Getting out of college debt-free
Zac Bissonnette, author of “Debt-Free U," hopes to change the way that you think about college.
At the top of the list of "impossible financial dreams," somewhere near paying off your home before you’re 50, is this – graduating from college debt-free.Skip to next paragraph
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Stratospheric tuition costs and plummeting endowments and aid have made the already-daunting process of paying for college overwhelming.
Zac Bissonnette has made the impossible exceedingly possible. Not only is this senior art history major at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, set to graduate in 2011 debt-free, without taking a cent from scholarships or his parents – he’s also written a book about how you can do it, too.
“Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships or Mooching off My Parents” grew out of research Bissonnette started in high school, trying to find a way to get a solid college education without going into a lot of debt.
After keeping a blog on the same topic for years, Bissonnette found himself seated next to a literary agent and pitched his idea. Now, before he’s even collected his college dipoloma, Bissonnette is a published author, columnist with Daily Finance, and contributor to Huffington Post.
Here’s our conversation about his journey to financial journalism and publishing, and what he’s learned along the way.
Q: You published “Debt-Free U” in 2010, as a senior in college. When did you get the idea to write a book and what inspired it?
A: When I was in high school looking at my college options, my situation was the same as the vast majority of people: My family didn't have anything close to enough money to pay cash for me to go the dream private college of my choice, but we also weren't low income enough that I was going to get massive amounts of financial aid.
So I was faced with the same choice most people face: go to an affordable, in-state public college or borrow a bunch of money to go to a "better" private college.
There was a ton of social pressure to go to a "better" school, but I decided to do research into what the right decision was: If I look at this from a cost-benefit perspective, is it better to borrow the money and go to a better school or is it better to go to a "lesser" school? The research into that – that I did while I was in high school – was the basis for “Debt-Free U.”
Q: How were you able to publish it with few connections in the industry?
A: I started my own financial blog when I was in high school, and eventually it got picked up by AOL, so I benefited from that "brand" and the traffic it brought, and started to see some of my ideas get picked up on other sites. My favorite financial writer of all-time was (and is!) Andrew Tobias, the author of “The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need,” and we actually became friends, believe it or not, after I e-mailed him some questions about one of his books. I ended up meeting him at a fundraiser in New York City – and was seated next to a literary agent, David Kuhn. I told David about this idea that I had – a book that would change the way people thought about college – and we went from there.
Q: How do you pay for college? Did you get any scholarships? Are your parents helping you?