Great College Values in California: Cheap Schools, Scholarships, Tips and More

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What We’re Doing Here

Whether you’re already a state resident or a California Dreamer, this site is the ultimate college resource when it comes to finding the cheapest colleges in California, a list of scholarships offered within the state, accredited online colleges, tips for saving money and much more.

Today, the national college debt stands at $1.2 trillion. Yet, finding a well-paying job without a degree is becoming more and more difficult. We’re here to provide the facts and resources you need to know to obtain a degree without breaking the bank. Did you know that completing the first half of your college degree at a community college could save you thousands of dollars? Read on to find out more on this, other helpful tips and answers to many of your questions about paying for college.

The Need for a Degree

Everybody knows that college can be expensive. Even the cheapest college options are likely more than what the average person can pay out of pocket. However, many people have college degrees today, so you will need some level of a degree to remain competitive in a job market that is already flooded with undergraduate degrees. The millennial generation was told that college was the most important thing to do after high school and we bought it, more so than any other generation before us. As a result, the average undergraduate student finishes school with around $30,000 in debt. In 2011, 21 percent of college graduates had moved back home, unable to afford their students loans on top of the cost of living with the jobs they found.

The problem is the fact that a college degree is still worth the trouble for new students. But how can you get the most out of your college education for the least amount of money? That’s the question this website is here to answer. California has the most extensive public university system in the United States. Still, the student demand overloaded the system during the recession and forced California to adapt by strengthening the relationship between its community colleges and four year schools. This is important because while private universities tend to be much more expensive than public, California’s public universities are still expensive, even for state residents.

Get the Most for your Money

To save money on college, sacrifices must be made. You might not get to have those four years of dorm life you were looking forward to. You might not get to travel to a university outside of your state. You also might have to choose a community college first, and then a public university instead of that pricey private university. But considering the fact that California has one of the best public university systems in the United States, public school looks pretty good. U.S. News & World Report ranks UC, Berkeley and UCLA as 20th and 23rd in the nation, respectively, and they have been referred to as public ivy league schools.

So how can this website help? We provide you with data, as well as strategies formulated from that data, which can help lead you to significant savings on your college education.

Going to college is supposed to provide you with the skills, knowledge and opportunities that will lead you to make good decisions in life. We are here to help California students make good decisions and find the cheapest colleges.


California Education Information, Demographics and Statistics


Top California College Towns by Number of
Colleges and Students


There are 302 non-profit colleges and universities in California, including community colleges and graduate colleges. About 63 percent of those colleges (191) are located in the top five college towns within the state. These five cities are massive population centers, so this makes sense. College towns are attractive to many because the economy of the city tends to cater to college students, but in California, these towns tend to have a higher cost of living compared to many parts of the country.

1. West Hills (Los Angeles), 89 colleges and 234,367 students

2. San Diego, 39 colleges and 157,825 students

3. San Francisco, 24 colleges and 105,015 students

4. Sacramento, 22 colleges and 103,622 students

5. San Jose, 17 colleges and 51,804 students

Cost of Living Margin


LA, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose all boast some of the highest costs of living in the United States. These cities should be avoided by students looking to save money, unless your parents live close enough to the school for you to commute from home. Campus housing prices at the public schools in the area are pretty reasonable, but still add $10,000+ to your bill which is fine if you obtain enough in scholarship and grant money to cover that. Remember, just because you can cover a large bill with loans, doesn’t mean you should. Beware of these major California cities if you want to save money. The cost of living in each area is compared to the national average.

1. West Hills (L.A.): +32% (Housing alone was +102%)

2. San Diego: +33% (Housing alone was +102%)

3. San Francisco: +63% (Housing alone was +198%)

4. Sacramento: +12% (Housing +19%)

5. San Jose: +48% (Housing +148%)

Estimated Resident Cost of Attendance for the Major Public University in the Top Five Cities

Many high school students balk at the prospect of living with their parents through college. But as you will see here, it can save you a significant amount money. Sure, living with parents may not seem like the cool thing to do, but dorms can be loud, distracting and smelly. You also have to consider this question: What’s less cool, living with your parents during college, or moving back in with them after it’s over? Each person’s choice is different. You have to take into account your financial situation, your grades, your ability to get financial aid and the availability of schools around you. Making the choices that best fit your situation, here, can save you tens of thousands of dollars in the long run and land you miles ahead of many of your peers.

