I was raised with the belief that money is no object when it comes to getting an awesome education.
My family wasn’t rich, but they sent me to the best private school in town. My mom drove me to school each morning in a dented 12-year-old Corolla that cost less than one semester’s tuition.
No one questioned whether my school was an expense or an investment. School choice was never subject to return-on-investment scrutiny.
At Any Cost?
As an adult, I’ve begun to question my family’s “at-any-cost” devotion to education. Maybe colleges should be subject to cost-benefit scrutiny, like any other investment?
Zac Bissonnette reaches a similar conclusion in his book, Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents.
Zac argues that college is worthwhile (compared to only having a high school degree), but the marginal utility of Fancy University vs. Budget College may not be worthwhile.
He makes a compelling case that many of our deeply-held beliefs about attending college are misguided, such as:
The notion we should pay for an out-of-state college or a study abroad program for the worldly “experience.” It’s only four years, Zac says. Suck it up, deal with it, and move somewhere awesome (or travel the world) when you graduate.
The notion that attending a top-tier undergraduate school will help you enroll in an Ivy League graduate program. Zac says that excelling as an undergrad – perhaps by conducting groundbreaking research, launching a small company, or publishing a book – will help you get into a great grad school, far more than a trophy diploma.
The notion that we need to spend hundreds making “campus visits” before selecting a college. Zac argues that this could emotionally sway us to pick one campus over another – “the dorms have hardwood floors! The cafeteria serves pulled-pork sandwiches!” – and it doesn’t make sense to pay tens of thousands extra based on these emotional factors.
“Your child does not want to put himself in a position where he’s living in a dilapidated studio apartment in a bad neighborhood in fifteen years, dutifully sending Sallie Mae checks every month to pay for the wonderful dorm room he stayed in,” Zac writes.
Zac also argues that guidance counselors are encouraged to sway students to attend esteemed (and expensive) colleges because it makes the high school seem more prestigious – “graduates from our high school go on to attend Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Wellesley!”
(I’d love to hear a guidance counselor’s opinion on this statement. Anyone?)
The Bottom Line
I don’t agree with everything he says – but I don’t have to. Zac makes a compelling case that’s worth reading, especially if you have a college-bound kid.
The book is brim-packed with useful facts about the financial aid application process. If you want to learn more about how financial aid works (what increases your eligibility? What ups your expected contribution?), read Zac’s entertaining explanation.
This book is aimed at parents, but Zac writes with a punchy, irreverent humor that appeals to adolescents.
This Book is For You If: You want to read a case for why an in-state school or community college might be a strong choice – or if you just want to learn how the FAFSA works.
This Book is NOT For You If: You’re easily offended – Zac’s positioning is so strong that it might make you mad. Also, avoid it if you’re turned off by irreverent/slap-stick humor.
Check out more than 70 other reviews of Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents.