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Scholarship/school advice

2002-07-24 23:30:56+00 by Shawn 15 comments

While I've taken some courses at a couple of different community colleges over the years, I've never actually earned a degree. In high school I didn't see the need. I felt that a) I didn't want to limit myself to a single area of study and b) that colleges just couldn't keep up with the pace of technology (that I'd be learning obsolete stuff). Nowadays I feel differently and I've been considering going back to school for my degree. And having been unable to find work for two months now, I'm thinking now may be a good time.

I live less than a mile from Bellevue CC and they seem to have some good programs. The problem is that I risk losing my unemployment payments (which we need to get by) if I make myself "unavailable for work each day" by attending classes. So I'm thinking I need to find some scholarships and financial aid to not only pay for my schooling, but to cover living expenses as well. (I'd like to avoid loans if at all possible. We've already got plenty of personal debt that we're trying to get paid off.)

Anybody have any advice to impart about attending and paying for school at 31?

[ related topics: Shawn's Life Education ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-07-24 23:49:46+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

I went up to visit BCC yesterday and see what information and resources I could get my hands on. I was a bit nervous about this. In the past, I haven't had real good luck with advising offices and career centers. The scenario usually goes something like this:

What kind of program do you want to enroll in?

I'm not sure. I want to talk to somebody about that.

(...sigh...) Here's the catalog. Figure out what you want to take then come back.

Um... I've already looked at it. Can't I talk to someone first?

Look, they're very busy. You decide what you want to do and then they can help you.

Uh... ok... I'd also like to talk to somebody about financial aid.

Here's the forms. Fill 'em out and send 'em in.

Will they send me info on scholarships?


Where can I find out what scholarships are available?

Do some research.

... etc.

To my surprise, the folks at BCC turned out to be very helpful, friendly and kind. They kept me from taking steps and waiting in lines that I didn't need to, answered all of my quesitions and actually provided me with a web-based repository of 15k+ scholarships to search through.

All in all, it was a very pleasant experience and the campus - while not exacly groomed - is still very cool. Large spaces, lots of benches/tables, sculptures and even a nice fountain.

Of course, now that I've gotten myself all excited about going back to school and actually getting a degree, one of my job leads comes through and I have an interview at Microsoft scheduled for this Friday...

But I'm thinking that I might still try to find a way to start on the program anyway (night classes or something). What I'm thinking to do is to get a degree in something that is peripheral to computers - for example, two programs I'm looking at are Digital Video Production and Graphics & Animation. I figure this would help give me more work opportunities while at the same time having the two disciplines support each other somewhat (like taking Physics and Calculus at the same time).

#Comment made: 2002-07-25 01:54:17+00 by: Larry Burton

At 31, night classes are the only way to go. Going days will have you feeling like you are back in kindergarten. There is a dramatic difference between the 18-22 year old students attending during the day and the 24+ year old students that are going at night. Being around a handful of young folks helps you feel young but being around a campus full of them can make you question why you are there.

I spent the morning of my 30th birthday on campus when I was going back to college using the library for some research. Even though these were young adults on campus at that time they seemed so young. It was such a contrast from the more mature students going at night.

#Comment made: 2002-07-25 03:20:42+00 by: ebradway

Here's my game plan:

  1. Go to a real school (ok, it's just UTC, but I mean a four-year degree program.
  2. Apply for financial aid (this late in the game, you won't get it until after fees are due - you'll have to borrow temporarily).
  3. Scrounge around and get a job on campus. A full-time job in the library won't pay much hourly, but you usually get your tuition comp'd.
  4. Apply to be a Dorm Monitor or Resident Assistant. Free room - no utility bills.

If necessary, file bankruptcy and get rid of the rest of your debt. The dot-com era of six-figure incomes for non-degreed people is gone. You're going to have to work something else out!

#Comment made: 2002-07-25 14:53:43+00 by: other_todd

Everybody else beat me to the good stuff, Shawn. But, yeah, what they said. Back in the early nineties, the last time I took a stab at school, I was applying for financial aid and doing the paperwork one to two semesters ahead of actual attendance. Long processing times.

The only other thing I'd add is that if you have a counselor who gives you the sort of brushoff you describe in the dialogue above, that doesn't bode well for the nature of the education you'll get at that place either. Oh, you might be able to pry out some quality - that's a matter of how hard you're willing to dig - but it's an indicator that the school is at least partially in a diploma-mill mindset.

Of course, I still don't have a degree, so take me with a grain of salt. I didn't want that six-figure income (I have a medium-high five-figure income, which suits me just fine) and school, every time I tried it, was a horrible fit for my temperament.

#Comment made: 2002-07-25 16:53:58+00 by: Mars Saxman

I just got back from dropping Kelly off at SCCC for a placement test. After ten months of unemployment she's giving up on the software industry and going back to finish her degree. She doesn't expect there will be much financial aid available, so she's relying on me to cover expenses once the unemployment checks dry up.

