Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I have been waiting patiently to see how much my financial aid award is going to be. I received an award letter a month or so ago telling me I would probably get somewhere around X amount for fall quarter. That includes two grants and two loans. That sounded pretty OK, but there was a big "probably" in there. Until I actually see the deposit hit my account, I won't know.

Yesterday morning I received an email with the subject line "Your Federal Direct Loan Disclosure Statements". I wasn't expecting to find anything out until the actual disbursements are sent out next week. But I thought, "Hmmmm, this could be interesting." So I followed the link and downloaded the document. The first thing I see is a line showing the amount I will be getting each quarter. My heart sank about as far as it could go.

It appeared that the X amount I was expecting was being split up into 3 quarters - fall, winter, spring. This was unfathomably disheartening. I immediately went into "gotta keep my shit together" mode. I was sure I was going to have to work, which seemed impossible to do when taking 17 credits. But I was determined that this "road bump" was not going to be insurmountable.

I called the financial aid office at school to see if they had any ideas. I got a message saying they were too busy to take my call and to try back later.

I called my credit union to see if I could get a personal loan or a secured loan on my car. They laughed. (Not really but they might as well have.)

I got started on re-building my resume - a daunting task in itself, but what am I going to do?

The preceding events took place over the course of about an hour and a half. I decided to try the financial aid office again. Then I thought I better have the money document in front of me for the call. I pulled it up and realized I hadn't scrolled down at all. So I did and, lo and behold, there was another line! This document was regarding the two loans. The line I had been freaking out about was regarding only one of the loans... and it was the smaller of the two!!

So after a few moments of careful review, I concluded that these two loans amounted to 3/4 of X. Assuming the grants are what I was told they would be, the final amount will total more than X. In other words, I am likely to be in a better financial situation than I imagined myself before the freak-out earlier in the morning.

The sense of overwhelming relief when I realized this literally left me breathless. I was hyperventilating with relief. I had, in my mind, begun bracing myself for an insanely - maybe impossibly - challenging situation. So when I learned that my prospects were not just "not as bad as I thought they were" but even better than I had previously imagined, I was duly overjoyed.

So... what a day, right? Dodged a bullet and came out better than before. THAT doesn't happen very often, right?

Let me tell you about today. First a bit of background leading up to today.

I registered for Algebra 111 which is called College Algebra. I registered for it because, when I took the placement tests, they said I was smart enough for it. When I saw the results, I told the guy I wasn't sure about this one but he assured me I'd be fine. I should mention that this course is one of the requirements for the degree I am pursuing.

A couple weeks ago I got an email from the math dept letting me know they were holding sessions so that people in that class would be prepared to succeed. I thought that was pretty darn nice of them... to care so much. So I eagerly signed up for the sessions - two days with one three-hour session each day.

I arrived at the first session this morning a few minutes before nine. There was a room full of people who must be just out of high school. I saw one person who might not be in that category but I think she was closer to their age than mine. There was a nice folder on the table in front of me. This is gonna be great!

The professor in charge opened his remarks by saying one of his main purposes today was to scare us out of taking this class. Hahahahaha! Boy, did that get a laugh. He said, seriously, if you're in the wrong class, better to find out now.

He spent the first 45 minutes going through the topics and chapters in the textbook and acquainting us with various study tools on the web that were available to us. This was when I started to get a little nervous. I bought the textbook weeks ago and had looked at the early warm-up sections and, while things looked challenging, I had no doubt I could manage it. But some of the things he was going over today looked mildly alarmingly unfamiliar.

During the second hour he had us work on a couple sheets filled with problems. He said he was giving us about 10 minutes. At first I seriously thought he meant 10 minutes to work on the first problem. Then I realized he meant to try to work through over a dozen problems in that time. Then I blacked out.

