College books: Paying for College

 I know this is a VERY long post. Why not bookmark it and read about one resource per day?


Books for Parents or Students Alike


(This review, in slightly altered form, appeared first at my old blog.)

Zac Bissonnette has revolutionized how we SHOULD look at paying for college.

What I learned from the book:

  1. He’s RIGHT!! Housing at school IS a HUGE rip-off!! $600 a month for housing + meals that DO cost as much as eating out. Wow! Just plain Wow! Many liberal arts colleges and many scholarships require living in college housing.
  2. Community College is a very worth while option. You get what you put into it and then some. You do have to be motivated to get what you are seeking though and that can be a problem for kids raised with hovering parents.But, that’s not really any different than at a big state university. UPDATE: Most states now offer public school students who meet certain critera the chance to take dual-enrollment course to earn both high school and college credit. The student then graduates from high school with two years of college done. This is a no-brainer for any capable student.
  3. Invest in college town real estate. Nice idea, but not possible for many families.
  4. Check your assigned version of the textbook against the older ones–probably not much difference (if any, aside from design or type face, maybe a few newer references) that can save you hundreds of dollars. As a librarian I can tell you this is EXCELLENT advice. The cost savings, especially when buying used online, can be staggering. He also does the math to show a great comparison (that is perfectly legal, ethical) on renting versus buying and reselling textbooks.
  5. Skip work-study jobs unless they’re heavily weighted to study time or provide a real stepping stone to your career. Excellent advice, although at a small college in Nowhereville, the college may be the main employer. (
  6. Selling on Ebay–I know a lot of folks do this as a 2nd income. This looks like a good possibility for some extra income.
  7. Take Independent Study to enhance your career goals by working on projects that can actually turn into something to help your career. (I did this and he’s right.)
  8. Become a bartender or sales person: At a state u this isn’t a bad choice if you can stay sober. The author likes commission sales jobs. I wonder if this is really practical for a student. With the economy in the tank I wonder what LEGALLY sold products would bring in real money right now?? (Happily he warns students off Multi-level Marketing deals like Quixtar/Amway or “make $$$ in your dorm room” scam deals.) I suppose there are stores that pay commissions–furniture, carpet, appliances, some clothing stores.
  9. Temping. This is only as good as the economy in the area of your college, but he’s right, it can be an excellent deal.

What he missed:

Co-op and ROTC

Unless I’m blind, he missed two of the best ways to get a degree, get experience and graduate with a job: Co-op and ROTC.

  1. Cooperative education (co-op) is a program that lets students work for an employer in their chosen field part of the year and study part of the year. The student often then works for the same employer after graduation. May not cover all expenses, but it’s a huge help. While this is most common in degrees like engineering, there may be others. Ask and keep asking until you get the answer at your university.
  2. ROTC. True, the military is not for everyone. And, also true, the military is scaling back. But ROTC is still a great program. Leadership training is valuable in any field. A guaranteed job for a few years after graduation with housing and benefits thrown is a good thing, too. You do have to qualify with decent grades and meet the physical requirements. You also have to pick a school with an ROTC program. Not hard if you are going to a state school. And, many private colleges have ROTC thru a local state school as well. (Since writing this review several years ago, ROTC Scholarships have been cut dramatically, but are still available. For an outstanding student, the United States Military Academies should always be considered. Free, outstanding education.)


Be a Residence Halls Assistant

Another one he missed–work as a Resident Assistant in the dorms and get all or some of your housing/meal bill paid. GREAT suggestion!!

He doesn’t seem to mention much about the fabled

Welfare-to-Work Option

The “welfare to work” option.  No actual government assistance, just public high school. By this I mean, going to Career Center or Vocational Technical School in the last two years of high school. After graduating, get job with that qualification and work until you have a job with real with tuition reimbursement or a tuition benefit. Say, for example, you get an office tech certificate. Find a job somewhere doing word processing, data entry, call center, copy shop work, etc. See what the employer will pay for–only a business degree? Better than nothing!

Or, earn a CMA and then go to work and let them pay you to become an LPN and then a BSN. Or get a the Career Center qualifications and then work in that area to support yourself during college to earn the degree you want. Yes, you CAN take college prep–even AP courses at a public high school career or vocational school. And, yes, their graduates go to REAL colleges. One boy from ours went with a successful patent on his resume!

Who should read this book?

First-generation college students and their parents. Absolutely. Folks who really haven’t been able to save and invest for college. Young adults sick of their no-benefits, 2 or 3 cobbled-together part-time jobs who are now ready to try college (or try it again). Folks who think life is over if their kid has to go to a state U or (gasp!!) community college due to being…er….ah.. UNDER-motivated (shall we say). Newly divorced or otherwise single parents who need an education to survive. All are going to get something out of this book.


Take away moment for EVERYONE from the book:  The author did it. No debt for college. He did it. You can too. The world will still hire you if you don’t go to Harvard. Well, except maybe Goldman-Sachs.

There are many excellent ideas in this book, but it’s the outlook–college without debt, that makes this so worthwhile. I recommend this to EVERY parent out there whose kids “might” go to college. Best of all, if your kid is off to college this fall, its not too late to apply many of these ideas for the coming school year. Debt Free U by Zac Bissonnette.


landlordNote: I was given a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for my review.

