First, you are never as old or as slow as you think you are. Motivation and desire make the difference. I have a bachelor’s degree in physics which I earned at the age of 37 while working a full-time job with three teenagers at home. I was a single mother with no child support and we homeschool. Further more, I do not have a high school diploma. Technically, I dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and ran away from home. The catch is there was a section of the college manual where I attended to make it easier for high school drop outs with high ACT scores to attend college without a diploma or a GED. I took advantage of the clause and got an Associates Degree before I turned 18.
Next, Pell grants are wonderful things. But have you heard of the SMART grant? SMART grants are given to people in their junior and senior years of college if they major in a science field. They have grown at a faster rate than tuition in the last couple of years and are worth looking into.
Thirdly, student loans are great, but check to see if you can access some of the stimulus money floating around by agreeing to teach for a time. Getting a high school teaching degree has changed. You have to have a major in your field and a minor in education which means get the degree, teach and the student loans are forgiven by a certain amount for every year of service. If you don’t like teaching then you still have a bachelor’s in that subject with possibly a master’s in education. Go take the GRE and bug a PhD program until they accept you as a teaching assistant. Now you have your school loans paid off, and a small salary while you get a PHD.
Fourth, know what your deadlines are for submitting FAFSA forms (those are to apply for financial aid), grant and scholarship applications. Research grants and scholarships given out by your specific school. Research schools with special programs for which you might qualify. Great example is Wilson College. They have a program where single mothers study at Wilson and can live on campus with their children. That blew me away.
You are never too old. People before you have started over and went back to school. It can be done. It isn’t fun or easy but it is doable. If Jingles the clown can become a physicist then you can live your dream too.