I came across this article while catching up on my weekend reading on hacker news, and it inspired me to write my personal journey in obtaining my undergraduate engineering (Computer Science) degree for less than a Volkswagen Jetta. Ha!

Note: Before I move any further. Let me make it clear that the following only applies in the State of California, and if you’re a U.S. Citizen, Legal Resident, Deferred Action recipient or AB-540 student; you’re covered.

My journey in the higher education path began right after I graduated High School in June, 2004. I remember asking my counselor if I had an opportunity in getting accepted at any University, his straight forward answer was “No!” I didn’t have the highest SAT and ACT scores (SAT I: 997 & SAT II: 1,057) and (ACT I: 22 & ACT II: 23) feeling a bit discouraged I put on hold my college dream for about three years. I should note one alternative route that my counselor failed to mention, a route that is often ignored; the Community College route!

After almost losing my left hand in a work related accident earning just $9.80, and not advancing at dead end jobs I began to educate myself with the resources available to me on how to pay for college out of my own pocket. It was pretty damn simple, I had to work for it. Ha!

On January, 2008 I enrolled at Irvine Valley College (Community College) with a $500 loan from my mother and a private $1,000 scholarship I had earned when I graduated High School; some private scholarships don’t expire always check with your school district. I was twenty-one years young and I can now admit that I was lost! I still remember why I had enrolled and let me say it wasn’t for the ‘traditional’ reasons; nope. I had an agenda to earn an undergraduate degree at that time based on family bitterness. Sounds pretty dark but boy was I motivated.

I remember that my first semester was pretty exciting I took a nine unit semester load (Astronomy, Career Exploration & Intro. to Computer Science) I found “brains” that I didn’t know I had, hehehe. Everything was going great, I was part of on campus activities and became an executive board member of the “young engineers club“. Then my whole life changed for the best!

I became a father nine months after I enrolled my first semester of College. All the bitterness was gone. When I witness my sons birth, something inside of me changed! I can’t explain it. It was beautiful!

Okay, let’s get back on track. The resources: It’s pretty simple. If you’re a community college student and already know what you want to major in, you have three options in pursuing your undergraduate degree.

Option One: IGETC – University of California Admissions

Option Two: CSU – California State University

Option Three: Cross Enrollment – Best Option and available at all Community Colleges (As long as you meet the requirements)

Here’s how cross enrollment works. If you already know what UC or CSU campus you want to attend but can’t wait or don’t have the cash to do it, petition your application with your college counselor and pay community college tuition per unit at a UC or CSU campus; other campus fees are extra. Yes, you read it correct. As of this writing pay only $42 per unit at a UC or CSU campus! This option can save you a lot of cash and even save you from any student loan debt.

Here’s the math (I will use myself as an example):

Irvine Valley College Tuition (2 years): 60 transferable units x $42 = $2,520 (Not including books; this is another issue)

California State University, Dominguez Hills (2 1/2 years): $6,134 per academic years x 2 1/2 = $15,335 (Again this does not include fees, books and living expenses)

Let’s sum it all up: Total: $17,855

Now let’s add the lab fees and book rentals (I encourage you to rent and not buy your books): $4,142

Grand total for your (four year) undergraduate engineering degree at a California State University campus: $22,000

Now, $22,000 is a small investment, the starting salary of a new college graduate in Computer Science is $75,000 +. Great return in investment if you ask me.

I hope this information will help someone, I believe that anyone; yes anyone can afford their higher education. But you must be willing to work hard for it, the resources are out there you just need to find them. But before you look, find your own path and passion what you want to do in life. I don’t work! I wake up every single day hearing waves crash on shore, I get to smell the salty air and I take a quick drive to do my passion. Once you find yours, you will understand. Cheers.

Update: Want a Graduate Degree in Computer Science from Georgia Tech for $7,000? Salaries with an M.S. in Computer Science exceed $120,000. Learn more here.