1. University of California Los Angeles: $33,199 in dorms, $24,703 with parents.

2. San Diego State University: $24,206 in dorms, $15,556 with parents

3. San Francisco State University: $24,206 in dorms, $15,754 with parents

4. California State University, Sacramento: $23,324 in dorms, $15,494 with parents

5. San Jose State University: $25,414 in dorms, $16,766 with parents

Statistics on Community College Education in California

(Source: California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office)

California has one of the best conversion rates of community college students to their four year universities. This is a huge mark for affordability because a community college education in California is so cheap, it can often be covered by scholarships and grants alone. As a result, students can avoid taking out student loans for their first two years of college, effectively cutting the total cost of college in half. For a long time, community colleges have been maligned as inferior and used in media to insult characters’ intelligence. We would argue that a smarter person makes smarter choices, and choosing California’s community colleges isn’t just smart–it’s the way the state designed their university system to work.

In California, the public university systems are overtaxed because of the large increase in college attendance among the population. The solution for the state of California was to turn their community colleges into places where students could go to figure out their interests, complete their general education requirements and prepare for the challenges of the four-year schools. About 48 percent of graduates in the public university system within the highest-paying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields started their education at community colleges. Most of the community colleges are incredibly cheap.

1. 12.3% of Community College Courses are offered online.

2. 27% of Community College Students take courses online.

3. With 2.1 million students on 112 campuses, California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the United States.

4. 29% of University of California and 51% of California State University students started at California Community Colleges

5. 48% of STEM graduates in the University of California (UC) system started at community colleges.

6. Tuition ranges from $0 at some community colleges to $3,700 at the most expensive.

7. With over 110 community colleges, students should be able to find one within easy driving distance from their home.

8. 70% of the state’s nurses, and 80% of the state’s firefighters train at California community colleges.


General Tips for Getting the Most From Your Education Investment


1. Choose an accredited university.

This may seem obvious, but when choosing a college in California, make sure it is regionally accredited by the regional accreditor for the west, the Western Association of Colleges and Schools. This is extremely important. Students of non-accredited schools do not qualify for federal financial aid.

2. Choose a non-profit school.

Non-profit schools generally offer better financial aid than for-profit schools. Students at for-profit schools average around $40,000 in student loan debt(, which is 30% higher than the national average. Students of for-profit schools also default on their loans at much higher rates and have a harder time finding a job.

3. Choose a public school.

Private schools may get much of the glory in the press and media but they also cost significantly more money (often 30-60 percent more) than their public counterparts. The interesting thing is that, in general, there isn’t much of a difference in respect between public and private schools, except for the Ivy League schools.

4. If you can go to an Ivy League school, or top tech school like Cal Tech or MIT, then do it.

Most of Ivy League and top tech universities offer extensive financial aid options, so they are often less expensive than they appear. The return on investment from an Ivy League education is also astronomical, which make these schools the primary exception to rule No. 3.

5. Do Community College First.

Community college can often be completed for little-to-no money out of pocket and with zero loans. This drastically reduces the cost of higher education, often by 50 percent or more.

6. Treat keeping your grades up like a job.

Merit-based scholarships can often cover large amounts of your college. Sports scholarships may be what most think of when they hear “full ride,” but students with strong academic performances can earn full rides as well, saving as much as $20,000 or more per year. Higher grades can also mean better internships and entry-level positions in your career field.

7. Know what you want to do before you go.

The idea of taking a couple years off after high school sounds scary to a lot of people, but college is an extremely expensive way to “find yourself.” The average college student changes his or her major three times during his or her college career. This can add one or two years to your undergraduate career, and that can get very expensive. If you don’t know what to do after high school, take some time off, get a real job, travel a little, have some experiences and learn about the world. College will be waiting for you when you are ready, so have a specific goal in mind before you go.

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