VOC LAB recently partnered with a network of charter high schools in San Diego to lead a new workshop series. Graduating seniors at High Tech High Schools must secure and complete an internship during the month of May in order to graduate from HTHI. VOC LAB created a customized workshop series to facilitate eleven graduation seniors as they secure internships within their respective areas of interest. This workshop series runs from January to March of 2016. Stoke level is high at HTHI. 





Maybe you have a fully funded 529 college savings plan with over $200,000 ready to fund your private school education. Maybe you meet the average admissions profile at a UC campus like San Diego with a 4.13 GPA, composite ACT score of 30 and a combined SAT score of 2,035. If you’re one of these people, you can stop reading now. You can sit this one out. You’re covered.

This post is for young men and women with limited financial resources and/or less than perfect standardized test scores and GPAs who want to maximize their return on time and money in college. 

There's probably a few of you who fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. You’re welcome here too. VOC LAB loves all of you. And we’re just trying to be helpful.

This post can teach you how to play the game here in California. Other states offer very similar programs. You can search the web page of your local community college to identify steps and make this happen in your home state. We've done the research. We are confident that you'll find similar programs in your home state.



What would you say if I told you that:

  • You can enjoy your last two years of high school, skip the SAT and all the college admissions anxiety and pretending?
  • You can spend under $30,000 in total tuition over 4 years to obtain a diploma from a University of California campus like San Diego, Santa Barbara or Davis?
  • You can secure guaranteed transfer acceptance into a UC campus with a 2.0 high school GPA, no SAT / ACT scores and a 2.9 Community College GPA?
  • You can complete your first 60 semester units of college in a relaxed, exploratory, stress free manner because you aren’t racking up tuition costs and student loan debt?

Read on. It’s all true.


When I met Mackenzie Kelly in 2011, he was 18 years old and working at a bike shop. He had never taken the SAT or applied to college out of high school. Mackenzie worked to cover his own living expenses and enrolled at Cabrillo Community College, near Santa Cruz, CA. His community college tuition was paid for with student aid from FAFSA. He earned 70 credits and a 3.75 GPA there between 2010 and 2014.


During his time at Cabrillo, Mackenzie lived by the beach in Santa Cruz. He enjoyed racing his bike with his friends (pictured below). He took a wide variety of classes and explored his interests before deciding that he wanted to study political science. Mackenzie took his time and made decisions on his own terms. He didn’t feel any pressure to make decisions because he was racking up student loan debt or asking mom and dad to pay huge tuition bills during this exploratory process. In June of 2016, Mackenzie will graduate from UCLA summa cum laude with a degree in political science.

How did this happen?

  • He never wasted his time taking SAT / ACT tests. 
  • No one ever asked to see his high school GPA. 
  • Cabrillo Community College tuition was free with FAFSA.
  • His total tuition bill for a UCLA diploma will be $26,502

How did he beat the system?

The answer: community college

Here’s a picture of Mackenzie and I in 2015.


These simple steps will ensure your guaranteed acceptance into a UC campus from a community college:


  • When you begin community college, schedule your classes with an IGETC form in hand. An IGETC is a general education program offered to California community college students that facilitates smooth and easy transfer into 6 different UC campuses. Community college students can obtain guaranteed UC campus acceptance after completing 60 semester credits from classes on the IGETC list. Here’s a detailed description:http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/glossary/igetc.html


  • The golden ticket for a community college student looking to transfer into a UC is the TAG. This Transfer Admission Guarantee offers guaranteed transfer admission to seven UC schools. Berkeley and UCLA are excluded from this list. Details on the TAG program here:http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/glossary/tag.html



With tuition of $46 per unit at Santa Barbara Community College, you can complete your minimum of 60 semester units, apply with a TAG and guarantee your admission into UC Santa Barbara for under $2,670 in total tuition.

Many SBCC classes use the same text books as UCSB. Same classes. Same text books. Less money. No brainer.

Here’s a photo of Santa Barbara Community College campus. It doesn’t suck.


PS - My wife Deniz and I rented out that lawn there above the ocean for our wedding ceremony. It was a beautiful day at SBCC.


The choice to attend community college can be a relaxing, yet strategic and fiscally responsible decision rather than a last resort. It could be a decision that creates even better options for your future while providing more time to explore and less pressure in your life.


Mackenzie is someone who figured out the rules of the game, played it skillfully, funded his own education and obtained a UCLA diploma at a fraction of the cost that others paid for their diplomas. Most private school diplomas cost over $200,000. Most UCLA diplomas cost over $53,000. Mackenzie's diploma will cost $26,502.

What could be a more effective way to demonstrate the intelligence and strategic mindset that it takes to solve difficult problems and create real world solutions?

Isn’t this what corporations and institutions are looking for in entry level job applicants?

