Frequently Asked Questions:
I’m on information overload-How do I sort through all this stuff so I can make my college decision?
Professor Roberts, there is so much information coming at me from so many different directions. Magazines rank colleges, college brochures are telling me how great they all are, and my friends want me to go to the college they are going to be attending.
The first thing you need to do is change the way you think about a college degree. Realize that the most important thing about the degree is what it can do for you after you graduate. The “four-year experience” that the college tries to sell us is of little consequence when making your decision. You must be totally focused on your needs, especially in light of the fact that your so-called experience will cost in the neighborhood of $200,000. The college is a business. It will say and do whatever it needs to get you to attend the school and pay your money. If the college does not satisfy your career needs, do not attend it.
Your high school friendships should have no bearing on your college decision. Where your friends go to college is of no consequence. In fact, there is a good possibility that you will not even have the same friends when you graduate in four years, even if you all attend the same school. You made your selections for friends in high school primarily for social reasons. You will make your selections for friendships for self-fulfillment and professional reasons.
Your college decision must be geared only to your needs.
OK, so how do I begin?
Professor, I am not looking for some esoteric general discussion. Rather I am looking for a process: something that will take me from beginning to end in helping me make the right decision.
I have a four step approach that I discuss in my book, “Colleges Behind Closed Doors: What You Need To Know (Long) Before You Go.” It combines all the elements of a logical process that will help you come to the final decision. Most of this is geared to helping you get control of the decision making process and finally deciding what college will serve your needs.
For example, the first step involves performing a self-evaluation whereby you must decide why you really want to attend college. My approach differs from all others in that I encourage you to plan and make several decisions before you even begin to think of picking up a college catalog or guide that tries to influence you to attend a given college.
Once you have decided why you want to go and what needs you must have filled, you then seek out the undistorted truth. Be sure that the college can satisfy your need (usually it is career-based). You need to get answers to some tough questions. And you will learn that the colleges will not want to give them freely. You see, they are afraid that, once you know the truth about their ability to satisfy your need, you will not want to attend their university.
Remember, we are dealing with an incredible amount of money. The expense of a college degree can be more than the mortgage on your house-so you can not make the decision lightly.
Your quest for information will take much effort. You will need to speak to students and corporate recruiters among others. You should also review the sections in this website regarding the campus visit, the ten commandments of your college search and our listing of no-loan colleges.
What are the characteristics of a good college?
I want a degree and I hear you. I am willing to put in the work to find a college that will fill my needs. But what colleges should I look at and what characteristics are important?
Very often the schools that are the wisest choice for you are in your own geographic area. Based on my discussions with graduates, I find there is little difference in value of degrees from most schools. (note: This does not apply to a small cadre of what I call nationally ranked top-tier schools. These include Ivy League schools and a handful of other colleges. They employ professors who are top ranked in their field and have excellent academic credentials. Additionally you are much more likely to start a career and have a professional level job after graduating from one of these schools.)
All of the other schools (over 99%) of all colleges are what I call second-tier schools. Most employ only academic instructors with little or no field experience. The education you receive is often spotty at best and employers generally have begun to shun these schools as a source of future professional level employees.
So if the result of your four years of college is no different at most universities, I often advise students to think of colleges in their own back yard where they can keep costs and debt down.
Also I advise students to look to schools where your money is not spent on things other than academics and professional placement services. Your tuition should never be spent to support a football or basketball team (including coaches’ salaries).
The most important characteristic of the school you attend must be a total dedication to meeting the students’ needs. This can usually be found in the stress on placement services. My book emphasizes the importance of this department in a second-tier university and how your campus visit and discussions with students and graduates are so important in identifying such a university.
Whatever you do, do not forget the importance of determining your own needs and making sure that the school you select can fulfill those needs. If you find such a school, apart from nationally ranked top-tier, this then becomes a top-tier school by your definition.
Should I take advantage of student loans?
I don’t think I’ll get enough scholarship and grant money to even come close to covering the cost of my four years. Should I take out student loans?
One of the most important pieces of advice I give to prospective college students is to stay clear of student loans. You must graduate debt-free.
