans offer many benefits not typically found in private loans -

  1. Low fixed interest rates,
  2. No credit check3,
  3. No collateral
  4. No co-signer(s)
  5. Income-based repayment plans,
  6. Loan forgiveness and deferment options,

And for these reasons, you should always exhaust federal loan options before considering a private loan.

Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students (PLUS Loans)

Another type of government student loans is the unsubsidized PLUS loans (Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students) which are available to parents of dependent undergraduate or graduate students. They are not need-based, but parents must be creditworthy to qualify.

However, as a single mother, your parents cannot apply for PLUS loan on your behalf because you have a dependent of your own, which automatically disqualifies you as a dependent of your parents.

You may however apply based on your own merits if you are currently pursuing a professional or graduate degree.
Alternative funding options may include loans from private and non-governmental sources. These loans are options but aren’t ideal options. Scholarships and federal grant programs (Pell Grant, FSEOG) are better alternatives simply because they don’t have to be paid back.

For additional information on the federal aid programs, visit the official Federal Student Aid website4 or or calling 1-800-4-FED-AID.


  1. Stafford loan rates for the 2011-2012 school year are as low as 3.40% (subsidized) & 6.8% (unsubsidized) []
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  3. If you opt a federal student loan, your credit rating has no bearing on whether you qualify for the loan. This makes going back to college possible for single mothers with bad credit. []
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Last updated: June 16, 2012 by & filed under Federal Loan

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