The Ten-Step Guide to College Financial Aid By Zachary Freeman

Give Me Back My Eyebrow!: Thinking Logically About the Costs of College

As I sat on a painfully long flight across the Atlantic Ocean, my entertainment options were limited; I could either write or skydive (admittedly very dangerous to do without a parachute).  But, after a brief nap and an interesting dream about a chicken, my mind gave birth to the following, completely unrelated question:  Why are people so excited to spend an arm, a leg, a rib, and their left eyebrow on a college education?  In fact, I have heard stories about families taking out a second mortgage to pay for their child’s degree, because they were convinced (by the elite college) that the elite education was worth the massive amounts of debt.

Here’s the way I see it: purchasing an education is just like purchasing any other commodity (televisions, washing machines, pure-bred puppies, etc.) A salesman is always right there to meet you and tell you, “this is the best one”, to compel you to buy it.  Colleges are just like used car salesmen: slimy, greedy, and in some cases, big fat liars.  They will do whatever it takes to get you to buy their overpriced education, including but not limited to, making ridiculous claims that students (and parents) wholeheartedly believe.

The Top Five Things Colleges Will Say to Get You to Commit (and Why You Shouldn’t Buy It):

  1. “Graduates from our school are successful” – obviously.  Plenty of colleges will show you examples of their successful graduates, but beware.  Success is won by those who pursue it; no college degree ever guarantees success.
  2. “You will be able to have free time here” – free time is a choice that you make.  Any college who offers you free time probably doesn’t have much else to offer.
  3. “We will give you a scholarship boost“– right after they give you a 9% tuition hike.  Sometimes colleges are even bold enough to include a loan in your financial aid package.  Make sure to read everything that they put in front of you regarding money, including the fine print.
  4. “You will fit right in” – this one makes me chuckle.  How would a college official who has never met you know if you would fit in?  This one is getting desperate.
  5. “We have the best programs in the country” – DUH, they are going to say that!  When is the last time you heard a college say, “we are the 385th best engineering program according to Newsweek™?

Is a degree from a prestigious school really that much better?  We may never actually know.  But there are plenty of professionals that will tell you that companies hire based on potential, intelligence, and skill levels.  Strong companies do not hire someone because they graduated from a specific school.  If you don’t agree with me, do some research.  I have spoken to plenty of extremely successful people who do not have an elite degree, but will tell you that its hard work, not a college, that breeds success.  Before you choose a college, do the research for yourself.  Remember that colleges are businesses and they are looking to make a profit off of you; guard your wallet so the flying, money-eating, elitist college munchkins don’t steal it!

Zachary Freeman is the author of Free Money Please!: The Ten-Step Guide to College Financial Aid. His articles can be seen on and he can be reached at


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