Does a Poor Family = Poor Prospects?

Paying for college can be a bitch for anyone, but it’s especially challenging when your family’s broke. Even if you are lucky enough to be the beneficiary of your college financial aid office’s largesse, there’s still an EFC involved if you don’t get a full ride, and even a couple thousand bucks can be far out of reach for some families.

To that end, we have Ashley’s story.

Hi, Judge Josh!

My name is Ashley and I have a major dilemma. I come from a very poor family and I’m the second to go to college, my mom got an Associates in Medical Assisting.

Congrats to you! It’s not an easy road when you’re the first or even the second, because your family doesn’t have the experience with and understanding of the application process, the financial aid system, etc. I’m in your club, too, actually. My dad was the first in my family — he got his bachelor’s in professional aeronautics six months before I got mine in English.

A good counselor can tame even the most savage beast.

Because my family has not been able to save up any money they cannot help me pay and I’ve been fighting with my college (Shepherd University) since I enrolled to get financial aid in order to get my bachelor’s in Psychology. I’m hoping to be a family counselor one day.

What kind of financial aid are they offering already? Hopefully they’re not stiffing you altogether. I’m curious as to how much you need to make up the difference between what they’re offering you and what the total cost is.

Unfortunately I have already had to take one semester off because of the cost, it’s almost $17,000 a year, and it looks like I will have to take another semester off. I have been looking at other colleges that are much more affordable to transfer to as well as training programs and Job Corps in order to get training as a LPN or MA instead.

Well, my first and strongest recommendation is that you ditch Shepherd for a community college — at least for the first two years. In community college, you’re going to take basically the same sort of generic courses the first two years as you would at a four-year school, but you’ll pay a fraction of the cost. I don’t know what your living situation is, but you might be able to live at home while you’re going to community college, saving even more dough.

Unfortunately, I’m not even sure I want to be a nurse, my mother tells me that she thinks I would enjoy it and I may since I do have a passion for taking care of people but it seems that there are too many choices to make.

I’m not sure what you refer to specifically when you say there are too many choices to make, but believe me, that’s something that never goes away until the day you die. You’ll always have lots of choices, and it can definitely be hard to commit to one path.

All due respect to your mom, I would tell you that if you’re not sure you want to be a nurse, then don’t go into nursing yet. Your mom could be wrong, and even if she’s not wrong about whether you’d enjoy nursing, she may not have considered what a difficult slog through college it’s going to be for you if the courses you’re taking don’t interest you.

And even if you do make it through and become a nurse, it could turn out to be miserable for you if you have to keep convincing yourself that you like, or should like, the profession — as opposed to doing something you genuinely enjoy.

Any advice on which direction I should go with my schooling?

You’re still very young, and that’s a great point in your favor. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to be yet. But if you like the idea of being a counselor, then do your general-ed courses at a community college, and while you’re doing that, talk to some psych professors about opportunities to get your feet wet in the counseling profession while you’re there.

I have no idea what opportunities are available for prospective family counselors to get involved with, because I have zero knowledge of the subject (other than the fact that I’ve spent plenty of money with counselors in my life and they’ve all been well worth it). But your professors will.

Who knows, maybe you’ll get in with a counselor and be able to sit in on some sessions with a willing patient — sorta like those physician residents that seem to be shadowing your doctor around and asking your permission to peek over his shoulder every time you need some intensely personal exam or procedure done. 🙂

But yeah, in general, here it is: reduce the cost of your schooling ASAP by taking those first couple years at a community college, and then start sampling some professions that intrigue you. If the first people you ask don’t know of any opportunities, just keep asking — my rule of thumb is, “somebody somewhere knows something.” (I watch a lot of “First 48.”)

Thanks bunches,

You’re welcome. How about you, loyal chaps? Got any additional advice for Ashley? Let us know in the comments below.

46 thoughts on “Does a Poor Family = Poor Prospects?”

  1. In response to Ashley’s dilemma: Ashley, you may not reoalize this but your family’s economic disparities combined with your choice of major…you are at a higher advantage to have college paid for in entirety with federal and even state sponsored grants. Have you completed or researched the following: FAFSA grant application, your states dept of education in regards to sociology majors (mayo hv stipulations I.e. you may hv to work on a rural or low income clinc for x number of years etc) in which you will reap the benefit of them paying for college on its entirety

  2. Ashley,

    A couple of suggestions:

    First of all, see if Shepherd University offers tuition discounts or scholarships for students who transfer from local community colleges, and/or if they have recommendations as to courses to take from your local community college that will transfer back. That way you avoid taking courses that won’t advance you towards your bachelor’s degree, which would be a waste of your time and money.

    Also, you might consider Social Work as a major, as you can begin in counseling-type jobs with your bachelor’s degree, whereas with a Psychology bachelor’s you may need a master’s or higher degree (which would require additional time and money) to get the types of jobs you really want. Social Work majors are licensed professionals with a 4-year degree.

    And since you are unsure about your ultimate career plans, I’m sure your school has some kind of career center or at least an advisor you can talk to about different majors and careers.

  3. If you need to earn up some money before going back to school, why not look at becoming a para or an aide at a local school? Most states don’t require bachelor’s degrees to do this (in fact, when I was one, I think there were only three out of the 10 or so paras at my school who HAD gone to college) and it pays better than working retail. Doing this also has some relevance to your career (working with students and their families to help the kids succeed) and the experience could help you in things like college and scholarship applications and interviews. It’s also very fulfilling and may help you decide for sure if psychology and family counseling are right for you–you’d be amazed at how much “counseling” you end up doing with these kids!

  4. I am actually going to disagree. I say go for the BS, and do both of what you think you (your mom) might like – psych nursing. You can get the government to pay for you (example: ) and work later. You will be doing what you like, and the potential for growth, e.g. to a Masters or DNP, is gigantic. The reason for this one instance I think community college is not the best option, despite the whole bang-for-your-buck deal, is that I, myself, did the AP/CLEP/CC route, and when I went for my BSN, the really prestigious program where I went made me go back to take all the classes it wouldn’t let me transfer, either because of residency requirements or because certain classes were in their own department. Sometimes its Bullsh*t, but if you want a BS which will get you a chip to break through the current hiring freeze, you better do what a good school says and like it.

    Good luck

  5. Ashley
    Your best bet is to go to community college (and if you do your FAFSA, you can go for free). Get your AA, and then doors will be opened for you. Your EFC (expected family contribution, which I suspect will be zero), plus grades, plus the fact that you will transfer from the community college, plus the fact that you have an AA will open up opportunities for scholarships. If you do well, you can get transfer scholarships, honors transfer scholarships, need based scholarships, government grants, and then federal loans. Why would a college spend so much on you? Well you have not only proved yourself by finishing your first two years, but you are also very likely to finish, which means them giving you scholarship money will not be in vain.
    As far as what you want to do, shadow individuals in the field you are interested in. Chat up your instructors. Many times, they are retired from their field, and now teach.
    Also, another tip regarding financial aid fro your institution. I suggest that if they offer you money and the gap left is more than the EFC you get on your FAFSA, write a letter to appeal your financial aid on the grounds of family need and the gap left. I had to do the same, and I made sure to express how much I wanted to attend that school, and that even if the gap wasn’t fully closed, making it smaller would help tremendously. Don’t think that the financial aid they offer you is the end all be all. Before you are enrolled, it can be negotiated if you are a good student. HOWEVER, once the school year begins, it is concrete (9 times out of 10), simply because they have more than likely allocated all available financial aid funds for that year. Do the numbers before the school year begins, so that you won’t have surprises later.

  6. Ashley,
    A few things. I agree with Mr. Barsch, go to a community college for at least the first two years. There you’ll take all of your general education courses that are in every BS/BA. While taking these courses, you may find a major that you never knew about or find that you enjoy something that you didn’t know you would like to major in – that’s one of the reasons they want you to take these courses – the average college student changes their major 2.5 times (on average) before they graduate.

    Also, you can work during the day and take a few of these courses at night at a local community college. That way, you’ll be working and making money, still going to school but not wasting any time on a major that you’re not sure about yet. Over a year (or two) of night classes, you may discover exactly what you want to study. You’ll feel better because you’ll know your path, you’ll have money to help pay for school and even if you take on major debt for the degree, you’ll be investing in your future, not just ‘goin’ to school’.

    Another thing you can do is still go to a community college full time, and after working with your finance officer and FAFSA you may be able to work at the college for free or much lower tuition. Working with your finance officer is your best bet.

    Whatever you decide, good luck. Keep going toward school, an education can never be taken away. What you’ll learn will always be with you for the rest of your life. Enjoy!

  7. Ashley
    Your best bet is to go to community college (and if you do your FAFSA, you can go for free). Get your AA, and then doors will be opened for you. Your EFC (expected family contribution, which I suspect will be zero), plus grades, plus the fact that you will transfer from the community college, plus the fact that you have an AA will open up opportunities for scholarships. If you do well, you can get transfer scholarships, honors transfer scholarships, need based scholarships, government grants, and then federal loans. Why would a college spend so much on you? Well you have not only proved yourself by finishing your first two years, but you are also very likely to finish, which means them giving you scholarship money will not be in vain.
    As far as what you want to do, shadow individuals in the field you are interested in. Chat up your instructors. Many times, they are retired from their field, and now teach.
    Also, another tip regarding financial aid fro your institution. I suggest that if they offer you money and the gap left is more than the EFC you get on your FAFSA, write a letter to appeal your financial aid on the grounds of family need and the gap left. I had to do the same, and I made sure to express how much I wanted to attend that school, and that even if the gap wasn’t fully closed, making it smaller would help tremendously. Don’t think that the financial aid they offer you is the end all be all. Before you are enrolled, it can be negotiated if you are a good student. HOWEVER, once the school year begins, it is concrete (9 times out of 10), simply because they have more than likely allocated all available financial aid funds for that year. Do the numbers before the school year begins, so that you won’t have surprises later.

  8. Hey Ashley,

    You can try a whole lot of options for college, it all depends on which route you are willing to take – some which are harder than others.

    The hardest route would be to get a part-time job. This way, you could explore possible career options while paying for school. If you’re wondering how, there are MANY jobs out there for people without degrees in the profession you’re looking in. If you did want to take your mom’s advice and go into nursing, you could become a caregiver or CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant). A caregiver is generally the people you find in nursing homes who bathe, feed, and help the elderly. A CNA is generally in hospital setting, does some of the same jobs, but will also take vital signs of patients. Also, if you do become a CNA, sometimes hospitals will train you to become some kind of a tech (Nurse Tech, Neuro Tech, etc) and you’d be making rounds in the hospital (so no wipping butts lol). Other hospital jobs include being a Transporter (Taking patients from destination to destination) and being a Nurse Aide (where you would watch patients, mostly suicide and people in the neuro part of hospital, to make sure they don’t try to kill themselves, or fall, if they’re elderly). A lot of times these jobs offer rotating positions (you would work different shifts – and most of the time, you’d get to choose which shift you want) or night shifts (Which can vary up to 12 hours, so you would have the opportunity to work 24 hours a week in only 2 days).

