Guide to Paying for Child Care While in School

By Emily Greenhill Pierce · November 29, 2022 · 8 minute read

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Guide to Paying for Child Care While in School

Pursuing a college degree can put you on a path to the career of your dreams. But the price tag of tuition, housing, and textbooks can be pretty steep. And if you’re a parent or caregiver, you’re faced with an added obstacle: “How can I afford child care while I’m in school?”

Fortunately, there are a bevy of options out there for adult students with children. On-campus daycares, grants, scholarships, and refinancing student loans can all help alleviate the cost of child care. You don’t have to let the challenge of going to college with kids stop you from reaching your goals.

Paying for Daycare as a Student

One of the biggest financial struggles working parents face is paying for daycare. In 2020, American households spent more than $10,000 annually for child care costs, according to Child Care Aware of America . If you’re a parent returning to college, you may have the extra burden of tuition, housing, and textbooks. You may have to scale back your job hours to accommodate your schedule. Paying for child care while tackling college costs and a possible income reduction could feel like too much.

But child care is essential for adult students. Someone has to look after your little one while you attend class. Even if your school is 100% online, you’ll need uninterrupted time to study and crank out those papers.

Let’s take a look at some avenues of financial support, so you can focus on getting your degree while caring for your family.

Tips to Help Pay for Child Care as a Student

The decision to return to college may not have been in the budget when you financially planned for a family. And with the cost of child care being more than some tuition, the prospect of going back to college with kids can be daunting. Take solace in the fact that you are not alone.

Fortunately, there are resources to help you. Many higher education institutions provide child care grants and subsidies. You can also turn to federal student aid, private student loans, and scholarships to help get you that degree and daycare for your children.

Financial Aid

Student financial aid provides funding used to cover the costs of higher education. It can come in the form of student loans, either from federal or state governments. Scholarships and grants are another fantastic way to help ease your financial anxiety.

To apply for federal financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and federal student loans, students will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) annually. This form will determine how much financial aid you qualify for. It’s also prudent to contact your school financial aid office directly. Talk to them about how they can help you factor child care into the cost of your attendance.

Private Scholarships

Because a private college scholarship doesn’t generally need to be repaid, it can be thought of as free money awarded to pay for school. Scholarships are available from numerous organizations. They are typically based on financial need or merit — grades, test scores, or talent — and (good news!) there are also scholarships available specifically for students with dependent children .

Scholarship money does not have to be paid back, so you may be better able to focus on career and family post-graduation instead of student debt.

You can find more information on scholarships and how to use them toward child care from government resources, a college financial aid office, or a high school counselor. Be sure and pay attention to scholarship submission deadlines so you don’t miss out on funds.

Federal Student Loans and Grants

Many students seek financial aid for college through federal student loans. Federal loans typically have low, fixed interest rates and don’t require a cosigner or a credit check. You don’t have to worry about repayment until after college. These student loan funds are used for tuition, housing, computers, and textbooks, but it’s also possible to put them toward child care. Reach out to your school to ask if they can factor in child care costs to the price of attendance.

A Federal Pell Grant is awarded by the government to students from low-income households, based solely on financial need. While a Pell Grant won’t guarantee you free child care, the expense of having a child reflects directly on your income, which can consequently raise the amount of funds you may be eligible to receive. That money could help pay for daycare. Like scholarships, grants also do not usually have to be repaid.

Private Student Loans

When scholarships, federal loans, and a Pell Grant, aren’t enough, you can turn to private student loans to help cover the cost of daycare. These loans are issued by online lenders, banks, and credit unions. The lender will check your financial history and credit score to calculate the amount you qualify for. If you have limited job experience or your credit score isn’t the greatest, a cosigner can pledge responsibility for your loan.

With private student loans, you can typically borrow up to the cost of tuition and other qualified educational expenses. Unlike federal loans with strict deadlines, you can apply for a private student loan at any time during the year. Private loans could also be an option for parent student loan refinancing.

Unfortunately, private loans tend to have higher interest rates, and some may require payment while you’re still attending college. Additionally, private student loans aren’t required to offer the same benefits or protections that are available to federal student loan borrowers, things like deferment options in the event of financial issues. For this reason, they are generally borrowed only after all other financing options have been thoroughly considered. Be sure to do your homework on the pros and cons of federal vs. private student loans before committing.

Seek Out Lower Cost Daycares

Once you’ve secured some financial wiggle-room via scholarships and student federal and private loans, another step is to find affordable daycare, so you can stretch your monetary aid to the fullest.

In 2018, Congress tripled what’s called CCAMPIS — Child Care Access Means Parents in School. CCAMPIS awards funds to educational institutions to help make child care affordable for low-income students, either at accredited daycares off campus, or on-campus centers. Contact your school to see if they’ve received such funds and have child care services available.

You can also investigate not-for-profit organizations such as Child Care Aware of America, who provides tools to search for lower-cost child care care facilities near your school.

Schools with Child Care Resources

Many schools, including community colleges, have low-cost child care facilities on campus for undergrad and graduate students. These supportive centers not only offer developmental programs for your child, but are tailored to the needs of student parents, with extended hours in the evening and weekends. Spots can go fast though, so be sure and inquire about program availability as soon as possible.

Some colleges offer child care subsidies to adult students in the form of daycare grants, a taxable subsidy. Whether you have a newborn or a high schooler, you may meet the criteria for these funds, and many have no requirement for the money to be used solely for daycare. Daycare grants are purely to support student-parents to achieve their dreams of higher education.

And don’t forget to ask about work-study programs through your college—jobs offering flexible hours to earn money toward your tuition and child care expenses. You can even come up with creative ideas for a passive income stream, so you can spend more time with your kid and with your studies.

Remember, it takes a village to raise a child, and a college is a community. Most institutions have online student-parent support groups, where you can search for daycare services, nanny shares, and babysitting services. Valuable information can often be found on the school’s website or through student services.

The Takeaway

Being a parent can be stressful. Being in college and a parent? At first thought, the idea may seem overwhelming. But between federal and private student loans, grants, and scholarships, you don’t have to wait until your baby’s all grown up to get that college degree. There are loads of resources to support you, from parent groups on campus, to outside sources on how to refinance a student loan once out of college.

Go for it! A college degree can bolster your self-esteem and create new career opportunities. With a higher paying, post-college job, you can start saving for your kid’s college tuition.

SoFi private student loans offer competitive interest rates for qualifying borrowers, flexible repayment plans, and no hidden fees.

3 Student Loan Tips

1.   Can’t cover your school bills? If you’ve exhausted all federal aid options, private student loans can fill gaps in need, up to the school’s cost of attendance, which includes tuition, books, housing, meals, transportation, and personal expenses.

2.   Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should fill out the FAFSA form. Many schools require it for merit-based scholarships, too. You can submit it as early as Oct. 1.

3.   Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans peppering the landscape: private student loans, federal Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.


Can I use student loans to pay for child care?

Student loans can be used to cover tuition and other qualified education expenses like books, room and board, and other supplies. In some cases, child care costs may also be paid for with a student loan. However, it’s generally best to prioritize a grant or scholarship first to cover the costs of child care.

What can I spend my maintenance loan on?

Student maintenance loans are issued by the United Kingdom for students attending a U.K. university. It can be used for everyday expenses, including child care, food, rent, restaurants, and clothes.

Can I get a student loan to take care of my child?

It is possible to use private student loans toward child care. It may be an option to use federal loans too. Talk to your school about factoring child care into the cost of attendance.

Photo credit: iStock/Moyo Studio

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