I received my Computer Science degree in just six months. With some prior knowledge, so could you. I took only two classes, invested about 10,000 USD, and never set foot at the university.
I never attended college before. By the time I finished high school, I already had a career going, and taking a 4-years detour felt like too much. I never had compelling reasons to revisit that choice.
But recently, things have changed – I got really interested in data science.
Don’t you find it mind-blowing that you can have a conversation with Siri while your Tesla is driving you to an automated Amazon Go store? I surely did. I wanted to understand how all these things worked but lacked theoretical background. It was like an itch I couldn’t scratch.
I tried learning on my own but found data science impenetrable. The online courses were too shallow, the academic books too advanced. I needed a guided step-by-step program focused just on that. In short: a Master’s degree.
The only obstacle was my lack of the required Bachelor’s diploma.
But I was far from letting go. Years of hustling have taught me there is always a way. Indeed, this time was no different.
The way towards the degree
Here’s the gist: I transferred 38 carefully picked ACE-recommended courses and exams and had them applied towards my degree. Confused? Keep reading.
A typical US bachelor’s degree requires taking about 40 classes worth 3 credits each, for a total of 120 credits.
You can transfer these credits between universities to retain your progress. Suppose you spent a few semesters at MIT and then found how cold the winters in Boston can be. You crave bathing in the Californian sun, so you send a few applications. Berkeley is the first to respond; you’re in. Hurray! You ask MIT to send the transcript of your progress to Berkeley, so you don’t need to retake the same classes. The forecast says it will be hot, so you pack some extra sunscreen and head to the airport.
Now here’s the magic trick: Besides college classes, many universities also accept courses and exams recommended for credit by the American Council on Education (ACE). The list covers proctored exams like TECEP or CLEP and specific online courses from study.com, straighterline.com, saylor.org, sophia.org, and the likes. You just need to take the course, send a transcript to your college, and abracadabra – one less class to go.
Many universities will not accept more than 60 or 70 transfer credits, but a few will. A friendly community of like-minded people at degreeforum.net pointed me to three such colleges: Thomas Edison State University (TESU), Excelsior, and Charter Oaks State College. They called them “Big 3”. All have regional accreditation, remote learning programs, and liberal credit transfer policies. One university didn’t even teach all the classes required for a degree. You had to transfer them from somewhere else.
I only needed to choose the specific degree program. I was interested in a Computer Science program in which every required course had an ACE-recommended counterpart. A few hours of research and cups of coffee later, I looked at a rough map of my future Bachelor’s degree at TESU.
I listed 38 external courses and exams to fulfill 114 out of the 120 credits required for the degree. The remaining six credits had to be earned at TESU by taking two mandatory classes: SOS-101 Critical Information Literacy and LIB-495 Capstone. I confirmed my plan with the admissions office and sent my application the same day.
From that moment, I spent most of my time doing ACE-recommended courses from sophia.org. Every week I crossed out a few from my list. I started with Introduction to Information Technology, and it only took me a few hours to finish. Saying it was encouraging would be an understatement. I was overflowing with enthusiasm! I used that energy to take College Algebra, Foundations of Statistics, and Macroeconomics. A couple of days later, I had three more courses on my transcript.
Shortly afterward, I got admitted to TESU and immediately enrolled in the required information literacy class. It was relatively easy, and I scored an A. On the downside, writing the required seven essays slowed down my progress on Sophia. Nonetheless, I kept pushing. Once I ran out of Sophia courses, I moved on to study.com, taking Calculus, Database Management, and other CS-specific courses.
By the time I finished the first semester, I already had 94 credits on my TESU transcript. Then I enrolled in the capstone class, where I was tasked with writing a scientific paper. I was curious about what AI researchers do, so I wrote a paper titled AI and the future of pharmaceutical research. In the meantime, I completed all the remaining ACE courses. And that was it! I ended my second semester with all 120 required credits.
In March 2021, I got my degree. Here’s a cherry on top: My GPA is 4.0. Why? ACE courses don’t count towards the GPA, and I only took two classes, scoring A in both.
What did I get?
As my diploma arrived, I reflected.
I realized that a Bachelor’s degree is not just about knowledge. It is a rite of passage to the world of adulthood. It is about building relationships and networking. It is about developing grit, organization, and consistency by showing up and putting in the effort even if it’s not your best day.
My academic journey was faster because it was lacking. There was very little personal growth, breakthrough insights, or study groups. I had to fill in these blanks with what I already knew about discipline, learning, and respecting deadlines. My career was a tough teacher and prepared me well. It wasn’t easy, though. Ten years ago, I would have likely failed.
But now I had the diploma, and I still wanted to know how these self-driving Teslas worked.
So I enrolled in an online Data Analytics program at Georgia Tech and got admitted. Woo-hoo! But then something unexpected happened: I dropped out a week into my first semester. Why? Well, that’s a story for another essay!