    If you do want to go into counseling, there are usually work-study jobs on campus, such as being a student advisor or mentor. At my University, we have a summer-bridge program where you help incoming freshman choose classes, mentor them, and show them the in’s and out’s of the campus. Of course, this sort of job won’t help with all your funds since most of these jobs pay minimum wage.

    Like everyone else, I would recommend taking your core classes at a community college. Most jobs don’t look at where you took the class, but what grade you got (Math is still math wherever you go). The benefit about community college is: The classes are smaller and generally the teachers are a lot better and are more accessable if you have any questions. Where I live, community college is $40 per credit hour and the University is +$200/credit hour. For a broader prospective, it’s about $2400 to go full-time at UNM (I’m a resident, so my tuition is extremely cheap) and $480 at CNM (the community college). If you combine this, with getting a job, and living at home – You might be able to save up enough money for the following year.

    You could also transfer colleges, which I wouldn’t recommend if you have a lot of credit hours. Sometimes credits don’t transfer over and people have to retake a class they already took. Sometimes people aren’t able to make it by themselves in a completely new state without much support (no family in the area).

    The easiest I would say is to apply for financial aid and scholarships. Your family probably qualifies for the Pell Grant and if your parents have bad credit you can apply for the Parent Plus loan to pay for a good portion of your college. There are tons of scholarships on campus that most people don’t even apply for, especially if you are already accepted into your college (For example, a student might apply for a general university scholarship and then an engineering scholarship awarded solely to students in the school of engineering).

    Hope all goes well, and Good Luck!

  9. Do what you want! Do whatever you can comfortably do, don’t let money keep you from being happy! Too many people do that already. One is important and fulfilling, and the other will keep you struggling forever and never getting anywhere, and you’ll reach the end wondering what the hell you DID with your life. I’m not saying don’t be a nurse, I’m just saying be what you REALLY want to be, and never let anybody tell you HAVE to be anything else.
    Good kuck 🙂

  10. Hey Ashley,
    I agree with Judge Josh.
    Do not give up on your dreams just because money gets in the way. Going to a community college for the first bit, then transferring over to another school to complete your degree is a good idea.
    I am glad to not see any mention of student loans in your letter. 🙂 Though saving up money for school before or while you go to school can be challenging (that is what I am doing), but it will definitely be worth it in the end when you realize that you completed school debt free!
    I believe you can do it. I know others who have done what you are doing and succeeded. One includes the vice president at my college. He came from a poor family and his high school english teacher did not think he would be able to get into post-secondary school. Long story short, he graduated one of the top in his class, and later went on to be the vice president at my college.
    Take hope.

  11. Hi Judge Josh,

    I have a quick question on this entire major vs. schooling problem. Does major = career?

    Thank you very much!


  12. Ashley,

    You should qualify for a lot of financial aid from what it sounds like. I do agree that going 2 years at a community college is the best route. Before you pick a CC, shop around. There are plenty of choices, and online choices may not charge out of state fees. I know the University of South Carolina charges less for its online courses than it charges for in-state residents onground. A number of CC’s do the same thing.

    I am poor, and grew up poor. I finally got a degree (B.S. from 2 different colleges: 2008 and 2009). Due to taking too many courses or withdrawing from them, I lost financial aid at my school of choice, but was accepted at another school; that is why I have 2 B.S. I am now pursuing a Master’s. I had to use student loans to pay for these degrees, but I believe it is worth it.

    If possible, find scholarships. Several small scholarships are just as good as 1 larger one. I had to do a lot of searching, but I received 2 scholarships last year and 1 this year. These scholarships saved me $3,000 in student loans.

  13. College is still an option. She can go to a community college on financial aid and if she does well her local university will pay for her tuition (after financial aid). I did it!

  14. Pamela Kim Baptist


    Don’t give up now. Having the desire to succeed is more than half the battle. I too came from a financially challenged family. I am 4th of 9 kids in a working class family and I am the first to accomplish acquiring a degree. I have had to sit out several semesters because of my EFC amount and I used that time to work a part-time job along with a full-time job to save up the extra cash. I have acquired my AA in Business and have completed everything except a math proficiency class. I failed a calculus class during a time that I was out of work and homeless.

    I have recently gotten a job after living 1 year on unemployment and sleeping at whom ever house I could. I am going to take 6 months to save up the money to pay the school for the class I failed and to pay for an acceptable class at a community college. Once those two are done, I will receive my BS in Business Management. My mother died in May 2010 and before her passing, she made me promise to get my Master’s. I will do that Ashley and so can you. Remain hopeful and surround yourself with positive and like-minded people. You will reach your goals. {Pamela Kim Thomas}

  15. I can’t imagine your college financial counselor not already having your FAFSA, so let’s look at some other options. First of all, to rule in/out the nursing choice, volunteer as a candy striper at a local hospital, rehabilitation center, or nursing facility for the summer. You’ll have the opportunity to see if you like the setting, types of people you’ll have to deal with, etc. You’ll also know after that whether you prefer to mentally or physically help them them get better. Once you’ve tried it, your mom should have a better respect for your decision also.