Every now and then I think about going back to get a degree, but it's hard to imagine a convergence of interest and opportunity anytime in the next decade or two. I don't have a spouse I can rely on to pay my bills, and I'm not willing to devote all my free time to school for the next five or six years... it's also hard to imagine anything in a comp sci B.S. that would hold my attention at this point. The UW has a master's program for computer professionals that sounds perfect, but without a B.S. I doubt I'd qualify.


#Comment made: 2002-07-25 17:22:22+00 by: Dan Lyke

Mars, you might be surprised. If you start the process by talking to the professor you want to work with, all sorts of rules can get bent. And my dad said that when he got his MBA at Emory there were one or two people in the program who hadn't gotten a B.whatever.

Eric, out here it seems what's mainly gone is the era of six-figure salaries for liberal arts degrees. We have literate bar tenders again...

#Comment made: 2002-07-25 19:27:33+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

Larry; the opportunity to be around the young element is a portion of what draws me back to school (the larger portion being simply to learn). I've never really felt comfortable with the "maturity" of the "grown-up" world. Too stodgy and dull for my tastes. The best time I ever had at a job was the three years I spent at Humongous Entertainment (I note now that the web page no longer says anything about the original company or characters they created. The founders have moved on to found Hulabee Entertainment, which should give you a better feel for the what I'm talking about), where half the staff kept Nerf guns in their office - and used them. I've done the night class thing. I didn't really feel like I fit in.


  1. I don't really think I need a 4-year college. A 2-year degree would suit me just fine. Besides, most of the "real" colleges feel too old and stodgy for my tastes. I like the feel of community colleges much better. That and I have little-to-no interest in a hoity-toity, literati degree (Masters, PhD, etc.) [No offense intended to anyone who has one - just not what I want]. A BS is as high as I'd be likely to go, but I don't even consider that necessary for what I'm trying to accomplish.
  2. I'll be doing this soon. Although I'll probably wait until it gets approved to start taking classes in ernest. (May do some certification courses until then, though.)
  3. Good idea, but what exactly do you mean by tuition comp'd? They cover tuition in it's entirety? They match payments?
  4. I don't think living in a dorm would go over well with the wife.
As long as I draw breath to do something else, I will never file for bankruptcy. I don't consider that a valid option. As for salaries; I couldn't care less about six figures. I've been perfectly happy (and comfortable) with the 50k-60k range that my last two jobs gave me. I don't work in computers for the money - I do it because it's what I love.

Mars; I don't want to spend that long at a program either. That's why I'm concentrating on an Associates degree. And, as I said, I'm not looking to get an actual CompSci degree. I'm looking for something marginally related so I can broaden my scope a bit. There's lots of technology- and artsy-oriented stuff I'm interested in, but not much opportunity to actually learn/do it.

#Comment made: 2002-08-01 17:58:06+00 by: ebradway

Dan: Realize that you are an exception to every rule. I ran into Franklin Davis just this week - a computer geek who's father started the best known computer consultancies in Chattanooga. He's been out of work since January. The market realy, realy sucks right now.

Shawn: I'm going back to school as much for self-enrichment as for retraining. The direction I'm trying to move into - field cartography - requires quite a bit of schooling to do at the level I want. I don't want to be surveying highways, I want to be mapping archealogical digs, obscure jungle habitats, etc. The kind of stuff that requires both some severe field work and alot of talent and skill. Not unlike the computer work I specialized in, just involving maps!

  1. I'm also shifting from living off of unemployment to living off of financial aid and grants. The university is a community where it's perfectly acceptable not to have a job!
  2. Financial aid stuff is a hassle and moves slow. It's better now, but you missed the July 1 cutoff for FAFSA. That makes life much more difficult. And scholarships and grants are awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis. Most professional students get their financial aid paperwork done in Feb or Mar for the forthcoming year. And realize, schools have had a recent influx of new students from the dot-com fallout and tech shakeout. Most of the first-come-first-serve money is gone for the 2002-2003 school year.
  3. Tuition comp'd varies from school to school. At UTC, where I am, full-time staff get up to 9 hours paid.
  4. You won't find housing at a community college anyway, but most decent sized universities have married student housing - and need resident assistants there too.

I won't get into the philosophical arguments about bankruptcy, but what is your position on unemployment? I get attitudes from people alot about collecting unemployment. The fact is my ex-employer paid over $22K into TN unemployment on my behalf in 2001. I was only allowed to collect about $12K of that over nine months.

#Comment made: 2002-08-02 01:34:05+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

The market realy, realy sucks right now.

Yes, it does. I just keep shaking my head in amazement at the numbers of students applying for retraining into computer fields, and the number of counselors actually pushing the tech programs...

I'm going back to school as much for self-enrichment as for retraining.

(-nod-) I am all over self enrichment :-)

  1. Yeah, I'm dealing with all kinds of deadline issues at the moment. state?/county? dislocated worker and/or worker retraining benefits are going to pay for things (hopefully) until I can swing around again to the primary aid/grant/scholarship window.

