In College, With Kids: How to Deal
Going to college is never easy—but parents of young children, particularly those too young to go to school themselves, have it particularly hard. You need time to study without distractions, your child needs round-the-clock care—and childcare is not cheap. In some cases, the cost of your childcare could rival the cost of your college tuition. Too often, parents have to compromise their education for the sake of the kids.
Most colleges, however, have some sort of resource for parents with young children. If you have an infant or toddler—or several—and are trying to go back to school, here are a few options you have to get your children the care they need while you study.
Many colleges offer campus-based childcare, and this type of childcare is often very good—with knowledgeable childcare professionals and a learning program designed with specific age groups in mind. As a student, you may be eligible for a reduced rate as well.
Ask about childcare on campus
These programs have limitations, however. There are often long waiting lists—you may not be able to get your child into the program when you need to. They often only take children too young for preschool, and may not run in the evenings. And in some cases, you might not be eligible for financial aid to help with childcare costs unless your income level qualifies you for a Pell grant—if the childcare program is administered by the Federal government.
Ask about childcare grants
Childcare on campus might be free, if you’re lucky—but often even students have to pay. But you can apply for additional financial aid to cover the cost of childcare through your school’s financial aid office. Some states also offer childcare aid to students directly—so it’s worth checking the Department of Education website for your state. In some cases, the aid that you get for childcare might affect your other financial aid and grants—talk to your school’s financial aid office to be sure.
Take classes online as much as possible
Even schools that are primarily traditional sometimes offer at least some online or hybrid classes. Whenever possible, choose classes that allow you to take some portion of the class online. This will cut down on the time you’ll have to spend on campus—and the money you’ll have to spend on childcare. Talk to your advisor about designing a class schedule that allows you to take as many classes online as you can.
Partner up with other students
Chances are, you’re not the only student on campus with young children. Reach out to other students in your situation and get to know them. If possible, set up a childcare exchange—while one person in the group is in class, another watches the kids. This may require adjusting your class schedule to some extent so that you can get the childcare you need, but for free childcare, it might be worth it.
Get an in-home sitter
If you take classes during the summertime, you may be able to get an older child—one in high school or on break from college—to come to your home and watch the kids while you study. Even if you’re taking classes online, having someone else keep an eye on the kids while you study without distractions can be priceless. This option is often cheaper than taking your kids to a childcare center, and could help you in a pinch if your college’s childcare center has a long waiting list.
Getting childcare during your college classes isn’t easy. But with a degree, you’ll be better able to give your children a better quality of life—and the struggle is worth it. Check out on-campus childcare options and be sure to ask about grants to help pay the costs, but bear in mind these programs often have limitations. You may have to exchange childcare with other students, take classes online, or rearrange your class schedule in other ways to make affordable and dependable childcare possible. But if you do, you should be able to find childcare for your kids—without compromising on your education.
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