On a sidenote, any reason a grad student should NOT buy a Hobie?
I use to be a graduate student long enough to give you a perspective. What I recall was deficit in two ares: time and money. If you want to get into cat sailing you will need at least one of the two, and preferably both. Boats you are looking at will need work, parts, etc. Then sailing is very time consuming activity -- trailing, rigging, sailing, derigging, trailing back -- will take you at least 1/2 day at the time. So, sadly, you may be better off concentrating on completing your degree at this time. One idea is to find other sailor in your area to crew with. You may even find someone willing on this forum. You can also try http://thebeachcats.com
As to the H17 you are looking at, check the size and number of the soft-spots. Let us know size and location for every soft spot. Large soft-spots are practically not repairable. Then inspect the sail for delaminations, wing pockets for leaks, and finally remove and inspect center board hook for cracks. You can search this forum for more details on H17, there are plenty.