Seriously... the first problem, under normal circumstances, I could have figured out in a couple minutes. Under these current circumstances, I couldn't even get that one right. It's not like I was completely unfamiliar with material. I know how to factor polynomials. I know about coordinates. Hell, I got an A in college calculus 20 years ago. But this was like a language I had long forgotten how to use. I recognized the letters but was no longer able to remember how those letters formed words and how the words were used to form sentences. (If there are paragraphs in this language, I don't want to know about them.)

At the end of the second hour, I went to his desk and stated, "I am in the wrong class." We talked a minute or so and agreed that I probably was.

Did I mention this class is required for the degree I am pursuing?

So here I am in panic mode for the second time in two days. This development puts a major wrench in my finely crafted master plan. It means I have to take a lower Algebra class to prepare for 111. It means adding 5 more credits to an already treacherous load. It means that my carefully thought-out course sequences no longer fit.

Long story short, it looked like I was going to have to push my enrollment in WSU back a quarter and since they go on the semester system, I was going to be behind a full semester instead of just a quarter. And THAT would mean that I was almost certainly going to miss the deadline to apply for the physician assistant program on time.

By adding this one class, I was looking at the probability of adding another year to my master plan, plus spending more money. I'm not so concerned about the money, but at the age I am at, one year in the master plan is a long time.

I am certain I had no choice but to add the lower level course. Trying to take Algebra 111 without it would have been a certain failure and I am not ready for that yet.

So after bailing on the sessions, I beat feet up to the admin building to see if I could talk to my advisor - the one with whom I have spent literally hours coming up with the master plan. Of course today was orientation day for incoming freshman, which meant no advisors would be around until 3 pm and that was three and a half hours off.

So I drove home planning to return at 2:30 and, in the meantime, try to figure out a configuration of classes that might miraculously work but nothing did. I decided to go ahead and drop 111 and register for the lower level class (095). Not only was the class still available, but it was available at the exact time that the 111 class had occupied in my weekly schedule. Same time, same days. At least that was something positive.

At one point I decided I would forego the trip back to school to try to see the advisor. After all, once I had dropped and registered, there really was nothing to be done that couldn't be done later. I figured I had had enough for one day. Then on second thought, I said "Fuck it. (Sorry, that is what I actually said.) I'm going to go back anyway." I realized that, if nothing else, it would give me peace of mind. I usually go to great lengths to not leave things unsettled if I don't have to. So I went back.

I got in line to check in to see my advisor. After half an hour or so, I was nearing the front of the line (3rd) when those of us remaining in line were told that we would be given a number since they had already checked in the number of students that would be assured of seeing an advisor today. Nice. So I got a number and waited another hour.

Finally, Traci called my number. (It was #5 if you're keeping score.) I had never met Traci. I had always worked with Kira. I like Kira. Kira was the one that worked so hard to help me devise the master plan. And now I get to work with Traci. A complete stranger. A stranger who is holding my future in her hands.

Traci told me she had looked at Kira's notes and was a little familiar with my case. I quickly tried to fill in the blanks and she started poring over the master plan and how this addition of the extra class was going to affect it. She agreed that things looked grim. Then she went to work.

She furrowed her brow. She looked back and forth at her screen and pieces of paper. I think she cast some special advisory runes. At one point she came this close to telling me to STFU. Then she said, "I see what Kira was doing here. I think I've got it." Then I wet myself.

She did indeed have it. Another long story short, I had 6 credits tucked away in general electives that I didn't need. It was a calculus course for life science students (of which I am one) that would have been a nice addition, but it is not required. So we replaced that class with the new one and... problem solved.

I wanted to hug Traci but instead I told her she was almost as good as Kira. I was walkin' on sunshine coming out of that office. I wasn't hyperventilating this time; I just kept saying, "Wow!"

I know this has been  a long way around and the punchline wasn't that great, but for me it was yet another rollercoaster ride of a day. I went from being OK to being nearly despondent to being nearly euphoric. Twice I thought something dear was in grave jeopardy, only to find out that my situation has improved on both counts.

I am sure these tales are just the beginning. I am hoping I will have the time and energy to write more here, if for no other reason than to have a record for myself. You, dear reader, are welcome to peek any time.

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