Child Care and Grad School with Children

  • Look into whether or not your college/university has any student-led organizations on campus for student-parents. If anyone knows the resources that are available, it will be the actual student parents. Also, finding other parents may make it possible for you to swap child-care services as you get to know each other better and it will allow you some networking/social opportunities without feeling guilty about having larger responsibilities. :)
  • University childcare is usually high quality and convenient (and may have discount rates for students) but almost always has very long wait lists. If you have a child and want to use the university childcare, you should ask about this during all admissions calls, and get on the waitlist as fast as possible at any program that has accepted you.
  • If you are planning to have a child while in graduate school, look into what the parental policies are. Some schools offer time “off” from the program, while others (UC Davis, e.g.) offer child care stipends and parenting support groups. Be aware that these child care stipends are not even close to even partially covering the cost of your child care.
  • The vast majority of schools do not offer a large enough stipend for a single parent to afford child care, even with a grant. People have several strategies to deal with this. You can:
    • go earn your graduate degree once your kids are old enough to attend a free public school.
    • take work outside the program in order to afford childcare.
    • take out loans to cover childcare.
    • get government benefits. There are many local programs in towns and cities and states across the US that will pay for some childcare for low-income people who are working or in school. This said, many of these programs are not really helpful for graduate students. The one in my state, for example, counts my waived tuition and fees as income, and thereby asserts that I make upwards of $70k/year. Obviously, I do not qualify as low-income at this point. It’s also true that these programs can have even longer waiting lists than the university childcare and be impossible to apply to until after you have moved to the area. Still, research state-sponsored childcare subsidies in every place you might get your degree. Some folks have been very fortunate with this.
    • only consider programs that you can realistically afford--this means the ones with the highest stipends. If you choose this route, know that you will be limited to a small number of the nation’s more competitive grad schools and may not get in anywhere. There may not even be a deal this good in your area of focus. Ideally, you will want to consider places with $25k/year stipends and up (although I was able to stretch it down to $21k by taking on some outside work), and only those places that will combine the high stipend with a childcare grant or some other form of subsidization. And only those places where the living is cheap cheap cheap, so mostly the South and Midwest.
  • Day care, no matter where you are, is expensive. Super expensive. Figure this out before you have a baby and budget appropriately. Also, you will find it very difficult to get work done if you plan to “work around the baby” to avoid the costs of daycare. You will probably not feel comfortable letting your baby stare off into space for hours with no interaction while you work on your dissertation. And actually my baby demanded to be held constantly so that wasn’t even ever an option for me. They do not sleep through the night for a LONG TIME either so you will be exhausted at night, and working from 8-10 pm is a) only two hours and b) actually very hard to do when you’re exhausted. So some form of childcare is a must.
  • Child care may not be readily available in your location at all. Surprise! A months- or years-long wait list for a day care space or subsidy can lead to major disruptions to your program, particularly if your department is unsupportive or outright family-unfriendly. This has been a major barrier to women in academe.
  • If your household income is below 130% of the federal poverty line, you’re eligible for Head Start, which provides educational, health, and other services to pregnant women and children from birth to kindergarten entry. Head Start exists in most areas (though there may be waiting lists) so it’s worth looking into.
  • Many universities have dedicated family housing at reasonable rates. Look into this. Bad credit is often less of an issue, and you won’t have to travel to the area first to check out apartments in order to get one in family housing. Some schools have incredibly long waiting lists, while others are able to place all the people who ask, every year. The upsides for me have been that the apartment is huge for its price, and the neighbors, other parents, are happy to take turns watching each other’s kids, sharing tips on cheap stuff to do and arranging cost-saving measures like clothing and toy swaps.
  • Get some of that sweet sweet Medicaid for you and your kids. Get it now. Do not do not do not pay whatever huge fee your program is demanding for medical insurance. Waive anything offered by the school as fast as humanly possible (they will want documentation of your other insurance). If you are switching states to go to grad school, know that you will need to apply for Medicaid in the new state as fast as you can, so you can prove to the university you’re already insured. This saves so much money! Do it.
  • Apply to university daycare the minute you are pregnant! There are huge waitlists. Also, don’t feel bad going to the daycare everyday and telling them you need a space. Many rich people feel entitled to butt in line with a sob story and if you don’t push then you will not get a space.
  • In Canada you get one year of paid maternity leave through EI, but it is only 50% of what you were earning. You can take a year off from your PhD and take a pause in funding and get your funding back. If you have a good award (CAD 40,000 a year +) then save half of the money so you can live on that. You don’t have to take any time off if you don’t want to.