Free education?
February 7, 2012 5:30 PM   Subscribe

How to go back to school full-time for only a year and a half--for free or close to free?

I am 51 years old. I have been only spottily employed for the last several years, and then only temping. I have two teen kids, and we receive some support from my ex-husband. It's enough for the basics (rent, food, etc.) but no extras, and we're just squeaking by.

Way back in 1981, at the end of my junior year, I flunked out of my large, private college; I had been severely depressed since my mid-teens and had no support (financial or otherwise) from my estranged father and alcoholic mother. Five years later, living on my own, I returned to our state school full-time while I worked full-time, and managed to finish two semesters before succumbing to depression again and leaving school. I had managed to get really great grades (dean's list!) for one semester, and pretty good grades the second.

Now, 25 years later, I have attempted it again, taking just one class at a time. I can't afford more than one class, even though it's a state school. I took one class last summer (aced it), but wasn't able to scrape together the $1500 necessary for a class in the fall or again this winter/spring semester. I'm really hoping I'll be able to get it together to take a class next summer.

The thing is, if I took classes full-time I have only 3 semesters to earn my bachelors. Going one class at a time, it will take me about 4 years, during which I can never be sure I'll be able to get the money together, semester-by-semester. Also, going one class at a time, I'm afraid it will be really hard to keep up the motivation to keep it up (motivation was always the first casualty of my recurrent depression). Also, I loved being back at school. Loved being in that academic atmosphere, loved the opportunity to use that part of my brain again. I would really like to go back full-time and knock that sucker out in only a year and a half. I know a bachelors basically gets you nothing, career-wise, but NOT having a bachelors REALLY gets you nothing. But I can't help feeling my options may open up a little. I've worked in crap admin jobs for the last 25 years, making very little, and bored out of my mind. I know a bachelors is not a magic key, but...

Using conventional financial aid (I used the FAFSA site and form), I am not eligible for any aid if I'm going only part-time. Just for kicks, I went ahead and applied as if I were going full-time, but I was eligible for only about a quarter of the money I needed (and my income is below poverty level). Does anyone know if there's any way I could get financial aid to cover all or most of the year and a half I would need?

I have been out of the academic/financial aid loop since 1978 (!) and have no idea how to go about getting money. I'm only aware of FAFSA and loans. Loans are way out; my credit sucks and I don't qualify; not to mention that I only finished paying off my original student loans from the late 70s just last year! I have some inkling that being an older single mother would appeal to some types of scholarship organizations, but I have no idea how to find out more. Any ideas? Or suggestions on where I can go to get some ideas? Thanks, all!
posted by primate moon to Education (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Does anyone know if there's any way I could get financial aid to cover all or most of the year and a half I would need?

You'd have to ask the financial aid office at your school. It's actually their job to answer this question for you, and if anyone knows where there's money, they do. They also work with prospective students, not just current students, so feel free to just drop in or give them a call.

These days, most student aid is in the form of loans, but I really don't recommend going that route.
posted by valkyryn at 5:40 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was enrolled in my college's Honors College, and they awarded a limited number of tuition waivers to students who had financial need. I applied for it twice and got it both times, so I just had to pay the ~$500 or whatever astronomical amount they charged in fees. But whoo!, free tuition! Check with your school's financial aid office or poke around their website to see if they have anything similar.
posted by jabes at 5:43 PM on February 7, 2012

Are you positive you don't qualify for federal loans? I have TERRIBLE credit and I was able to get the graduate PLUS loan and Stafford Loans when I was an undergrad. Regardless, I would speak with your financial aid office to see if there's some additional source of funding that you can qualify for. Some schools have campus-based aid for those who don't have their financial needs met by Pell grants.

You might also consider taking classes online. After confirming that my credits would transfer, I was able to take classes through Clovis Community College. Six credits [even as an out of state student] ended up costing me $600, which is incredibly cheap, as just three credits at my [in-state] university would of run me close to $2500.

But, truth be told, if you're taking classes at a public university.. you'll probably have to take out loans. I had a Expected Family Contribution [EFC] of 0 and I ended up taking out over $40,000 in loans at a public university.

* Also consider the possibility of CLEP tests. They're basically tests you pay $80.00 to take but, if you pass, you get three credits for. I knocked out 12 credits by going that route.
posted by oxfordcomma at 5:45 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get a full-time job at a university if you're not in a hurry. My current employer / alma mater pays for 6 classes per year (2 per semester, 2 in the summer) for all regular employees. No better deal for an Ivy League education. Doubles the amount of time you're there, roughly, but hey, free is free.
posted by supercres at 5:52 PM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sorry, should read "if you're not in too much of a hurry". It's between the one-class-per-semester plodding and full time, but the fact that it's free should help motivation. And other universities may be more generous with CUs per year.
posted by supercres at 5:57 PM on February 7, 2012

Caveat: the university systems I am familiar with require you to work for the university a certain amount of time (one calendar year for F/T, longer for half- or 3/4-time employees) before you qualify for the education benefit.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 6:52 PM on February 7, 2012

Is the "state school" you have attended the only university near you? A private university could have better financial aid, or a different public university might be less expensive. Do you live near any of the schools listed here?

You should be eligible for Stafford Loans.

As a side note, it's never to early to begin discussing college finances with your kids.
posted by oceano at 8:05 PM on February 7, 2012

Response by poster: I had to laugh at your question, Oceano: I'm in Boston, which I think is the city with one of the largest concentration of colleges and universities in the world? I will definitely check out your link. And I will get in touch with the financial aid office as well. Thanks for your suggestions, everyone!
posted by primate moon at 9:26 PM on February 7, 2012

I stumbled across this when looking for grants and scholarships of my own. Perhaps they could help?
posted by panthera at 11:02 PM on February 7, 2012

A number of private women's colleges have programs aimed at people like you--non-traditional students whose lives would be made better by having a college degree.

(On preview, that type of program is mentioned in oceano's link. I live up the road from Agnes Scott, which is what made me think of it.)
posted by hydropsyche at 4:35 AM on February 8, 2012

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