What would be the best way for me to pay for my degree?
July 16, 2007 7:05 PM   Subscribe

I've decided that I want to start getting my life together by working on earning a degree in computer science. To do that, I'm going to start attending the local community college full time this fall, in order to cover some basic classes, and then transfer to full university later when I'm a bit more transfer-worthy. Now I need help figuring out how to best manage my money so as not to accrue too much debt in the process. Ideally I'd like to get as much financial aid as possible to cover this, but there are a few issues.

Some background:
I'm 24 and want to go back to school. "Back" isn't quite right because the two previous times I've tried community college I've ended up flaking out and getting F's. That wasn't much of a surprise as I pretty much flaked out on high school and got F's then as well. Now that I've gone out and matured myself with some real life, I feel like I'm really ready to take on school again and go all the way.

As it stands I'm currently working full time 9 to 5. I've determined that if I'm really going to pursue this I'll have to devote myself to school full time; I just don't have the ability to manage school and work at the same time. Of course that means that I won't have any sort of real income and would need to get financial aid or something else to help cover school at living expenses.

At the moment there are a few problems with getting financial aid for this school year.
1) I decided too late in the year that I want to go back to school as the financial aid barrel is pretty empty and any scholarships I could get wouldn't be applicable until the next school year.
2) At the moment I make too much to qualify for any particular help with school. In order to get only school costs covered I would have had to quit my job about a month ago to show that I had financial need by the time school starts.
3) I recently found out that I have access to $22,000 in a trust fund. This really screws up the EFC (Expected Family Contribution) on the FAFSA and seems like it will prevent me from getting any sort of aid in the future.

My current plan is to take some money out of the trust fund to cover me through to the end of the next semester. After that I'm really at a loss for what to do. I'm not opposed to spending the trust fund money on school, but it seems a bit wasteful to spend it all on living expenses while I'm attending community college. I know a more responsible plan would be to keep working and save up money so I can really cover school, but I just feel like now is the time for me to really focus on moving forward with my life and dedicating myself to school. It really feels like I'm in a position that will let me do this, but I want to feel like I've got more than just the next five months planned.

So would I be better off just spending the trust fund money to get to "real" college and then relying on financial aid/student loans to see me through? Other than that I'm really at a loss for how to manage this.
posted by mindless progress to Education (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have an estimate of your annual education costs?
posted by acoutu at 7:15 PM on July 16, 2007

You might do well to go ahead and set up a meeting with a financial aid counselor at the school; he/she could probably help you figure this out.

That said, I managed to mostly put myself through Georgia Tech as a co-op student. They have a program in which you go to school a term, then work a term, and so forth. Of course, when I went there, the school was on the quarter (not semester) system, so I'm not sure how it would work now.

The positions were with established companies who were required to give us actual interesting, professionally relevant work to do, and they tended to pay OK (some large companies paid pretty decently). Not as much as a salaried full-timer, but way better than working at the local Best Buy.

I was an in-state student though, so this may or may not be that helpful to you. Georgia Tech was a pretty good deal (financially) back then.

What I'm getting at is this: whatever "real" college you plan to attend may have a similar program.
posted by amtho at 8:45 PM on July 16, 2007

You should probably wait a year. That way, you'll have time to sort all these financial issues and financial aid issues out, you'll be able to squirrel $8000 from your trust fund away into Roth IRAs to keep it off the FAFSA and hence shelter it from financial aid computations, and you might even be able to put a little more money away from your job as a cushion. In the meantime you could take one class per semester at night to get them out of the way.

Most students on aid work a little bit at 'work-study' jobs.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:45 PM on July 16, 2007

I agree that you should probably wait a year for financial reasons.

If you have not already done so, during that year I would look into why you "flaked out" in the past and what you might do to prevent that from happening in the future - concrete things, like "I will not miss class," "If I feel like I am falling behind I will continue going to class and go to the professor's office hours to get extra help," "I will schedule an appointment with the school's writing center," that sort of thing.

What are your basic study skills like? I mean things like note-taking. A lot of people don't pick up these skills in school - many schools don't even address them - which ends up making school unnecessarily difficult and painful as one advances through higher-level schooling. This extra year might be a good time to brush up on such skills. Most universities have resources on the Web about this, so you could just explore the combined wisdom of several different university academic skills centers or learning centers.
posted by needled at 4:45 AM on July 17, 2007

I'm going to go against the grain and say you should go for it!

I see from your profile that you are in Bakersfield. I *think* the CA community college system is statewide, meaning, that what I know about the system up here in northern CA might be useful to you too.

Courses at Berkeley Community College are like $80 each, and BCC is a feeder school for UC Berkeley-- If you get a certain GPA at BCC, you are basically guaranteed to transfer to UC Berkeley. It's really a fantastic system for folks who need a second shot. I think similar systems are in place throughout the state.

The affordability of the courses means that you really only have to worry about living expenses, and financial aid only covers the cost of school anyway, so I think the "financial aid"-"no financial aid" debate is kind of a red herring.

To make it through school, you are either going to have to work, you have to have someone support you, or you have to go into debt (because any financial aid you get is going to be in the form of loans anyway)

I don't really see any point in not using the trust fund money, because at some point in your undergrad career it is bound to get tapped out. I would live as cheaply as I could on the trust find money, and use the fact that I'm tapping into it as an additional incentive to keep me honest.

I also agree with the suggestions above that you should meet with the financial aid counselor (they might have other advice on financial management for you) and you should take advantage of any study skills courses that the school offers to help you get the skills you need to succeed.

Good luck!
posted by paddingtonb at 9:48 AM on July 17, 2007

I'm almost 40, and I just decided to go for a computer science degree in CA myself. I think the best thing you can do financially is to get as much as you possibly can taken care of at the community college level; and of that, get as much as you possibly can through online courses. Check out assist.org, and type in the community college name and the state college name, and indicate that the degree is in computer science, and it will tell you all the equivalent courses you can get at the community college to apply toward your degree. And then also, take care of all the general education stuff before you get to the university (which they won't list as part of the major on that page, but you'll find the transfer requirement on your community college page.) (And you would be surprised at how much of that you can get done through online courses, which frees up time to have a regular job as well.) I'm working on getting all my calculus, physics, biology, and intro computer science stuff done before I transfer, and once I get to San Francisco State I'll have about 31 of the 71 units in the major already completed.

Good luck on it...I'm pretty excited about it, though I have three more semester before I can transfer. I screwed up college big time back when I was 18 and thought I would never go back; a while back I found out I have ADD, and the treatment for that has turned me around completely, now at 50 credits with a 4.0 GPA; so I'd say try to figure out as specifically as you can what that issue might have been when you went to school before--not necessarily ADD, of course, but whatever it was can come back all too easily if you don't get it worked out.
posted by troybob at 1:19 PM on July 17, 2007

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