    Once you’ve made up your mind, if there is a particular specialty that interests you, look for foundations and professional organizations for that specialty. For example, if you are interested in working in either capacity with oncology patients, look to the Susan G. Koman foundation and others for scholarship opportunities.

    I agree with Josh though, that you have to save where you can. I would go see your academic advisor at Shepherd and tell them your situation. If you are considering a community college closeby, they will know what will transfer back later. If they don’t, then it’s a good bet that the instructors and academic advisors at the community college will!

  16. Ashley,
    Whatever you do, do not give up! My family has been living off of social security for years and I attended my freshman year at Johnson & Wales University, which is a very expensive school. The summer before my sophomore year, we lost those benefits and were living off of Food Stamps, Section 8, and Cash Assistance. I completed my sophomore year and completed the Baking & Pastry Arts degree. Now, financial aid permitting, I am returning in the fall to start my Bachelor’s degree in Food Service Management.
    DO NOT GIVE UP! It may seem like an impossible goal, but just keep applying for financial aid, and if you cannot go out of state to the school you want, look inward in your home state, and you will get EVEN MORE financial aid. Keep at it!!

  17. Ashley, why not give the military a chance? The benefits are great, the pay is little but everything is paid for, and you can have college paid for as well as learning a skill.

  18. Hey Ashley,

    I come from a very poor family myself. I am barely getting by in college as it is. I know that my wanting to become a civil engineer is way different than wanting to become a counselor. But I come from a poor family myself. I am first-generation as well. I went to a community college for 3 years to get an Associate of Science in Mathematics, then I transferred to the University to obtain my Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering; which is still in progress. I have relied on scholarships for a long time. Luckily I have not had to take a semester off of school. There was one semester I took less classes than I usually would, since I was the victim of a check scam last August. But without my mom’s dad’s help, I would not be able to progress in school the way I am now. I am already thinking that I will go with The Great Basin Institute next summer, do their trailbuilding/maintenance program and get a stipend and educational award. Look into opportunities similarly for counseling, there has to be stuff like that floating around. Or even make up your own position, state the objectves and goals for the job even if you have to. Do not think that you cannot become a counselor. Go for it Ashley, I swear you will do a good job. Even if it means taking a half-time course load each semester and working 30 hours a week, just do it. You’ll do great.

  19. CC is the best suggestion. I would also like to add that if she’s thinking about getting a job, a lot of companies offer tuition assistance, especially larger companies.

  20. If you have any interest in nursing whatsoever, that is the route I would pursue – at a community college. An ADN gets your foot in the door, and while working as an RN you can get an MSN – PMHNP in 4 years. Psych nursing (here it’s through the state) comes with a whole new set of challenges that, if counseling interests you, should be right up your alley. MSN PMHNP gives you the ability to perform family counseling, mental health counseling, and prescribe psychiatric medication if it’s needed… in a total of seven years, and a MS in counseling would take you at least six.

    In addition, (in Texas) if your family qualifies for food stamps you should qualify for a program called Workforce in Action. If they have funds (their money comes in every few months), they cover your books and uniforms. Pell grants should cover your tuition at a CC.

    My knowledge comes from experience – I am the first in my family to go to college, and I didn’t get any help from them to do it.

  21. Ashley, I’m in a situation somewhat similar to yours. I completely agree with Josh’s community college idea as a firm foundation. Not only can you acquire your first 60 or so units towards your Bachelor’s lower division requirements inexpensively, but there may be classes at community college you can take to satisfy requirements for your upper division requirements at some colleges. Inquire at your local community college. Next, you’ll probably need to cut your living expenses “to the bone to be able to free up some money to meet this very worthwhile goal. Stop buying clothes new, drive a used car, eat simply and live frugally. It’s hard but it’s worth it. Ths is your dream we are talking about here. Let me recommend an awesome book I’ve read on the subject. It’s called “College Planning For Dummies” Half the book is about financial aid, and it mentions colleges like Western Governors University, which is one of the best buys in tuition around for Liberal Arts/General Studies. I remember seeing one chapter in there about how to get a free or low cost degree. Lastly, you could consider getting a job at the university you want to attend if they will give you a payment plan or free tuition. We’re pulling for you and praying for you. Good luck.

  22. Community college for sure. It’s inexpensive, has smaller class sizes (which allows for more personalised attention from professors) and provides a good intermediary step between high school and university. I don’t know if it’s the same in West Virginia (though certainly worth looking into), but in some states (Texas is one), admission to a state university is guaranteed if a person has completed their associates in a community college in the same state. That can help take alleviate a lot of transfer student stress.

    Then I recommend transferring to a state school and avoiding private school. In a state school, there should be no trouble at all getting enough financial aid (via grants and loans, plus scholarships if you can get some of those) and hopefully can also maintain a part-time job while in school. If you can go to school while living at home, all the better. Make sure to forge relationships with your advisors (academic and financial aid) and professors; it can help you make connections in the future, give you a head’s up on scholarships and other aid you might not otherwise find out about, helps you get internships (and other similar professional opportunities while you’re in school) and gives you the opportunity to have mentors who are invested in your success. Poverty doesn’t have to keep you from getting an education; it simply means you need to be better at planning out how to make it work than those who aren’t poor.

