How to Get Into Your Dream College and Not Break the Bank

Hello there, 

I bet if you are reading this you may have been like me, using money as an excuse to not attend college, or one of those people, who did not think they were smart enough for college. I was one of those people who took two years off of college after high school, and then reluctantly decided to attend  junior college. On the bright side anyone with a GED can attend a JC, as long as you take the placement tests.

When I first started attending JC, I noticed there were a lot of negative stigmas that surround the idea of it. It was associated with those, who did not take their education very seriously and people who spent more than the needed time to obtain their AA or transfer to a four year. It was a go at your own pace on your own dime, way of education.

Junior college is sometimes considered a place for people who are a lost cause. It comes with a level of judgment. You get the “oh that’s cool” response. As opposed to if you go to Berkeley you get the “wow that is really impressive, you must be really smart” response. I’d like to think that isn’t the case for the majority of those attending. I did come across many people, who had no intention of finishing college. A lot people use junior college as a stepping stone to get into a great four year college, and the best part is we never have to take the SAT. 

The idea of junior college is becoming more popular, and a lot of people are going to junior college, because it is a fraction of the cost. Therefore, financially it is a very smart decision. You don’t have to pay for room and board, if you live at home, which is obviously not all that appealing. You can also apply for financial aid to minimize costs. Most of the classes that you take for your general ed transfer over as well! So you aren’t wasting all this time at a four year college, trying to figure out what you want to do for quadruple the price.

 Financial Aid is a beautiful thing, I got reimbursed for my first semester, granted, my first semester only cost me about $700 for tuition, books and supplies. Which, is nothing compared to what Berkeley cost me a semester. Berkeley was $14,000  for tuition each semester, and their parking permit added on another $380, their books would add on another 400+, and that doesn’t even incorporate the cost of rent. Living expenses are absurd.

For those of you, who use the excuse that they can not afford college, you most likely qualify for financial aid and grants. My junior college offered a BOG waiver, which actually waived my tuition, if I maintained good grades, and went to school full time. This was fine by me, because I was trying to get out of there as fast as I could, and financial aid provided me with 4-7k every semester. It was crazy, but who doesn’t love free money.

Getting out of high school, I had pretty much given up on my grades, I did not apply for college, I did not take my SAT, I did not even attend graduation. I was a flaming hot mess. I took two years gathered myself, and took my placement tests for my JC. I unfortunately had to take math and Spanish again, which was not fun. Two years off apparently makes you stupid. I signed up for 16 units, and I never looked back. I even took summer classes every year… 8-12  units each summer.

 I started off pursuing marketing, and business, and I later switched to political science and philosophy.  I was entertaining the idea of law school. I always had this go big or go home mentality, which seems to backfire occasionally, because political science and philosophy isn’t what jobs are looking for outside of college. They are, however, great for law school. #Ooops. 

It took two years to obtain the 60 units I needed to transfer, and I applied to UC Davis, UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, Cal Poly, and San Jose State. I know I sound like an overachiever I apologize. I’d like to believe it was my overly personal, personal essay that got me into Berkeley and LA, but i’m sure the 3.9 GPA I somehow managed helped wonders. I applied to colleges I would have never been able to attend outside of high school. And I did it in exactly 2 years, because when your you want something you get it done.

This is where people screw up, you have to just knock it out of the way and understand that the money comes later. I put in minimum effort for my classes, and still managed to pull off straight A’s. You have to be actively trying to fail the classes at JC, to do poorly. If you attend you should succeed, office hours definitely make the difference between As and Bs. Do not be afraid to get to know your professors at JC, I know my professors would practically beg for students to come to office hours. 

 I narrowed  down my options to UC Davis, UCLA, and UC Berkeley, because those were the three, who had offered me full rides. Yes 25k -30k of financial aid and scholarships. No I did not apply for any of them, I just applied for my FAFSA, and the rest was apparently done for me. I get that not everyone will get this same luxury, and a lot of people have to go through hoops to get scholarships, and grants, but just know they are there for you, and you need only apply. Make sure you fill out your FAFSA every year, because most people do qualify for a pell grant. Most of the people I came across in college were in the same boat as me, and had free rides as well. The grants and scholarships typically require you to maintain a high GPA, and attend school full time, for those of you considering attending part time. 

I almost finished Berkeley a whole semester early, but I decided to change my major to Political Science after my first year. I still graduated at the same time, and even before some people, who had started college years before me. Now that I have graduated a lot of people have asked me how on earth did I get into Berkeley (which means they probably thought I was dumb), and what did I write for my personal essay?

First of all, I was so embarrassed by my personal essay, that I had anxiety for months, thinking maybe I shouldn’t have wrote what I wrote. Thinking it was too personal.  My personality oozed off the page as it does with all my writing. I deleted every copy of it… But I guess it couldn’t have been that bad, because I didn’t scare any of the UC’s off.

However, I remember the gist of what I wrote, which was basically my story and my journey. The real thing I’m sure those UC’s ate up was my concluding statement. I had said that I am the first in my family to attend college, and I am the second oldest out of seven kids. None of which, think college is an option for them, all of which are in dire need of a role model, and that is what I aspire to be for them. 

I learned that in your personal statement for college, while you are limited on words, it is good to be personal, and not to write what you think they want to hear, because they are interested in you as a person, and not what they can already see about you on paper, given your transcripts. For many years of my life I thought that college was off the table for me, and it was amazing to see what I was capable of, and I’m sure everyone is capable of it if they allow themselves to get into the right mindset. You have to want it. 

Steps to get into your dream college- (in a nutshell). 

