How to Go to School as a Single Mom Without Working

Practical tips for single moms who want to go back to school without working

Are you a single mom wondering how to go back to school without working? Then, you are not alone! One of the questions I had, when I decided to go back to college, was “can a single mom go to school full time without working? If so, how do you do it?” That’s the question we are going to answer in this post.

Countless moms have managed to go back to school without working. While it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, sometimes, it’s the best or only option that’s available.

Working and going to school as a single mom can be very difficult, so some moms would rather focus on their academics so they can graduate on time, instead of working and spending many years in college, or worse, dropping out.

So, if you are thinking of going back to school as a single mom without the hassle of working, here are some ways you can pull it off.

But first, let me spend a few moments on the question below.


Yes, a single mom can go to school full time without working. However, this isn’t something you should consider doing unless you do a lot of research and have a solid plan in place. Of course, the biggest issue is going to be how to afford college and how you will survive financially without working. Once you can figure out the financial aspect, you will be able to manage everything else.

Now, let’s get into the post so you can get some tips on how to make this work.



Single moms who choose to go to college without working will have to live on a limited income (whether savings, loans, grants, scholarships, or financial aid). With that in mind, choosing the most affordable college option is the way to go.

Depending on where you live, your personal circumstances, or your chosen program of study, the best options for college may include online colleges or community colleges. Also, community colleges have different tuitions for in-county students and out-of-county but state residents. So, before applying to a community college, check out their tuition and fees for the different categories.

I know there are times when the course you want to study may not be available at your local community college or online colleges. When that happens, it becomes a judgment call for you. Can you afford to pursue that program with your limited income? Are there alternatives you can explore?

Going to college as a single mom without working requires you to put on your thinking hat and do a lot of research before making a decision.

Finally, you need to be realistic and honest with yourself about what you can or can’t afford. You don’t get a refund if you withdraw from college for lack of funding, so think about that before you commit yourself.


It’s important to know whether you can go to college without working or whether it’s unrealistic. And, the best way to do that is to list all your expenses. How much do you need to go back to college?

Take out a piece of paper and write everything down. You can amend your list after you have figured out some other stuff we will talk about in this post.

Your expenses include tuition and fees, rent or mortgage, transportation, childcare, clothing, tax, food and groceries, health insurance, and other insurance, loans, debt repayments, and other household bills you are responsible for. Take your time and ensure you list all your current expenses and the expenses you expect to have when you go back to school?

What does your list look like?

Remember, how much you need is the total amount you will need to complete your course. So, you are going to be thinking in years and not months. For example, if your annual expenses are around $30,000 and you expect to be in college for 3 years, the amount you will need is $90,000 and some extra to cover emergencies.

Wow! When you break it down like that, it seems like a whole lot of money. No wonder so many single moms give up before they even get started.

I don’t want you to give up. The reason for this exercise is so you can have a complete picture of what you are dealing with, and help you think of solutions, and ways to pursue your dream. So, hang with me for a while!


Okay, this one is pretty straightforward. Do you have any savings or money set aside somewhere you can use to pay for college? If you have been working for a while, you probably have some money saved. Now, the question is, are you willing to spend all your savings to attend college?

When I went back to college, I had some savings. While it wasn’t a lot of money, it helped me a lot especially to cover my tuition and other fees.

I know I probably sound like a broken record, but your personal circumstances will determine what decision you make. For single moms, financial stability is a big deal, so I understand any concern you might have about using up your emergency fund or savings.

You are the only one who can decide if using your savings to pay for college is worth it or not.


As a single mom who is thinking of going back to college, you are probably wondering how to succeed in college as a single parent. From my experience, I can tell you that one of the ways to succeed is to eliminate or minimize financial stress.

It’s really hard to succeed in college when you are under constant financial stress or pressure. You can’t focus on your academics if you are distracted by unpaid bills or wondering how to feed or clothe your kids. So, eliminating as many expenses or financial stress as you can before going back to school is a smart decision.

Think about how you spend your income right now, where can you cut costs? Where can you save some money you can use to finance your education?

For example, you can get rid of some housing costs by moving in with your family, getting roommates, or downsizing to a smaller home. If you have debts, can you pay them down before you sign up for college?