    On a more personal note, I understand where you’re coming from. My family isn’t able to help me, so I live on loans, grants and a part-time job. I have to be very, very careful with my finances to make it all work, but it’s still doable. I don’t sleep as much as I’d like to, but I’m still able to make it work.

  23. I suggest community college also, and get financial aid if possible. The hardest thing I have found for my children and financial aid is that the parents income is considered. My kids are all married and live outside the home, but because they were under the age of 24 our income had to be considered and it was a fight to by-pass that issue. Something that finacial aid doesnt seem to understand is, just because a family makes $60k a year doesn’t mean they have money. There are mortgage payments, car payments, insurance, utilities, food and medical bills and other student loans or what ever else that has to be paid. Those do not get figured into the scheme of things, very sad situation for the middle class family who wants to do better but can’t seem to find a way.

  24. Ashley-
    I was in the exact boat as you, even down to the degree. I am also going for, at the very minimum, a BA in psychology, in order to be a marriage and family counselor. Many of the posters have mentioned community/junior college, and take it from me, this is the best option for someone with little money. I attended my community college for about two and a half years on a full scholarship, and graduated with my AA in May 2010. I saved countless thousands of dollars by attending, and by curbing my pride and liviing with my parents. The commute is really the most expensive part of attending a community college, but a couple hundred dollars for gas per semester is a vast improvement over the tens of thousands for dorming and tuition at a university.
    I encourage everyone I know to start small at community college. I will be going away to school for my bachelor’s and other degrees, but by staying local and going to community college, I got the same education for thousands less. Also, many community colleges offer foundation scholarships, so try to snatch those up. I won a baccelaureate scholarship, and was also inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, a National Honor Society exclusively for two-year institutions. That has opened up many doors in terms of scholarships and job opportunities. I wish you the best of luck, and hope you take my, as well as the other posters, advise, and enroll in community college.

  25. My family is also very poor and has not been able to contribute AT ALL to my education. And I even go to an expensive school ($32,700 a year). You obviously do not have to go to one that is so expensive. That is just to illustrate my point that a good education is very possible, regardless of your family’s economic state. Apply for scholarships. They are out there for everyone. Work your way through school. Take out as few loans as possible, but most everyone has to. Do not give up. Go get your education.

  26. Community college would be your best bet dear. I have a similar problem but we dont have to follow in out parents footsteps. Apply for scholarships and im sure you will do well also going to conferences and internships can help you pay for some schooling. Only go to the conferences and internships that PAY YOU DEAR.
    I hope I helped Be blessed

  27. Before you listen to all this advice, look at what they are saying. These are people telling you to do less, to become less, all because it makes them feel more comfortable. When you ask someone “What should I do?” and you have a longer path, everyone will direct you the short way. The trade school/community college/voc ed is that other way and if it doesn’t meet your goals, you will be sorry you tried it. Decide what you want to do, find a path, and pursue that path. Dont let someone else decide for you.

    I made the mistake of taking that trade school/voc ed when a counselor convinced me I could not do college. When I was 15, my high school counselor told me that Electrical Mechanical Service Technology was going to be the hot career of tomorrow, better than college, and I bought it. They said it was the alternate path, the easier way, and I couldn’t go to college just because I scored low on the MEAP and wasn’t prepared. A little later, I found I was being sold on a certificate that was esentially meaningless by a counselor who didnt know what to do. I eventually did an undergradaute degree but everyone told me I should pick the easiest major I could find. Finally, I took the courage, got an MBA and I can now do something I wish at 45 years old. If I would have listened to myself, rather than everyone else, I would have reached my goal a long time ago.

    Dont make my mistake and let other people decide your career for you. You need to do some research and make a plan that will be a little longer than other people. Even if an undergraduate degree takes 8 or 9 years, who cares? Even if it costs you some extra money, the achievement of your goal is much better than the surrender of the idiots who haven’t thought of their “solution.” Set your goal, find a path, and then do it. If you tell everyone else about it, you will get advice to stop as it makes those who have not taken such action uncomfortable. Dont let them stop you. Decide what you want to do, make a plan, and take action.

    When you go to college, become familiar with the student aid limits in the 1973 Education Act, esppecially 150 credit cap and the 150% rule. If you need alot of courses to prepare, break it up into two colleges, the first does not have to be a community college. You can plan to take 50 or 60 credits at one school, take that remedial and exploratory curricula, and then transfer to another college without transferring all the credits you took at the first college. Then, you wont have remedial courses that consume the financial aid credit allowances. As long as you don’t transfer all of your credits to the next college, your credit limits will be reset and you will get to start over again to work on another degree.

    If you are starting out from the beginning, any goal is possible. If you never had a math class in your life and you wanted to be an engineer, the world will tell you that you can’t do it. However, there is a path. You could go to a community college, start from a 6th grade math level, take six or seven math courses along with some basic courses in physics, and as long as you visit the 4 year college and complete the requirements, you will gain admission. Just make sure with a counselor at the four year college that you are completing all of the requirements for entry and develop a path from start to finish.

    If you ask everyone else, they wont point you down a successful path. Instead, you will find that you are stereotyped under their limited ability to analyze a circumstance, and their advice wont get you anywhere. Instead, find out what you want to do, choose your goals, and make your plan from the beginning. If it requries an advanced degree, look at the advanced degree, what you need to get in and how to do it. When you have this plan broken down from start to finish, and the plan is verified with the schools you wish to attend, you wont be selling yourself short by the people who tell you its impossible.

