A friend and I were having a lively conversation about college the other day – and who has it harder. His arguments make sense – it’s hard for young people to want to go to college in this climate, despite the economic growth, because of the unreasonable hiring practices of companies. He just spent three months helping a PR firm look at it’s diversity practices when it comes to young people of color. That’s something a lot of top companies are doing – take Starbucks and Walmart for example.

One thing that I have as an added layer, is single parenthood. How does being a single parent play into the complicated life that is college? Well added expenses for one. But beyond that it’s the missed opportunities that college provides that single parents can’t always take advantage of, and the additional stress to manage.

Expense versus Gain

According to the Lumina Foundation, 4.8 million undergrad students in America are raising children. 43 percent of that population are single mothers. I wonder how many graduate students – traditionally older people with some professional experience under their belts – also fall into this category. One of the things that I wish I had paid more attention to before committing to this program was expense versus gain. What skills, knowledge, and economic opportunities will arise for me – real opportunities not hypothetically – through this educational experience? I should’ve made a list. And then I should’ve made a list of every financial sacrifice that was going to need to be made. Oh, and the other sacrifices, like time spent with my kid, favors called in, etc. AND THEN I would have put those lists right next to each other and really gave thought to which outweighed the other. Personally I am committed to making the gains outweigh the expense of added debt and financial sacrifice, but because hindsight is 20/20 I hope making a list in advance helps some other parent out there.

Missed Chances

There are many awesome opportunities provided by being in a program of study, even as a graduate student. Research opportunities, conferences, workshops, special lectures, the list goes on. However being a single parent can significantly reduce the amount of those opportunities you take part in. Even if you are lucky enough (or unlucky depending on your relationship) to have a co-parent, sometimes you can’t make that weekend conference, after hours lecture, or two day travel work. I do take advantage of as many opportunities I can, while managing care for my kid. Sometimes that means she’s spending a Saturday with GiGi, or having a late night hang at Nana’s. These kinds of opportunities are sometimes missed chances for single parent students.

Stress Load Management

If any people in this world are good at stress management – or avoidance – it’s single parents. Many of us do not have time to feel stress; we have to work, take care of kid(s), take care of house, try to socialize, and sometimes pursue higher education. Add on top of all of that, the mountain of emotional trauma that a lot of single parents have experienced, some guilt, and sprinkle on all of the hopes and desires of the kid(s) in the picture. That is so much to deal with! Being a student can provide resources that help with the management of stress; from mentors, to onsite childcare, to finals week stress relief for all students. Know what your program, department, and/or campus provides in this area – and take advantage of it! I know I do, especially the free food and free massages!