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An Irreverent Take On College Admissions–Zac Bissonnette and Debt Free U

Debt Free U Cover Image Zac BissonnetteI’ve had the pleasure of meeting Zac Bissonnette through various social media platforms.  He’s making a splash with his new book, Debt Free U:  How I Paid an Outstanding Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching Off My Parents.  He’s been on the Suze Orman Show, the Sean Hannity show, and today he was on Today.

I have read his book cover to cover, and am glad (relieved?) to report that he actually quoted me in it.  Zac takes a contrarian view of college selection and admission.  Like Jay Mathews, who wrote a review of the book on his blog, I find this to be one of the best books out there on financial aid and college admission.  Zac, at the ripe old age of 22, resembles the boy who shouted that the Emperor is naked.  And he’s right:  naked as a jaybird.

I’m honored that Zac has agreed to guest write a few blog posts in response to some my questions about selecting colleges and about financial aid in general.  These posts will give you a teaser of his book (which was just released today, by the way).  But I heartily recommend the book to anyone and everyone who is jittery about college admissions and financial aid.  Zac provides a healthy tonic for what ails us in this business.

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What do you think is the A-Number 1 most important aspect of finding the right college fit?

Here’s the deal: attending a college that isn’t the right financial fit — and requires you to loot your retirement or saddle your kid with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans — has a much higher probability of ruining your child’s life than sending him to a college that isn’t the right fit in other ways. Families need to adopt more of a “suck it up and think long-term” attitude when it comes to college in order to avoid the consequences that so many graduates with excessive debt are dealing with. Don’t make the next twenty years of your life crappy in order to make the next four years as good as they can possibly be: recognize that the quality of the college experience is determined primarily by the student, not the school.

What do you think is the single greatest failing of college counselors everywhere, whether they be school counselors or private counselors like me?

I think guidance counselors aren’t cynical enough. They lead kids through this emotionally charged process of finding a school with blinders on and they really need to grab kids and say “Listen. No one cares about you except you. These admissions officers and financial aid people don’t care about you, and they especially don’t care about your financial life after you graduate.”

Guidance counselors should be spending the bulk of their time with students warning them about the dangers of student loans — the consequences of default, the ever-rising default rates, and the negative impact of student loans on lives even for students who don’t default. I’ve never heard of a guidance counselor pulling a kid aside and saying “If you want to go to graduate school, you need to pursue an affordable undergraduate option.” And yet a Nellie Mae survey I talk about the book shows that 38% of borrowers reported that their student loans contributed to their decision to forgo grad school!.

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Tomorrow, look for another installment from Zac. Then go buy his book.

Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant

 

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