  28. hi
    Ashley i think that was abriliant idea to go to the community college since the other one is damn expensive i personally wouldnt go for that.
    good luck dear

  29. Go to nursing school. Get a job in a hospital. If you don’t like it, go back to school on your employer’s dime (lots of large hospital corporations offer tuition reimbursement for their employees and their children).

    But, don’t get the LVN (LPN). spend the extra time and get the RN, you’ll make twice as much money straight out of school.

  30. Hello Ashley,

    I’m noticing a lot of great advice here but I think it all comes down to how badly you want what you want to do. I’m a psychology major, who comes from a generally poor background (former foster kid as well), first to get a college degree etc. Sit down a try to the best of your ability figure out what you want to do. Everyone can tell you for days “do this, do that” but is it right for you? Sometimes its not. Look into community service projects such as Amer iCorp who offer stipends, organization on campus who offer money through projects and memberships. Many campuses offer research opportunities for students who are first year attendees as well. Even some jobs offer to pay part of some tuition. As a psych major many schools offer paid teaching assistant jobs as well as research assistants (sadly mine doesnt, so I just have to suck it up :/ ). This will also start getting your feet wet if you decide to go to grad school and need those letters of recommendation. Also start looking at MFT programs (marriage family therapy)-which by the way is only a 2 year program after your undergrad and many offer A LOT of financial assistance. Sometimes looking to the future makes the present more clear.
    All in all look within yourself and be 100% honest and real with yourself of where you want to go. I’m not saying you have to be sure where and when you want to do what but at this point in your life you do need to have a semi-clear direction.

  31. Thanks for all of the advice everyone, it is very much appreciated. I suppose I actually left out some possibly vital information in my original e-mail. I’m almost two years through my degree and I’ve got most of my gen ed credits and a good chunk of my psychology credits. I have filed my FAFSA and because I had some money left over from my refund check from my college it kicked my EFC up from 0 to 800-something. I had troubles with some classes my second semester of college (last spring) and lost the Promise scholarship because of my dismal GPA. I’ve been working to bring it up and so far so good, though it still isn’t high enough to qualify me for merit scholarships currently. I will also continue to look for scholarships and programs that will help me pay for school. Any suggestions on such programs would be wonderful. I’m not so sure about the Psych Nurse track but I will keep it in mind.

    We also do not happen to have any nearby community or affordable public colleges. Though the college I am looking to transfer to I can easily pay for without taking out any extra loans, hopefully.

    To those of you who have been in the same boat as I am, thanks for the encouragement and your stories it really helps and shows me that even people who grew up with poor families can make something of themselves.

    To Steve, I was never good any at listening to other people tell me I should do with my life and I am most certainly determined to get my bachelors. Thank you for telling me your story as well.

    Once again, thanks for all the support and advice everyone. I’m always open to it. Thank you all so much.

  32. Counselor Buddy

    I just briefly scanned the above comments, so maybe someone else pointed this out and I missed it. But, in order to be a licensed counselor, family or otherwise, you will need a minimum of a master’s degree in counseling. Typically you can enter grad school for counseling with any undergraduate major. My undergrad degree is in Psychology and Business, but many in my program came from various undergrad backgrounds. My point is, don’t feel you need to limit yourself or devote yourself to counseling in college; obviously a background in Psych or Bio will help, but the emphasis comes in grad school. That being said, Audrea’s comment above is dead-on, a bachelor’s in Psych will get you nowhere without a master’s degree, so if you go the Psych route be prepared to delve immediately into grad school.

  33. My last response was a little humbling as I see that I disclosed my bias rather than answered your question. I tried to make a couple of points but I am so biased by my situation that I just vented.

    I have my BA in Psychology and Sociology. I expected these degrees to be the gateway to a career just like the university promised but I failed to make a plan to ensure that they would do so. With a 3.7 GPA I did very well. However, all I only stuided these great theorists Freud, Weber, Durkheim, Comte, a few more, when the university promised that I would learn much more. Granted there were a couple of counseling courses, an interview course, first response, 12 step. This felt like applied curricula but I later discovered it was only intorductory. When I started my career search I found that I need a master’s degree in these fields to even sit with a client.

    When applied to another field, the social science degrees are like High School II. Alot of generalist information is studied but it just didn’t teach me how to do very much beyind an introductory level. Employers ask, “What can you do for me?” and they want me to state hard skills in my interview. The one I am competing with might not have the same skills they are seeking, but when states he knows C+ and five other programing languages, they hire him for the public relations position. The social sciences bear the status of the easy major and it hurts.

    I also tried to show you something that I learned about student aid law when I was attending college. If you want to explore a little more or choose something else, you might be able to break up the study between two different schools to avoid the financial aid caps in the 1973 Education Act. This law caps your student aid limits at 180 credits and 150% of your curricula. If you ever earn enough credits to hit one of these caps, student aid is done, even if you paid for all the credits yourself. You can avoid this cap by taking exploratory or remedial courses at one college, and then when you are done exploring, start at another college without transferring the credits. This way, if you need more credits than the cap allows, you can get around it by taking them first somwhere else and as long as they aren’t transferred, you wont consume the caps.

