This is going to be a long post. I'm sorry for that.
I'm 24. I have no college degree, and I have no credits. I attempted to go to school in 2006, right out of high school. Three weeks before the first class my mother passed away. I failed everything, or withdrew from some other stuff.
I've filled out FAFSA. I plan to attend the Community College of Philadelphia this fall. I will be talking to counselors there next week (once my FAFSA's processed and I see what I already know will occur- an EFC of 0.)
I'm unemployed, don't own a car or any property, I'm of the 'independent' age. I will have an EFC of 0, and be about as much a 'hardship case' as one can be without being from a wartorn part of Africa. I still owe about $7,800 (which will enter deferment, I guess, once I begin school this fall) from my first failed attempt at school.
What I know from that: I will probably get a maxed out Pell grant. The cost of 13 credits at my institution is about $2,350 per semester. That leaves about $800- or $400 per semester- in excess. Considering I need a new laptop, I'll need transit funds, I'll need to buy books and other scholastic supplies, etc... that's not enough. I presume I'll also qualify for a Stafford
loan. How does that work?
Merit awards: I'll apply for some! Everyone on the internet forwards that old adage about THERE ARE SCHOLARSHISP FOR HAVING DIFFERENT COLORED EYES AND FOR BEING JEWISH AND FOR BEING LEFT HANDED AND... ok, I get it. I should apply for a bunch of scholarships. I didn't have great grades in high school. My SAT score was good but not stellar. I'm sure I'll still be able to get some stuff (I am a poor orphan... there is probably something!) but where exactly should I look? How does that interact with my loans? I assume I report those merit awards and that lowers my financial need, etc.
I don't want to take out any more loans than I need to, but I anticipate some.
First: I got a 4 on my AP English Lit exam in high school. At my previous school (St John's in New York) that counted for six credits and tested me out of two classes worth of English. Google tells me that even though the test is like 6 years old, they don't expire. Can I expect to get credits at my community college? That'd be awesome.
Second: not to sound cocky, but I am very confident that I can test out of some intro courses. What happens there? I pay for the credit hours but get to skip the class? What grade am I awarded w.r.t. my GPA? Is there any advantage other than expediting my college career?
The Dreaded Transfer
I can of course just amass credits- checking along the way to make sure they're largely transferrable for most schools in the area (especially ones that host my intended major). I want to major in computer science. Drexel (a pretty good school, I think) has a connection program with my community college, where if you follow their roadmap and you maintain X GPA, you're automatically admitted. That sounds awesome, but... of course financial aid isn't guaranteed.
This is the truly scary part. I know I can manage to finance community college, even if it involves a little bit of debt. But even if I go to an in-state school and I get the tuition discount... those numbers are no joke. Even if I do very well and I maintain a high 3.xx GPA (or 4! Who knows!) and I write stirring essays about my journey so far and how I appreciate every opportunity and so on... there's certainly no guarantee that even with some merit awards and the hardship awards I'll be able to afford a 4 year school. I have no potential cosigner, so if the eventual cost for my degree-awarding school down the line is more than what I can amass with merit awards + grants + federally offered loans... then I am out in the cold. This is a real possibility, right? It scares me.
Thanks much in advance for reading!