The more expenses you can get rid of, the better your finances will look. So, just like above, take out a piece of paper and list all the expenses you think you can eliminate or reduce. The fewer things you have to worry about financially, the better your chances of going back to school without working.


As a single mom who is trying to improve her life, I believe you should accept any help you can get, as long as it is within reason. The life of a single mom is fraught with so many challenges. Many single moms are facing so many odds, it’s why so many can’t seem to lift themselves out of poverty and financial hardship.

So, what I am trying to say is that, don’t be afraid or ashamed to use or access any help that’s available to you. Now, start by thinking of how much help you can get to afford college and where you can go for help.

When I decided to go back to college, I had some savings but not nearly enough to finance my education. I got help from my dad and family friends. In my last year in college, one of my friends did a “go fund me” to help me out. There’s no way I could have made it without those friends.

So, I want you to think about how much help you can get and where the help is going to come from. While I am wary of promises, you can include a firm promise from someone reliable. So, your list may look something like this:

  • Help with rent (moving in with parents/family member/friend or downsizing)
  • Savings – $10,000
  • Child support/alimony (I got some child support while I was in college. While it wasn’t a lot, it helped quite a bit
  • Free child care or subsidized child care
  • SNAP and other benefits
  • Tuition help (financial aid, scholarships, grants, student loans, parents, friends, employer)
  • Living expenses, other fees, books, etc (cash gifts, loans, money from selling unwanted stuff)
  • Firm and reliable promises for the first year of college, the second year of college, or the third year of college

You get the idea! You need to brainstorm all your sources or potential sources of financing your education. Put a dollar amount next to every source, so you can work out how much you have, and what if, any shortfall.

The reason why doing this is so important is that it forces you to face reality and to come up with a plan if this is something you really want to do.

It’s easy to say you want to go back to school, or you can’t go back to school because you don’t have the money. However, until you have broken things down and have a dollar amount, you can’t really back up either of these claims.

So, to go back to school as a single mom without working, you must know how much it will cost you to go back to school, and how you can possibly afford it.

Now, I don’t want you to feel discouraged if you don’t know where to go for help. This is where you need to start brainstorming and doing some quality research to find the answers. Research what is out there. Start talking to family and friends to gauge their support. You can’t give up without trying!

Here are some links to get you started on your research. Please check them out!

Pell Grants

Federal student aid (FAFSA)

Federal student loans

Best Private Student Loans of 2020

You should also contact some of the schools you are thinking of attending to ask them about their financial aid or the type of support they offer single parents or student parents.

Here is a list of US Community Colleges by state.


You can save some money by going to school only a few days a week. For example, in my first year of college, I took twelve credits (four courses) in the first semester. I only went to school two days a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays). This saved me a ton of money on child care, transportation, and other stuff.

Talking about child care, if you have to pay for child care out of pocket, look for a child care provider or babysitter that accepts daily rate, so you don’t have to pay for days you don’t need them. This is what I did throughout college and it worked well for me.

So, where possible, try a compressed schedule while taking as many classes as you can. Yes, I know the more classes you take, the higher your tuition and fees, but it’s worth considering if it will save you some money.

The more classes you take, the quicker you can complete college. Which brings me to my next point.


If you are a single mom thinking of going to school without working, one of the best things you can do is to try to accelerate your degree. What I mean is, find ways to complete your degree faster.

Unfortunately, lots of single moms take a long time (up to six years) to graduate from community colleges. The rate of graduation for low-income single mothers is pretty low because a lot of them have to work while studying.

So, if you have the option of not working, I suggest you focus most of your energy on graduating college in the shortest possible time. Start by finding out how many classes you can test out of or how many college credits you can earn for what you already know.

Colleges differ in how many credits they accept and which exams they accept. My college accepted up to 24 credits. CLEP (credit by examination is the most well-known and widely accepted credit by examination program). That’s what I used to accelerate my degree.

Here are some benefits of taking the CLEP exams.

  • Save time since you can move into higher-level courses.
  • You can save money.
  • Move ahead and graduate on time instead of studying the material you already know.

Let me share how I managed to shave off a few semesters in colege. When I applied to college, I took a placement test and was placed in Math 082. Math 082 was a prerequisite for Math 083, and Math 083 was a prerequisite for Biology 110 and Human Anatomy and Physiology 1.