    My last answer is strongly biased by my error. I listened to counselors who told me to pick the easiest major I could find under the assumption that “degreed status” would bring employment. I later find that it just doesnt work that way. If I would have sat down from the beginning, made a six year plan, I could have reached a goal in engineering rather than jump in a major that the world sees as useless.

  34. Remember that, unless the university undergoes a drastic curriculum change, you never lose the credits you earn, so if you do find that you can’t continue even for a long period (a year or more), make sure you never think of it as “throwing in the towel” but make a plan to use your time wisely, think more about what direction you want to go, and get back in as soon as possible.

  35. Whatever you do DO NOT give up!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My family is not well off at all and it has been a pain in my ass trying to get money for college but it has been well worth it. If you’re like me you probably qualify for the full amount of the PelGrant, so I say jsut apply, apply, apply!!!!!!! It won’t hurt to try and apply for financial aid. Now if your school is being a pain about then defenitely look into different schools.

  36. It all depends on how smart you are! Unfortunately in the US, education is for the rich , and if you are not smart you’ll have to get a higher amount of student Loans.

    First, you have to see your SAT scores, if you have them high I advise you to find a scholarship to pay your tuition, otherwise try to go to a Community College and try to get a GPA of at least 3.5. The secret for a high GPA is to not work while you are at school, so… STOP working (or at least work less than 20hrs a week) and STOP spending money; your financial aid will cover most of your basic expenses and in some cases there are State Funded fee waivers for Jr College tuitions.

    Second, in the Jr College take only courses that you like, no matter what, then you’ll figure out what 4 year degree is best for you. Unfortunately you will have to take English composition and College Algebra no matter what your major is.

    Third, if you did all you can and your Jr College GPA is less than 2.5 I advise you not to pursue a 4 year degree.

  37. Oh! by the way… since you still don’t know what major to choose….DON’T GO TO COLLEGE COUNSELORS…they are salespeople! Counselors are useful only when you have a clear idea of what you wanna do. Instead, try to make a through research of the courses offered by your college,and choose those you seem to be interested in. The only thing you have to worry about is the transfaribility of the courses you choose to take. In some States there are two or more University systems; California for example has a CalState and a UC system, both systems provide 4 year educations but UC does not accept many classes provided by community colleges, so make sure your courses are accepted by the University you plan to transfer!

  38. ASHLEY never giveup, my mom is poor she trying to work two job to help me, she can’t get any loan her credit is to bad. My 17 years old sister had a baby we can’t take care of ourselves but we do great .I stay up late looking for scholarshi.,Could you do online classes? of do one or two class, there are always a way to do it. I am the first to go to college and finish high school. Ashley I know you can find a way to do it. Maybe you can work at a place that pay for you to go to college some company do that.

  39. I am thinking that it is not so much that we have no money that works against us as how we use that information.

    Some of my applications for Ontario Student Loans challenged me as to how I would manage if I had absolutely no $$ to contribute to my own living costs. They did not want to fund me if I could not manage my resources to completion of my program.

    I explained about how I use the food bank and thrift shops. I also took time to explain about the arrangements I make with the school’s maintenance staff to recycle some of the student castoffs.

    I can show where I manage to use the bursaries I have been awarded to find art supplies or computer/equipment/software. I talk to our technical assistants and purchase program related equipment for when I am back in the workforce and still scrounging for work startup equipment.

    It was a very difficult thing to max out my credit cards over the past year trying to support my youngest kids while they struggled to complete their college programs at the same time as me. I lost sleep worrying whether I would have the resources I needed to get BACK into school next week. I made arrangements with the people where I will be staying to wait for my funding to pay rent. I ran errands for people who would cover my gas expenses so that I could get places I needed to go. For example, I could not get to a family function unless I arranged to take my brother who does not drive.

    I worried about my car because it was vibrating badly. I discovered that my front tires were wearing lower than my back; but I have front wheel drive and it was distracting to have so much vibration. I could not afford to replace the tires until my funding comes. By the process of elimination, I had the tires rotated, which cost me $22. at Wal Mart. They really saved me a lot of worry with that suggestion.

    Much of what I am suggesting is that being poor sucks. Yes it does. But it does not have to be the end all of your hopes, dreams, and aspirations. How I meet my challenges–whether someone will approve me for bursaries or scholarships, etc. is what seems to help to get the ones I do receive. I have gotten a few awards. One of the ones I got last year referred to things mentioned within and their appreciation of my efforts.

    Besides, it isn’t always about the awards of funding as much as the long term benefits. I notice how many of the students I meet along the way end up working for the institutions they attended. You continue your education because you were looking for a way out of the hole. You got your head sewed on tight enough to attempt to make changes, right? Then the way you conduct your affairs while attending those schools could influence who wants you when you finish.

    One of the students I was constantly sharing food with this year spent the summer contributing her own art ideas to one of the instructors who trained us this last term. She loved every moment. That instructor loves to invite students and she followed up successfully. It will look good on her resume. He supplies me with some of my reference letters. If you are an attentive student, he will actually hold your hand to walk you through the process of looking for various art residencies and other opportunities; because he understands what he is looking at when he sees the links online.

    The period of your studies is like one very long interview process or one very arduous audition. If you are animated and passionate and considerate of those around you, they won’t see your poverty-stricken condition before they see your integrity as well as your marketable ideas.

