Up the creek without a paddle!
July 13, 2012 10:00 PM   Subscribe

Was lied to by my school about my degree-- required to commute--got a (not so random) grant from my college for transportation costs. Then I received a not-so-nice e-mail about my financial aid. How to proceed through these murky waters and still make it out ahead? (Rather long) details behind the cut.

I attend a local community college and I major in social work (focusing on addiction counseling). I have completed 55 credits currently. I was offered a spot in an honor's society that promised me extra scholarships and grants if I go ahead and get my associate's first. It seems legitimate, but I am still deciding on if it's worth getting an AA before transferring to a 4 year college. I have an excellent cumulative GPA (3.7) and take my schoolwork very seriously. At this point, it would be financially responsible of me to continue the full AA at my local college-- all of the credits will transfer for a BSW-- I've already checked.

I found out last semester after trying to go for my AA that I cannot take all of the required courses for the degree online or in person at my local school-- but rather, I'd have to commute to another branch of the community college-- roughly 40-50 miles to this branch each way. After writing a polite e-mail explaining my concerns, the chancellor pulled some strings and gave me a $1,000 grant for the commute.

Of course, once he gave the go-ahead to the financial aid office, they noticed that I'd registered for a non-required course next semester-- and thus cut my un-subsidized loan in half and said they would not be able to fund that class unless I dropped it and took a class on their approved course list for my degree. OK- Understandable.

Truth is, I need the money. I have no job prospects currently. I can't work more than 20 hours and carry my course load and make good grades (I've tried-- twice-- and ended up almost failing a class because of it). I dropped the non-required class, but the issue is with the financial aid office at my school. They're awful! They're rude and you can never talk to the same person-- and because of this, you never get the same answer twice so you never know what's true and what's not.

First off, is the cutting off the un-sub loan normal? Now that I'm in a required course, will they be able to give me back the loan amounts? Secondly, if I were interested in work study, how would I go about that? Obviously I'm willing to work, I just haven't found anything willing to work with me around my school schedule. Also, is it even worth it to get the AA before getting a BSW? Any advice, experience or other findings would be very helpful.
posted by camylanded to Education (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For the record-- they cut my loan from 4,500 to 3,100. If it makes any difference.
posted by camylanded at 10:04 PM on July 13, 2012

Also, I didn't mention it, but my school told me that the social work degree was available through my local school and that also it was a great major to go into. Nothing ever about not being able to take the classes locally or online.
posted by camylanded at 10:07 PM on July 13, 2012

Yeah, financial aid offices can be shitty. That is pretty normal. The travel grant you got is pretty amazing and indicates your FA office is not that shitty--even if the chancellor pulled strings, the fact the FA office allowed it at all speaks well of them.

I'm confused about the money situation though--was your aid restored after you agreed to take the required course? If so then what's the issue? And regarding work study, have you discussed this with Financial Aid? Generally if you're eligible for work-study it's listed in your award letter.

Also confused about how your school lied to you. With degree programs it is pretty normal to have the advanced courses be at a specific campus. Course locations and program locations are also generally made available in the school handbooks and course guides.
posted by schroedinger at 11:05 PM on July 13, 2012

IIRC it's ultimately your option whether to apply for and accept unsubsidized loans. I did this for a few years at community college (it's the only way I could afford to lived, too), and it was always up to me even when my classes where covered by the subsidized loans. This is in a major US city.

Not sure what to tell you about the class/program troubles.
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:12 PM on July 13, 2012

No, my aid has not been restored. Just to clear that up... hence the questions.
posted by camylanded at 12:12 AM on July 14, 2012

I dont see how having an AA will help you if you are going to get a bachelor's degree afterward.
posted by twblalock at 12:44 AM on July 14, 2012

Some 4-year public colleges have a deal with local community colleges in which they offer much better transfer of credits to students who complete the AA. Generally, it is a promise that you transfer as a true junior with no requirement to retake pre-requisites. Obviously, your community college and/or the college that you are considering transferring to are the people who can tell you if that is true in your case.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:30 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like the grant reduced your eligibility for other aid. So if you were entitled to $4500, getting $1000 would lower it to $3500. As for the other $400, are the remote classes less expensive or a different number of credits? This may also reduce your eligibility. Remember that you can only get aid up to the total cost of attendance. Definitely go in person to the financial aid office and sort this out, but I think that this is what's reducing your loans (which is a good thing!)

Can you email around and see if you can carpool with anyone? Have you spoken to the school you want to transfer to and asked if the AA matters?
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:24 AM on July 14, 2012

Thank you Snickerdoodle-- that is what I've been wondering. So it seems then that essentially they took "away" the money to pay for the non-required course plus the 1,000 I was given as a transportation grant. No one else at my branch has gotten an AA in social work so I'm sort of the trailblazer on this one (they just added it to the coursebook last year).
posted by camylanded at 7:41 AM on July 14, 2012

It is possible, just to maybe clarify what snickerdoodle said above, that the $1000 travel aid was not intended (or was intended by the chancellor, but not by the financial aid office) to be an additional $1000 in aid on top of what you were already getting but rather was simply a conversion of $1000 of loan money into grant money. This is still a good thing for you as it puts you $1000 ahead on the debt thing, but doesn't actually give you more funding in the here and now, which kinda sucks.

Only your financial aid office can tell you for sure. Given that they are apparently pretty flaky, I would first try communicating with them through e-mail where everything is written down and there won't be as much he-said-she-said. If clarification is needed I would explain things to the chancellor and ask him/her if you had misinterpreted the intent of the grant. Given that they are rude, if you don't get good results from e-mail I would start showing up in person on a regular basis and discussing the matter face to face in a polite but insistent way. This would not help with consistency or helpfulness of information, but would certainly help with response times. Talking to people on the phone is useless in cases like this and should only be done if e-mail has failed and you are unable to appear in person due to distance.

Good luck. Opaque, incompetent, unhelpful bureaucracies are one of the most mind-meltingly frustrating things to have standing in your way. I truly feel your pain here.
posted by Scientist at 3:06 PM on July 14, 2012

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