Aren’t these the kinds of skills that successful professionals, creatives, engineers, sales people and entrepreneurs demonstrate every day at work?

I tend to think so.


We’re all different. We all learn differently. We all want different things from our lives. We all have different levels of financial support behind us. Let's consider some of the downside in making the choice to take the same path that Mackenzie took from community college to UC diploma.

Today, six of my closest friends are guys who lived on the same floor as me in the freshman dorms. We've been friends now for almost 20 years. Meeting them and experiencing college together was fun.

I was able to connect with two professors during my freshman year who went on to become real mentors for me throughout my time in school. There’s something to be said for these two things. There's real value there.

Students show up for freshman year at a four year school seeking out new friends and community. Universities offer an abundance of resources to help facilitate the creation of community amongst the student body. Transfer students don't tend to enjoy these benefits the way that four year students do.

Taking this community college to UC path could present more challenges in terms of making new friends in college. That said, you have to question the logic of needing to spend between $15,000 and $50,000 a year so that you can make friends. 

People will tell you about something called "the college experience." It tends to involve making friends and having fun together. But let's be honest. For most college students, this tends to revolve around frequent binge drinking, pot-smoking, video-game playing and other activities that don't really help you progress towards adulthood or move forward in any meaningful way. If someone tells you about this "college experience" you might ask them to explain further and really listen to what they have to say. For the most part, this concept was lost on me. 


Let's move back to the upside of this equation. Understand that student loan debt can meaningfully limit your future possibilities to do something entrepreneurial or to follow your passion. $1100 a month in student debt during your twenties and thirties can definitely impact your freedom during that time. Education should increase your options. Student loan debt limits your options and possibilities.


This path from community college to UC that Mackenzie took isn’t for everyone. But for those who don’t have perfect grades, perfect test scores, mountains of cash and a clear idea of what they want to study, community college can be a very smart and strategic choice. Community college can offer you more options, less pressure, less debt, a better diploma and more fun.

All these dynamics need to be considered when selecting what kind of education is going to work for you. Education is not a one size fits all proposition. We hope this post was helpful for you. We are rooting for you as you work your process in finding the right education for you and your life. Let us know how we can be helpful to you and your process.


Thanks for reading.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

- This post was written by Stu Bone with research contributions from Ian Stowe and Mackenzie Kelly



After thoughts, details, asterisks and side notes:


*TAG exclusions: UC Berkeley and UCLA are excluded from the TAG program. Mackenize earned transfer admission into UCLA without a TAG. TAGs work at the following UC campuses: Davis, Irvine, San Diego, Merced, Riverside, Santa Cruz.


*Misbelief that community colleges are overcrowded: One limiting belief about community colleges is that required courses are difficult to enroll in because of overcrowding. Most Community Colleges offer priority registration to graduates of local high schools. This priority registration means that you will be able to register for all the required courses that your IGETC form demands in a timely manner. Don’t let that limiting belief hold you back.

Another way to overcome the overcrowding issue in Community Colleges is by “crashing” the class on the first day. Approach the teacher before and after the first class and explain that you will audit until you can enroll. Demonstrate your interest, motivation and enthusiasm. Invariably, you’ll be enrolled in classes that were initially reported to be full. In truth, a large percentage of registered students fail to show up. Like most teachers, community college professors tend to appreciate it when students are focused and want to learn.


*Tuition pricing at 4 year colleges and Universities: For many people, standard tests, admissions protocols and college football team hype obscures the fact that colleges are master marketers selling a consumer good (diploma) to consumers (students). When a venerated institution tells you that you have been "accepted" into their community, sometimes we forget to really ask ourselves What will this really cost? and How will I actually pay for it?

Here are a few examples of the quoted tuition amounts at each of the following colleges. This pricing does not include room and board. When reading them, consider that Mackenzie is obtaining a degree from UCLA for $26,510 in total tuition:

Chapman University: $46,500 per year, $186,000 four years

Pepperdine: $46,440 per year, $185,760 four years

University of Colorado Boulder (out of state): $33,462 per year, $133,848 four years

University Texas at Austin, (out of state): $34,836 per year, $139,344 four years

University Washington (out-of-state): $49,338 per year, $197,352 four years

Colgate: $49,970 per year, $199,880 four years

Pomona College: $45,832 per year, $183,328 four years

Wesleyan: $48,704 per year, $194,816 four years

Northwestern: $49,047 per year, $196,188

Columbia: $53,000 per year, $212,000 four years

Duke: $49,498 per year, $197,992 four years 

These numbers are insane. Consider also that these amounts need to be paid with after-tax dollars. There is no deduction for tuition expenses or student loan payments. a $50,000 tuition bill alone will take the first $100,000 of gross income for whoever is footing the bill. This is true whether mom and dad are paying now or young buck is repaying the student loans later.


Thanks for reading.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.