  1. Take Junior College Seriously
  2. Get good grades
  3. Figure out what you need to transfer for your major on 
  4. Complete all prerequisites
  5. Utilize the Transfer Admissions Guarantee (TAG) program for a college you want to get into (Mine was UC Davis)
  6. Apply for other colleges that are not on the TAG program, because not all UC’s or state schools are on it. 
  7. Write a killer personal essay, with emphasis on the personal part! -You are unique so stand out. 🙂
  8. Don’t be lazy- get into a good college then slack off. Kidding. Kinda. 

Mistakes Millennial’s Make When Trying to Save Money

Saving money can be very difficult, as a 24 year old, starting my career, paying off my student loans, and saving for a house. I’ve come to value my money a lot more. I had to take a good look at where I spend most of my money, and where I can save the most, by establishing my wants and needs.

  1. Buying Starbucks Multiple Times a Week

If you go to Starbucks say five days a week every week for a year you are spending well over a thousand dollars. My grande vanilla latte with almond milk costs me about $6 dollars, if I get a coffee every day five days a week on my way to work then I am spending about $1,440 a year. That is 120 a month, for something that honestly brings me nothing but the sudden urge to use the bathroom.

A good way to stop the habit, is by looking at the ingredients that are in a Starbucks drink. Obviously anything that is not black coffee. It most likely has a minimum of 14g of fat, and is probably around 300+ calories, and the sugar puts it well into the range of diabetes in a cup. I always cut out Starbucks for at least a month, when I am trying to lose weight, and it usually comes off a lot quicker. So save money, and be healthier?

When it comes to saving money it is in your best interest to ditch the Starbucks habit. The lattes, frappuccino, and microwaved breakfast sandwiches, that are usually cold in the middle have got to go! Sorry Starbs. You have to be limited it to a well deserved treat once a month.

2. Not Limiting the Money you Spend on Food

If you have decided to take a look at where you spend the most money, then you have probably realized you spend a lot of it on food. Cutting back on eating out, is one of the easiest ways to cut your monthly expenses in half. My first week at my 9-5, I door dashed food to my office three days a week. After the fees, tip and cost of food, I was spending 20 bucks a day on just lunch. My boss probably spends 100 bucks a week on door dash for lunch. That is 4,800 bucks a year. My 3 days a week is 2,880 bucks a year. That is insane. I could have put that $2,880 towards a vacation. Had I not pissed it away on food.

The reality is to save money you have to be mindful, and stop being lazy, bring lunch, cook at home, and make your own food. It is okay to treat yourself to outings, but try not to do it multiple times a week.

3. Not Staying on the Family Phone Plan

Once upon a time I left the family phone plan, to literally spend 95 bucks a month on my phone, when it is about 40 bucks to be on the family plan. So I spent $1,140 a year, when I could have been spending $480. Possibly nothing at all, because my family was not forcing me to pay for my line prior to me getting my own. Ride this wave as long as possible.

4. Overspending on Alcohol/Bars

If you are going to go out drinking make sure it is either happy hour, with a a killer happy hour deal, or make sure it is bottomless mimosas for brunch. Bottomless mimosas cost around 15 dollars, which means you have to at least consume 3 to make it worth it, given that mimosas are usually around $7 a glass. Going to the grocery store though and getting orange juice, and 2 bottles of champagne for the house is going to cost you well into the 30 dollar range, and.. if you are sharing between 2- 4 people then you are limiting yourself to a glass or two.. just saying think about it 15 dollars unlimited, and a good time. Or else you risk the chance of underestimating the amount it will take to have a mimosa party at home. Either way bottomless mimosas are a steal if you do it right.

If you are a social butterfly who goes out to the bars, stick to vodka soda, rum and coke, beer, or basic drinks, they are 6-7 dollars instead of 12-14 dollars for that fancy cocktail. This will make the difference, between having two drinks for say $14 plus tip, and $24 plus tip give or take.

I had a friend order two long islands at the bar the other week and they were 15 dollars each. My whiskey sour is about 12 dollars, the craft cocktails were well into the 12-14 dollar range. This is for a nice bar, if you really want to save money and still make it out, do the pregame at home, and get a nice buzz before you hit the bar. Also consider getting out to some lovely dive bars for a good time.

5. Not Paying Attention to What you are Buying

Being self aware of how much you spend is key. I use to never think or look before swiping my card. I still don’t…I probably never will. I do however, wish I would do the do I want it, or do I need it test, when buying crap. Had I learned self control, I could have taken myself to Europe twice by now, if I had managed the funds better.

6. Overspending on Rent

Okay! After college if you are moving home, it is okay to stay at the parents house and save up everything you can. Independence is cool, but living paycheck to paycheck is not. I have been on my own for seven years now, paying rent, and I have not been able to save up the dent I need to buy a house. Had I sacrificed my pride, and moved back home to save on rent, groceries, and living expenses. I could have saved a good 30-40k in just a year.

If you are opposed to this idea, then make sure you aren’t spending all of your paycheck on rent, maybe consider roommates to help alleviate the cost. What I found is that when I began the 9-5 life, I really was only home to eat and sleep, and I can do that anywhere, without shoveling out the money to live by myself.

You have to think of the big picture. Do you want to waste $1,500+ on rent a month.. which adds up to around $18,000+ a year, given you spend more on utilities, food, etc. Or do you want to be putting that into your own investment, making you better off in the future and buying a house. I’d personally rather buy a house, and not piss away rent every month, and put the money towards my mortgage.

7. Not Utilizing Budgeting Apps

By determining how much you want to save every week, month, or year, makes it that much more likely, that you will be putting that money aside to reach your goal. Using apps such as mint or albert to budget and manage your expenses is a good way to start saving and reaching your goals, as well as help you see where your money is going every month! You can also use acorns to invest your spare change!