At 29 I decided I needed some new options in my life, but I didn’t have a lot of money. I began checking into college, and now in my second semester I’ve yet to spend my own money on anything, and I did not take out a student loan to do it.
To go to school for free you have to meet a few requirements:
1. You must be low income. This depends on age, amount of people in family, yearly income and other criteria.
2. You must live in California, and have been here for at least six months. (Other states have their own programs, but this tutorial is for California.)
3. You will have to go to a community college. They are less expensive, and you can get all your basic classes, and general ed done there.
4. You’re required to take so many units every semester to qualify for the bigger grants. (See FAFSA for information on that.)
First, find a nearby community college. In the north state there is Shasta and Butte. You’ll want to find one that isn’t too far away so you can drive there if necessary.
Next, fill out their registration form, you can usually do this online. All this does is give you access to their classes. It does not require you to pay any fees, or attend a class. If you only fill out the registration form and never do another step they will just forget about you.
Once registered for the school you need to fill out a FAFSA. The FAFSA determines if you are eligible for grants, financial aid, student loans, and other items. If you do not fill out a FAFSA then you have to pay everything out of pocket. To fill out a FAFSA go to www.fafsa.ed.gov where they have good tutorials. All you need is your drivers licenses and last tax statement.
Once you have filled out your FAFSA you will have to go to the college and fill out a BOGG grant application. If you are low income the BOGG grant will pay all your fees for college. This will let you take home more of your grant money to help pay for bills, or other necessity items.
At this time you should also ask the financial aid department if there is a local group to help pay for books, parking, or anything else. At Shasta this is called EOPS which gives you so much credit toward books at the book store, and gives you a parking sticker. They also have extra help for single parents to get daycare and other items.
Also, find out the schedule for the assessment test. The assessment tests are two tests you will need to take for math and English to see which classes you qualify to take. You will most likely have to take these tests because there are many classes requiring a certain level of English or math to even qualify to take them.
If you would like to refresh for the math test I suggest paging through “Algebra for Dummies”. This will allow you to get a better score and maybe skip a class. You can always take an assessment again if you want to improve your score and take a different class.
You will also want to find out when Orientation is. All freshmen are required to attend Orientation. This is helpful because you will learn many things about financial aid, grants, loans, and the basics of the school, and get a tour of the facilities. Bring an ID. You can not register for classes until you do the Orientation.
Once you have the registration, FAFSA, BOGG, assessment tests, and other programs taken care of you are ready to see a counselor. The counselor will help you choose which classes you need to take for any specific course of study, and advice you of any other steps you might need to take. They can also help you if you have a physical disability, or learning difficulty.
Shasta College requires one visit with a counselor during registration. EOPS requires three during each semester to make sure you are on track. Counselors can also advise you on any problems you may have with a teacher, grades, or other items. If you find your counselor not to be the most helpful do not hesitate to ask for a different one.
When picking classes it is my suggestion to start by picking classes you can take online. Online classes are becoming more common as colleges adapt to technology. You can take almost all general ed classes online if you go to the right college.
Online classes are convenient because you do not have to drive to school, you can often arrange them around your schedule, though you want to be sure to watch for test days because some classes will give one day to take a particular test, and others give two or three for the test.
The problem with online classes is that you must be self disciplined enough to take the initiative and do the work. You won’t have a class to go to. You won’t have a teacher to lecture you. You have to read the book, or look for answers on your own. Tests are open book, but they are also strictly timed. There are other students you can sometimes discuss with, but this also depends on how much interaction within the class itself the teacher lets you have since you will generally never see other students face to face.
Classes at the college have the advantage of seeing your teacher, and other students, face to face. You can get feedback directly from the teacher, and see what he has to say. You can find study groups and tutors at the college as well, though you generally have to pay for tutoring.
Also, while the course catalog will say that a class goes from 8am to 10:45, many classes do not require you to stay until the last minute. Make sure you know how your particular professor takes role, and if they mind if you leave early. Some expect you to study until the last minute. Some take role at the beginning of class, others at the end.
If you take advantage of all the grants, and qualify for everything, then you will not spend anything for classes except for books. Even then, EOPS or other programs might help you pay for most, if not all of your books.
The Pell Grant, which is the one most people qualify for in California, will pay for any tuition, class expenses, or other items the BOGG does not cover. You apply for this, and other grants, simply by filling out the FAFSA. Anything money left over will be sent directly to you. This money is to offset cost of living, driving, and other expenses while in college. Or, you can buy a new wardrobe. The money is yours, and you can use it as you see fit.
You will have to fill out a FAFSA once a year, and attend EOPS orientation once a semester. Always remember to buy used books, they are cheeper, and keep good care of them because you can sell them back to the book store each semester. This money will help you pay for next semester’s books, or contribute to your reserves.
Just remember, anyone can go to college. It is affordable, and even if you only take a couple of classes to help move you up in your own job you’ll have something good for your resume.