Comment: I'm currently 26 & in college

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I'm currently 26 & in college

I graduated in 2005 & I worked construction during the housing bubble. So because of this I decided to take a year off & work. I managed to save up 30k. I enjoyed building things but grew tired of being a construction laborer. I decided to go to college but had no idea what I wanted to study and my local community college had limited degree options. I went there for a year & took care of the basics like math, history, english, ect. One thing about taking a leapyear off is that you forget things quickly. I had taken precalculus as a junior in high school, but I only placed into algebra 2 on the college placement test. The material was a breeze to cover but I was forced to waste some semesters taking math classes. I'm certain I could have placed higher on the tests if the material was fresh in my mind, but I had forgotten some of the material over the years and all it took was being seeing the idea again just once in order to remember. Make sure you review your math if you take a year off.
I was able to use my saved up money to pay for 2 years of community college with a very tight budget & cheap rent. I received an IT degree & in the last semester of college I was given an internship with the County. I ended up being offered a job to do tech support for all County offices from the Fire Dept, to the Mayor's office, to Wastewater Treatment. This was in 2009 & the County budget office was doing severe cutbacks including furloughing all public school teachers one day a month & cancelling friday classes. I was initially offered a 6month contract that expired on new years. I was told that budgeting was too tight to rehire, so I got a private sector fulltime computer repair job. I was then told that the county was able to approve rehiring me, so I accepted that job part-time & began working 60 hours a week. If you get the right college education you will never have trouble finding employment.
After 7 months of this I felt that I had mastered my job & I wanted to move onto a more challenging field. I went back to college that August for electrical engineering. I had saved up money again, but this time it barely got me through 1 year. State university in the city was about 5 times as expensive as community college. I had earned about 35k during the year & so I found myself unable to get any kind of public or private aid. I was almost instantly poor again. I have since taken out loans because I am confident in my ability to make a living for myself. I also am confident in my ability to succeed & graduate with an engineering degree & I feel that I will be able to repay the minimal loans. I currently have more money in the bank than I have loans, & I plan on keeping it that way, the loans are more insurance than anything. What I found is that college aid is meant for you to be poor. Don't plan on taking a year off of college in order to save for college. If you go straight to college as a poor high schooler, then you will instantly be eligible for aid & if done right you can end the year without any debt. At the same time, working for a year will make you ineligible for aid & you will end your first year just as poor as if you had never worked. It was a sad feeling seeing all my hard earned money disappear instantly because I had worked hard for a year & thus was expected to pay full price. You can only be a "financially independent" college student if your parents are paying your full ride or you are wealthy.
So my advice is, take a year off & explore hobbies if you need to find an area of study that interests you. Going to community college is magnitudes cheaper & can be an amazingly cost effective way to get knowledge & applicable skills, and is a great place to learn a trade. Saving money for college will just cause you to be ineligible for all aid because of your nest egg, they won't give you any aid until you've been sucked dry. Federal aid is an amazing chunk of cash & can almost completely cover tuition (no housing or food). Don't feel bad about it, especially if you take a year off & work. You had to pay income tax while you were working, so you deserve that money back & one way of getting it is jumping through their eligibility loophole by going to college. Good Luck & sorry for the unrefined & unabridged post. I just wrote it from thought to fingers & it's been a very long last 2 weeks.