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.