I needed three semesters and three courses (Math 082-Math 083-Biology 110) before I could enroll in Human Anatomy and Physiology 1. Guess what I did? I took the CLEP Math and Biology exams and moved straight into Human Anatomy. I shaved off two semesters by doing this.

So, if there’s any way you can save some time and accelerate your degree, I really think you should go for it especially if you are keen to get back into the workforce.

If you are interested in pursuing this option, here are some of my favorite CLEP resources.


If you are thinking of going to school without working, consider earning some credits toward your degree before you stop working. You can start by taking a couple of classes per semester or earning as much credit as you can before you quit your job.

Earning some college credits will reduce how much time you spend in college without working, and could save you from potential financial stress. This is a great way to reduce pressure and still work towards your goal.

Think about this if you are a single mom who is currently employed, and going to school without working would be very difficult for you.


It’s possible for a single mom to go to school without working if she has enough money saved. If you are in a job that allows overtime, consider working some more to build up your savings.

You can also take on a second part-time job or create a side hustle to earn more money. I know this may not be possible for everyone, but when you are trying to come up with a solution for a problem, you have to be creative and willing to explore all options.

You may need to make some temporary sacrifices for a better life tomorrow. So, don’t focus too much on all the inconveniences, but on what lies ahead.

Some jobs always need their employees to work more, so if you are in that position, figure out a way to work overtime, as long as it doesn’t disrupt your family life too much or affect your health.


One of my favorite expressions is “closed mouths don’t get fed.” It’s funny because I don’t really like asking for help. It makes me feel inadequate. But, I have been alive long enough to know that sometimes if you don’t ask, you don’t receive.

So, be open and willing to ask for help when necessary. Find a few people in your life you can trust and let them know what you need. Also, don’t be shy about asking for things you are entitled to.

When I separated from my husband, I was determined to take care of my kids alone, but when I started college and my financial life became more stressful, I knew it was time to ask for child support. While the money wasn’t a lot, it was a big help at the time.

When you reach out to people, you will be surprised how much help you can get. For example, when I had my second child, one of my classmates (she remains a friend until this day) and her sister literally bought me a whole suitcase of baby clothes. It was amazing!

Two of my classmates with older girls gave me lots of clothes for my daughter. For the first two years of her life, I hardly bought any clothes for her. You can imagine how much help that was for a single mom in college struggling to survive.

We relied on food stamps and the WIC program for much of our food, and I am so thankful for those programs. So, don’t be shy. Ask for help when you need it, find out where you can go for help, and if you need to demand child support, please do so!


There’s no way a single mom can go to college without working unless she practices good money management. When you are living on a limited income, you’ve got to watch your spending. You are going to learn to live without and focus mostly on the essentials.

Good money management begins with using a budget and sticking to it. You have to track where your money goes and avoid spending impulsively.

Find ways to save on food and groceries. Avoid eating out as much as possible. My school’s cafeteria was one of my biggest temptation in college. They had great food and you could easily spend a fortune there. I had to restrain myself and tried to bring my lunch as often as I could because I needed to save money.

Also, consider buying used stuff when it makes sense (there are some things I could never buy used), or at the very least look for cheaper alternatives.

Another thing you can do to save money is to buy quality instead of quantity. I’d rather buy one good pair of shoes for $70 than three pairs that will wear out in a few weeks or months. A few quality clothes are better than lots of cheap stuff that won’t last.

There are lots of ways to save money when you are in college, so make sure you develop good money habits before and after you go back to school.

Closing thoughts on how to go to school as a single mom without working

There, you have it! Eleven tips to help you go back to school without working. While going back to school without working may not be so easy for single moms, it’s certainly possible if you know how to go about things.

Hopefully, the tips in this post have given you an idea of how you can pull this off if this is the way you want to go. You can also learn how to work and go to school as a single mom if you decide this wouldn’t work for you.

Whatever you decide to do, I want you to know there’s always a way, and don’t give up on your dream to earn a college degree.

Are you a single mom thinking of going back to school without working? What’s your biggest challenge?

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How to Go to School as a Single Mom Without Working

how to go to school as a single mom without working

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