A very interesting post, for sure. As a recent CTI graduate, I must say that if I applied off the street, I would have washed out, early. After graduating, I now feel prepared and informed and I know what to expect at Oklahoma City when I go for training.
As for the FAA, I agree that they are a horrible employer, especially after talking to retired controllers. Looking at your post, I do see that you have a place in mind (JFK Tower) and while that is great (you'll never be bored) realistically, they run lots of traffic daily and starting new there will be extremely stressful and overwhelming.
First off, there are a few ways to get into the FAA as a controller: You can have recent military experience or be a veteran, graduate a CTI school OR apply off the street. You must, of course, wait for the application to become available to do such and as of right now, there is no current public application open at this time. Personally, I will say that going to a CTI school has many benefits and yes, you will learn MORE than a Private Pilot ground course (the schools DO teach you, especially if you do your homework and go to the right school). Having some sort of training through a CTI school is a large benefit to you, especially after you graduate. As long as you meet all of their requirements (basically, maintaining an 80% or better in all of the required classes), they recommend you to the FAA (in other words, your name is placed on the FAA's Direct Hire list). Once an application for CTI graduates open, you simply apply and wait for a phone call or e-mail. Most CTI grads are sent to Oklahoma City and most make it through.
As for the AT-SAT, this is tricky. Not so much the test itself, but actually signing up to take it. Since I went through a CTI school, I didn't have to do much at all; the school sent my name to the FAA stating that I could take the test and when one was available in the area, I was notified. It is an 8 hour test and will require you to be there all day, but they do give you two breaks and a lunch break. It is computerized and the FAA states that you do not need to study for it. True, but I did find that studying for it was a large benefit. I recommend this book to you; it comes with a CD that has the AT-SAT Test prep software included:
"Air Traffic Control Career Prep: A Comprehensive Guide to One of the Best-Paying Federal Government Careers, Including Test Preparation for the Initial ATC Exams" by Patrick Mattsonhttp://www.amazon.com/Traffic-Control-Career-Prep-Comprehensive/dp/1560276142
I purchased this book and must say that it helped me a good bit. It's probably the best reference you will find about the career to date.
As for the process to get from now to JFK Tower, it depends on how you apply. If you apply off the street, they'll ask for up to 5 states to choose. You have to choose at least 1, but don't have to choose more than that. After that, eventually they'll contact you to set up either an interview or to take the AT-SAT. If you take the AT-SAT first (likely scenario) and get better than an 80%, eventually they'll get ahold of you for an interview and to start background/security clearances. At the interview, you will get offered a facility and get a tentative Oklahoma City start date. You can decline
up to two facilities. Once you are given your third offer, you take it or find another career. There is no decline as many as you want, you are only offered three. If you are not given JFK tower (don't be surprised), take a facility that allows you to get your foot in the door, opportunities to transfer will arise down the road.
To tour a control tower, contact them. Many numbers can be found on the AOPA website at www.aopa.org
As for websites, yes good luck, there aren't many. I did recently start a blog to address such issues. You can get there by going to: http://atcontrol101.blogspot.com/
If you have any questions, you can reply here or leave a comment on my blog. Again, I just started it and it does not have a lot of information just yet, but I'm working on it. Personally, you're best bet is a CTI school for the experience and knowledge... apply now if you can. If you would like, a good 2-year school is CCBC here in Pennsylvania, but they are backlogged with the program (CTI students aren't quitting because of low pay... believe me). Their website is www.ccbc.edu