So I’m up (WAY too late) reading things on the internet & I stumbled across a story on HuffPo about this girl who graduated college with $16K in the bank for grad school. There was a 36 y.o. Black man in the comments asking for help, so I began what would have become a multi-part response… until HuffPo asked me to connect my non-existent Facebook account. So much for that.
Then I remembered that the internet is a wonderful thing, that pingbacks exist, that there are more people in this young man’s position, and that maybe one of you would be willing & able to share this info with the person in HuffPo’s comments. So here’s my response to Zion_MarQuiese_Devereaux:
Hi Zion! I am a former college readiness counselor & test prep instructor. I still do a lot of work around college readiness in my current work. Here is some guidance for you; I hope you find it useful!
See these links for free financial aid planning materials (FYI, most of what’s out there is geared toward teens but is still helpful):
- Free materials from The Sallie Mae Fund
- Find free financial aid resources/workshops near you
- Check out financial aid specifically for non-traditional students such as yourself
I recommend you be VERY careful with online degrees – many are through for-profit colleges (e.g. Everest, U of Phoenix, Westwood, etc.) you want to stay VERY FAR AWAY from those. Not only are they low in terms of quality but they also have the highest debt & default rates and the lowest employment & income rates. Many are also predatory (I have a story about that). You’d be MUCH better off doing a part-time degree at a traditional brick & mortar school. Many of these universities do offer online options and you get the benefit of a traditional school’s name.
There is no shame in starting off at a community college (CC) – ESPECIALLY if your local CC already has an articulation agreement with local 4-year universities. You can get your general education requirements out of the way for MUCH cheaper & spend a couple of years getting acclimated to being a student again. Community colleges sometimes also have more student support services available. If I had it to do over, I would have gone this route.
Think about location & get creative. If you’re open to moving, some state colleges have made it easier for out-of-state students to attend their schools because of the major influx of local applicants. Most schools always reserve plenty of space for out-of-state attendees but since the economic downturn, they have more money to award to these students. It’s also become a bit less competitive to apply as an out-of-state student.
never hurts is always a great idea to call/email the admissions representative for your area. Every school has someone assigned to specific states – look up the admissions staff for schools you’re interested in. Fall and late Winter/Early Spring are generally bad times to reach out, as these folks are often either off on school visits & college fairs or evaluating applications. But don’t let that stop you because admissions reps LOVE to know whose apps they will be seeing on their desks. If you have a good relationship, they will advocate for your admission.
Have a strategy – you want some (safety) schools that you KNOW you can get into, some (match) schools that you’re likely to get into, and a few (reach) schools that will be harder to get into. When you’re assessing this, make sure you take cost into account! How much are you willing/able to take out in loans? Can you get a full-ride scholarship? Do they have special funding for non-traditional students, people of color, or other marginalized folks? Don’t get too carried away with your lists – even with application waivers^, you will have to pay for at least a few apps, so set a budget. Remember: the SAT & ACT also cost money. (^These can be harder to get as a non-traditional student. They are often tied to test waivers, which are only available to current HS students. However, if you build that relationship with your admissions rep, they may do you a favor.)
Speaking of standardized tests, you won’t need them for community colleges but most 4-year schools still want one or the other. Perhaps there’s a BellCurves instructor in your area? If not (or if a formal class is out of your reach), pick up a test prep book* & get thee to learning some strategies. These tests are as much about navigating the questions as they are about what you know.
I know this was a lot, but I hope it helps. I have a folder with questions to ask, an application spreadsheet, and other things you can use to guide your search here in my Dropbox. BellCurves also has great tips on preparing for college.
Best of luck to you!