Michael O’Dell recounts his own story of buying real estate and renting it to pay off his huge student loan bill. Mind you, he did not use anything to pay off the debt, but the money made from his real estate holdings. This is a conversational book–like listening to him tell you the story–so it reads fast and its tips are easy to apply. The lesson here is why not do this instead of taking out student loans? If a young person is in high school, encourage them to save and buy a house they can rent to roommates while going to college. Win-win. Friends get safe roommates, reasonable rent and a better college experience while the “investor-student” gets a “free” college education. Landlord Away Your Student Loan Debt by Michael O’Dell.


There are amazing scholarships out there that go begging every year. This young woman financed her education by digging them up, applying for them and winning them. She was not a star athlete or a straight A student with perfect ACT scores. But, she did it.  And, so did my niece–although she did not cover ALL of college with scholarships–just “most” of it. Are you the decedent of a documented WWI veteran? Was your mother of Croatian descent? Was your grandfather an accordion player? Scholarships are given for some pretty wild reasons. Your state and your University may also have some only available to in-state students or only to students at a certain state university. Dig, Dig, Dig to find them. Some states also give free tuition to kids adopted from the Foster Care system–regardless of the age at adoption or other factors. Check with your state government’s web site for more details. Confessions of a Scholarship Winner, by Kristina Ellis.

Parents of Middle School or Early High School Students:



Like Zac Bissonnette, Blake Boles has an innovative way of looking at education. No accident that I found this one when my son was doing home school for part of high school. This book can help your child identify their passion (yes, I DO hate that “find your passion” thing when its an excuse to do nothing until then).It takes a kid from the lock-step of high school out into the real world by taking them seriously and helping them follow their own vision for life. Maybe they write novels and really should connect with an agent? Maybe their talent is for growing vegetables and they want to start an organic CSA? Maybe they are into the arts and are ready for a career. Maybe though, they have an idea for a niche eBay shop or to handmake and sell on Etsy. Maybe The Cake Boss has spawned an interest in cakes and custom birthday parties. It doesn’t matter what it is, if they are passionate, it could very well lead to a life they will love. Too often we, as concerned parents, think too rigidly–will they get health insurance or a 401(K) in that work? Will they ever be able to move out of the house?

Here are some examples from my own son’s life. At age 14 his career goals were pretty typical: Be an MMA fighter, a rap star and a tattoo designer. Using this book, we took those seriously. While he homeschooled, he took Mixed Martial Arts as a “subject,” then he did a tremendous amount of art–art history and studying different artists, trying their styles and applying what he learned to his tattoo designs. He has a tremendous talent for writing raps–this is a big deal in the teen years for many today. To improve he studied the grammar and structure of poetry, visited a recording engineering school, read reams of poetry from all eras and filled composition books with his own rap lyrics, of illustrated with tattoo designs We also explored DJ Businesses and designs for logos and marketing campaigns.

Today, at 21, my son has outgrown these, but they showed him what it takes to achieve success.  The other point here is, some colleges give “Life Credits” (called different things) or allow “Independent Study” or  a customized major. He could very realistically have turned the art and poetry into an independent study credits in college or even a customized major by adding in classes in popular culture, music history, studio art, etc. He’d have started a degree–had he wanted to formalize his education–ahead. He still writes raps and wants to sell his lyrics, but is shy. I understand that–I was too shy to share my writing. His day will come if he wants to do it badly enough.

This book is about the POSSIBILITIES. It can also take a kid who is going thru the motions of school (or not!) and get them back on track by tacking their interests seriously. In spite of what suburban America thinks, everyone does not need to go to college. Everyone doesn’t have a corporate future, either. Today there are more freelance options than ever before. So, stop worrying about how he’ll live at age 40 and let him try life at age 14. You may be pleasantly surprised.  College Without High School by Blake Boles.

Sports Scholarship? Think Again!

Oh, but my kids will get sports scholarships! Dream On…. Check out what the NCAA has to say on that. Probability of College Sports; Probability of Pro Sports. Remember to check the graduate rates (very poor) and the majors of graduates in the program offering the scholarship.

Other Resources–Parents of ANY AGED CHILD

Julie at the no-longer-updated blog, The Family CEO, has a great post on the exact cost of her daughter’s four years of live-at-school college, including a sorority. She also posted about what she calls “Found Money,” both are a great resource. Maybe you have a found money source that can help pay for college or maybe your child does. Here are examples: You get a $40 rebate on tires–the money goes straight to the student’s college payment account (to pay actual tuition–not spending money). Or you recycle cans–that money goes into the student’s textbook account. Or maybe Mom is an very occasional back-up babysitter for another Mom. Perhaps in the college years, she’d consider donating that money to the student’s Study Abroad Savings Account. Don’t forget those different tuition tax credits–be sure to reinvest that refund into your student’s education. That’s how that works. This is also a way for parents of ANY AGED CHILD to build a college fund. Don’t forget those birthday checks or gift cards for a child too young to understand. You can sell gift cards easily and legally these days.


I hope this has helped you see new ways to pay for, and think about, college. Leave a comment with any other tips or resources you may have used.

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