Zac Bissonnette is a personal finance writer. He wrote Debt Free U while still a senior at the University of Massachusetts. The Washington Post called his book “the best and most troubling book ever about the college admissions process” and it hit #20 on Amazon.com’s bestseller list the day it was released. He has even been featured on The Today Show, Sean Hannity, The Dave Ramsey Show, The 700 Club, and the Fox News Channel.
In DEBT FREE U: How I Paid For An Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, Or Mooching Off My Parents the author has three major claims. First, that ordinary middle-class families can – and must – find ways to avoid student loans, even without scholarships. Secondly, that college rankings are useless. Thirdly, that elite graduate programs accept lots of people with non-elite bachelor’s degrees, and so do the most selective employers.
So what’s the big deal? I’ll give you my thoughts:
- Thoroughly researched: Zac Bissonnette is not just limited to his own experiences. He is a personal finance writer and a talented researcher. He understands that scholarships are not available in the quantity and dollar volume to be a real solution for most people. He has a good grasp of how the tax benefits of higher education work, as well as the Federal Financial Aid system. The book even includes ideas, strategies, and tactics that he himself never had to use.
- Frugal is the new black: this book is written with the worldview that it is possible to go to college without student loans, and still have access to the education, career prospects, and economic prospects that folks typically get into debt for. For those that already believe this, the book is an excellent playbook and an obvious “win”.
- A refreshing alternative for parents, college students, and the college-bound: The job market isn’t great right now. More and more students are graduating with student loans that they have no idea what to do with. For the parents asking “How will my child pay it all back?”, Zac Bissonnette says, “You don’t have to borrow in the first place!”. This unusual advice is just what many families need to calm down, refocus, and take positive action. Within the first quarter of the book, he shows you how parents and children can work together to save and earn enough money within the years of college to pay for the whole thing!
- Difficult pill to swallow: Zac Bissonnette recommends that students work during school (about 10+ hours), and work 40 hours a week in the summer (ideally much more). Most people will have many difficulties doing this, and not all of them are unfounded. For example, youth unemployment rates are at an all-time low so depending where you live, you might find it really hard to pay for college out of pocket. All hope is not lost though; read on for my solutions to these and other potential problems.
What I took away from Debt Free U:
You can raise the money to pay for some, most, or even all of your college education – plain and simple. I have six-figure student loans for a top-ranked education, and if I had read this book I’d probably have about half as much or even less than that.
What you can do right now:
First, go buy the book and read it. If you can’t buy it, get it from a library. Get your child to read it. Get other parents and children you know to read it. Send this review to the Parents Teachers Association at your school, your teachers, and administrators. Start a movement!
Second, discuss it privately your college-aged or college-bound child. Based on the skills and talents in your household, what are the best ways can you raise money? What are the best ways you can cut costs? Please do whatever you can, because every bit counts.
Third, please remember that it’s not a zero sum game — this is extremely important. If you can manage to earn enough money to pay interest on student loans while in college, that will make a huge difference. If you can pay full tuition for the first one or two years, it will make an even bigger difference. If you can decide up front for the child to go to college from home or move back for a year or two after graduation, you’ll be way ahead of the curve.
Even if after reading this book you decide that its tips and strategies just don’t apply to you, you’ll be better for having thought about it. You won’t graduate with student loans and wish someone told you. The book was published in 2010 so it didn’t exist when I was in high school or college – whatever you learn from it can save you thousands of dollars!!!