    Where I stay while I am at school, I was talking to the man one day about turning off lights. He runs air-conditioning full time. No one seems to worry about lights left on. He hires someone to come cut his grass each week without fail. At home, I would find my air conditioning by opening windows; I put powerbars with on/off switches on things like the t.v. and I turn off my furnace at the electrical panel to ensure that no hydro is running unnecessarily. He said it was in my concerns about cutting costs that he began to realize just how poor I really was. I stopped talking and considered his comment. Bit of a catch to my breathing there was for a moment… Then I went off to school thinking about my friend at the school from which I just graduated who had lived in the woods in order to attend school because he was a WSIB casualty–meaning that Workmans Comp had kept him hanging for so long that he could not get funding for much more than tuition to retrain after his injury. This winter, he began to work part time for the college I am leaving. He actually had enough $$ to rent a house over the winter. Now that he again has a roof over his head, he seldom has $$ for things like food and he can’t afford to heat the house with anything other than the woods behind the house. So this summer, he showed me all of the herbs he learned he could eat (we call them weeds when we cut the grass).

    Ashley, I re-read some of your opening comments and wondered why you are not getting more encouragement from the support staff of your institution. The Dean of my new college came to meet us individually and shake hands. He took time to ask about things we might find confusing. You could see he really wanted to know the answers to the things he asked people. New students attending the orientation wore name tags… But even on the days when I didn’t have such a visible marker, people watched over anyone who might even look as though they wouldn’t know where they needed to go. People actually stopped something they might be working on to walk me across the campus and explain things. I am told it is a mid-size institution for city. It was extremely large to my way of thinking and I got lost just coming from the parking every time! Staff, instructors, senior students all did the same thing all over the school. In the school I graduated from this spring, it was maybe not quite so visibly helpful–but close and always supportive of financial needs. Are you sure you chose the environment best suited to take your $$ in exchange for career forming information?

  40. ASHLEY, DON’T GIVE UP! You have a dream/goal so pursue it! It may look and seem like an impossible or too difficult of a goal to reach for, but it’s worth it. (I’m sure you know this already), but apply for as many scholarships as possible! I’m sure you’re talented at something, so use that talent to raise money. Ask for donations (this is a probable cause). You can ask family, friends and neighbors to help you fundraise. Do a car wash, mow lawns, sell arts & crafts, etc. Do whatever you can! Trust me, someone is out there waiting to pay for your financial needs. Please, don’t give up!

  41. Ashley–
    I am from a poor family too. When my parents got divorced, my dad pretty much got everything, and my mom got nothing. Since I live with my mom now, I applied for FAFSA with her income.
    I received enough money to pay for tuition, meals, fees, books, everything I need, AND I still get $7,000 back EVERY YEAR to spend it on whatever I need.. This semester I bought a car so I could actually get to classes!
    The one thing is I don’t live on campus, so I don’t have to pay for a dorm, but I think with $7,000/year I could afford it if I needed to, also, I could take out my PLUS loan which I didn’t take because I didn’t think I needed it.
    What I’m saying is, there has to be financial aid for you! I did have to take out loans, but only about $5,000 a year, which I think is about normal, and since I get so much money back, I could refuse those loans if I decided to.
    Just based on your income, I think you should be able to afford school! I go to a university which is about $18,000 a year, but of course I take short cuts to reduce the cost (such as skipping the dorms, getting the cheapest meal plan, renting my books instead of buying) which is why I get so much money back every year.
    There are so many grants, scholarships, and loans out there that you qualify for just because you come from a low income family. If you didn’t apply to FAFSA, you need to do that, if what you receive still isn’t enough to cover your costs, you could switch to a slightly cheaper school.

  42. If you’re not sure what you want to do I think you should work/volunteer/intern in fields of work you think might interest you before you invest a lot of money in school. That way you’re not paying money to find out what you do and don’t want to do.

    I took 2 years off after high school to do this and I’m so glad I did. I never considered a nursing career in high school, but now that I’ve worked for a year and a half as a hospital phlebotomist, I know nursing/healthcare will definitely interest me. Maybe if you do something similar you can save yourself thousands of dollars by figuring out what you like to do outside of a college campus.

  43. I come from a very low income family also. I am getting my degree in social services. Anyone who is getting involved with any part of health care or anything to do with the government have a higher chance of getting funding for school. I would do everything, even if that means taking out a loan, which I had to do, to pay for school. Good things come to good people.

  44. My advice having come from a background where I am about to graduate with my bachelors and will be the first in my family to have done so, go to school, take the loans, but here’s where I made my mistake and if I were her I wouldn’t make it. First, go to community college for the first two years. Much, much cheaper and you can pay for it with your pell grants and still have some left over for living expenses- that eliminates the major debt issue for a while. Second, and this is the part I considered doing and didn’t do, if you are going into the social sciences or medicine in any way, get an LVN nursing degree first. Nurses are always in demand, work 2 12 hour shifts a week while in college, bring in good money, and most of the courses you take to get your LVN will also count towards your bachelors. It was my original plan and I cannot for the life of me figure out why I decided not to do it, but I will say I am greatly in debt as a result. Plus, social sciences are not the easiest to find jobs with or the best paying, so if you graduate and have a gap before you can find the job of your dreams, you can fill it with the degree that put you through school. Don’t give up. I’ve got two kids, we are poor, but we won’t be forever cause I’ve been willing to do anything at all to finish this degree. Take it from someone who sees the light at the end of the tunnel right now, going after your dreams is worth it.

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