Mine: straight talk from an accountant on how to finance college, with an emphasis on the need for parents and students to discuss finance — and its impact on college choice — from the very beginning, rather than waiting til April 1st when decision letters provide the cost of attendance. The advisor said,
“It’s not fair to ask a teen to make a decision of this magnitude without helping him or her learn how to process such a decision and how to consider the long term impact on their lives.”
Not long after that I ran into this book: Debt-Free U, by Zac Bissonnette. I remembered seeing something about it when it first came out but at that point, just a year and a half ago, college seemed far away.
Bissonnette is impressive. He started his first business in second grade (the Oriental Trading Company was his supplier) and never looked back.
“Watching my parents struggle with money when I was young has been the key factor in making me as financially responsible and ambitious as I am today… I spent a good chunk of my youth figuring out various ways to make money.”
He’s hard core — seriously hard core — about avoiding student and parent loans. He makes the case that a motivated student can achieve an engaging, top-notch education at most public universities if the student is willing to make the most of the opportunity. Sometimes the writing veers into self-help cadence (“You, too, can avoid debt….”) that gets tedious. Of course, one reads this book for… help.
Zac Bissonnette’s tips on achieving a college education in the smartest financial manner:
1. Effectively: pay cash. No student loans. No parent loans. Get second or third jobs, start at a community college, attend public universities, pay fees in monthly installments, forget trying to find the perfect fit, make the most of what your family can afford to pay for.
2. Graduate in four years. Take summer courses at a community college, take a full course load each semester, don’t fail any classes, don’t study abroad. “A better idea? Graduate on time, save money, and then travel.” Finish in three years to save 25%.
3. Work during college, especially work that will help move you toward a career, move off campus as soon as possible, and stay out of credit card trouble.
A couple more points:
According to Bissonnette, the four people most closely involved with a prospective student and his family are not there to help:
- The guidance counselor, if he or she has the time to help with applications, has no training as a financial advisor.
- The college admissions counselor is a sales person. “The reality is that admissions officers have far more in common with car salesmen than with the world of academia they are ostensibly part of.”
- The financial aid advisor is a sales person. These people work for the college, not for you.
- Family and friends provide more peer pressure than real financial guidance.
Financial aid is offered on an annual basis; what a student receives freshman year is not guaranteed beyond that. “One of the most heinous methods that colleges use in awarding financial aid is what I like to call the crack-dealer method. They give you a good deal on the first hit and then jack up the price.”
There’s much, much more. I don’t agree with everything Bissonnette recommends (and he doesn’t expect me to), I have great respect for the choices he made for himself (and his family), and I appreciate the choices he suggests students and families consider.
Title: Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching Off My Parents
Stars (out of 5): 4
- The Gift That Keeps on Giving: Graduating Debt-Free (mint.com)
- Affluent parents should make their kids pay some college costs (costofcollege.wordpress.com)
- Can your kids attend college without loans? A review of Debt-Free U (ginasmom.com)
- Student Debt: How High Will it Go? (drstrangecollege.wordpress.com)