Q: This is a pretty sticky situation. I dropped out of high school to homeschool myself without credit some time ago, using online high school and college-level courses and books, and I've had nobody to help me with college applications or getting into programs. I'm very interested in physics and want to go to a major state university. Is going to community college for a year or two and working really hard there actually a good strategy, or will my lack of credit for high school forever prevent my success?

A: You are correct; this is indeed a sticky situation, but not a hopeless one. At the outset, what do you mean by "some time ago"? Did you drop out three years ago, or twenty? It could make a difference. You need to check on several things: Do you need to pass a high school equivalency assessment known as the Test Assessing Secondary Completion or "TASC" (which replaced the GED) to be admitted into a community college? Can you do a credit-by-examination at a local community college to prove your academic skills?

You are correct in thinking that accumulating a strong record at a community college is a good way to gain admission to a 4-year college or university. Thousands of students do this each year. In fact, many students begin their education at a community college because they can save a tremendous amount of money, reserving their funds for their junior and senior years at a more expensive college or university.

But first things first. Can you be admitted to a community college without a high school diploma or a GED? I don't know. The rules can vary from state to state. I cannot answer because you need to discuss this with those who will accredit you. Certainly, you will have to do something to prove that you are academically strong.

My suggestion is that you make an appointment with someone in the admissions office of your local community college and explain your story. See what qualifications you will have to present, and if it is necessary to take any exams. Cross one bridge at a time: get into a community college, and once there work with the transfer office and follow their suggestions for making a seamless transition to another school. Good luck!