(Dan, is it possible for the HTML parser to include tag attributes? I tried to start the above Ordered List at "2", but the start attribute gets dropped when the page is assembled.)

I'm collecting UI right now. And every day I find out just how messed up it is. Although I worked for 9 months of my currently open claim (for a pretty good rate too), the claim ending date is coming up this month. And I'm unsure as to what that means - whether I can apply for another year, how it affects my CAT (Commissioner Approved Training) deadlines, etc. I've been in meetings and orientations all week trying to sort this all out. I've got some last minute ones tomorrow. Hopefully, I can get the final bits of confusion cleared up. I've got two major courses of action I'm considering and, of course, they require that I handle various applications and things differently. Classes for one course of action start on Monday (evening). It's all coming down to the wire... ( sigh... )

#Comment made: 2002-08-02 14:33:36+00 by: Mars Saxman

Kelly got a "fuck off and die, yuppie scum" from the Feds yesterday. She filled out the online financial aid application, and its pronouncement was that the expected family contribution (grrr, I hate the concept, but that's a different rant) for the upcoming school year was just over $35,000!

You'd think they would have thought to consider the fact that, as she's applying for school and all, she can't exactly be employed at the moment. Therefore, relying on last year's joint income figures to estimate our current ability to support college expenses would be just a little bit shy of meaningful...

#Comment made: 2002-08-02 19:59:45+00 by: Shawn

Mars; That brings up another question... Do you know if the determining factor for including parental income is simply living with them? Or does the student have to actually be a "dependent"? Katrina and I are considering losing the apartment and moving in with her parents while we both go to school.

#Comment made: 2002-08-05 23:31:09+00 by: ebradway

Mars: I got the same thing. My expected contribution was more than what my income will be for the entire year! However, the flow worked like this: wait for your school to get the data from the FAFSA (takes about four weeks), go down to Financial Aid and ask for an income review, do all the paperwork they ask for (basically proof that you are destitute - the fact that I live in a '74 VW Bus really wasn't a factor, but my unemployment check stub was). The counselor reviewed it in about 10 minutes and said I was Pell eligible. I got a letter later that week saying I would get enough Pell Grants to cover all of my tuition and about one textbook. That online FAFSA doesn't work at all in special cases - it's all based on your tax forms. If the advisor finds that you are eligible for aid he'll give you a forebearance on tuition until the money comes in. None of this is automated and the first time I called the Financial Aid office at my school I was told the process didn't exist. I had been through it before years ago, so I knew I just needed to go down and talk to someone in person.

Oh yeah, don't try to call yourself a dependent of your folks. You're much better off being as poor as possible. I'm finding that I'll have to limit the hours I work as I attend school. The part time job I got, which is approved for up to 40 hours a week, pays so much that if I work more than 20 hours a week I'm likely to loose the Pell Grant.

Shawn: Your unemployment sounds dismal. Mine was quite easy. I just had to go fill out a couple forms and call a voice response thing once a week.

#Comment made: 2002-08-06 00:45:51+00 by: Mars Saxman

Shawn: iirc, if you're 25 or older you're only a dependent if they include you as a dependent on their 1040. If you're under 25, you're a dependent whether you like it or not.

Eric: thanks for the tip. I mentioned your experience to Kelly; she's going tomorrow to sign up for classes and plans to talk to a financial aid counselor while she's there.


#Comment made: 2002-08-06 06:34:21+00 by: Shawn

Eric; Oh, that's what it's normally like. If I didn't want to go to school I could keep filing my weekly claim online and keep getting my check with no hassle. But if I want to keep getting it while I attend school I have to make a massive, formal argument (along with supporting research) that a) my profession is "in decline" (which, according to their official lists, it's "in demand" - although half the programmers I know haven't been able to get a job over the last year or two. I'm lucky to have found any work at all during that time), b) my school program will all but guarantee that I can get a job once I'm done and c) I promise to drop out of school if offered a job. That's all just to keep receiving my UI check. Actually paying for school is another matter entirely - and from what I can see, a much easier task to accomplish.

The fact that I was at the end of my "claim year" and still collecting checks (normal claim only lasts for 30 weeks) just added another wrinkle to the whole mess. Good news though: It turns out that I worked enough over the last year to reset everything. The day after my claim year ends, I can re-apply for a whole new, fresh start year (rather than a "second-tier year, which would mean a smaller check). I get to wipe the slate clean and start over - yipeee! This also resets all my deadlines - we only have 60 days (from the opening of the claim) to file for school approval and 90 to enroll. Otherwise we have to make an appeal argument.

#Comment made: 2002-12-04 17:03:56+00 by: Shawn

ebradway; I won't get into the philosophical arguments about bankruptcy, but what is your position on unemployment?

It occurred to me that I should clarify that I don't have any moral objections to bankruptcy. I just think it's a poor financial decision that closes a lot of doors for those who opt for it.