And there are several reasons for this:
As I say in my book, if your overall goal is career or financial security, then everything you do must be geared toward that goal. Never, ever lose that focus. And always remember, there is no guarantee that you will get a professional entry-level job upon graduation. In fact the chances are good that, even if you graduate with honors, there will be no job waiting for you.
But there is one guarantee that I can give you:
The debt that you have incurred to get your “wonderful” education will be with you when you graduate. In other words, you may not get a professional-level job, but you will have a substantial level of debt to pay back.
But expenses are controllable. In fact, the amount of debt that the college student will have when he or she graduates is in their control. The student and the financial benefactor can decide how much debt the student will have.
Graduate from college with no debt at all!
• no student loans
• no credit card debt
Are student loans really that bad?
Professor, aren’t you a little hard on student debt. Someone once told me that student loans are “nice” loans. I mean, if the government gives you a loan, what are they going to do to you if you are late in making payments?
The penalties related to a substantial amount of debt and no professional-entry level job are excruciating. This applies to student loans that you receive directly from the government as well as private banks.
Envision this scenario: You graduate after four years of college with a debt of $50,000. You are unable to secure a job. You have no funds and you cannot pay it back. You are late with your debt payments and your file is sent to a collection agency (this applies as well to direct student loans from the government). In many if not most cases, the person at this agency who has your file receives an income based on the amount of money he can collect from you. It is this person’s job to find you and continually contact you. You are hounded day and/or night. You decide to declare bankruptcy but find that student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. They are like IRS payments. They may be with you for most of your life.
Because you now have a bad credit file, you will be refused for a mortgage and cannot take out any more debt. You have graduated with a degree and you cannot make a life for yourself. Welcome to hell.
The collection agency representative will offer you a proposition: If you attend graduate school, your loan payments can be deferred. In most cases, they will still continue to accrue interest but at least the collection agency will be off your case. Now all you need to worry about is paying back your student loans in excess of $100,000 and starting your career in a couple of years. And very likely, you will find out that, even after you earn your graduate degree, you still can’t get a job.
Back to the collection agency and back to hell.
So how do I graduate without taking out student loans?
I just don’t see how it is possible to graduate without undertaking some form of debt. I really want a degree. How can I get it and be free of debt payments.
I agree that it is difficult to get a four-year full-time degree without taking on debt. But the penalties related to graduating with debt as I described are devastating.
In my book I discuss several alternatives to debt. Generally, you must either attend a college that offers the opportunity of a low cost education or you must redefine your own approach to getting a degree.
There are about 40 universities across the country that offer no-loan programs. These schools provide grant money (after family contribution based on income) and will require you to join work-study programs. But make no mistake; they are excellent colleges with very competitive acceptance standards. In some cases, I also advise students to consider attending lower cost junior colleges and state schools.
If you cannot find a college that can offer you an affordable education without student loans you may have to make difficult decisions. You may want to attend college part time. You may not be sacrificing as much as you think as the clerical job you undertake may be no different than the job you will get after you have your degree. And there is the opportunity that your employer may help pay for courses that are work-related.
These are some of the opportunities to keep down the cost of your college education.
What about working mothers?
Professor, I hear what your saying. But most of this seems to apply to new students who will be attending college full-time. What about working mothers who need a degree to improve their professional position?
Everything that I have said regarding student debt and most of the characteristics of a school to attend apply to you as well. However, your needs are slightly different. Obviously you must attend a school that is proximate either to your home or your job. And if your financial situation is such that you would be pressed to attend school full-time, then do not give up your day job-no matter how rosy a picture school administrators, the faculty of the school and the media paint for you. I generally advise people to stay with the job and get their degree part time.
I also generally discourage people from leaving a secure position (especially in this economy) to a position with a different company. The only exception to this is when you are increasing responsibilities and pay. The company may be willing to pay for some or most of your education. This company should already be familiar with you so you don’t have to prove yourself to them. Your employment is most important and the position must be secure.
There is a lot to be said for job security. Don’t make a move unless you are sure it exists with a potential new employer.
What is the most important thing I need to do right now?
I understand all you have had to say and understand your caution on student loans. But if you were me just starting out, what is the first thing you would do?
You may be about to spend $200,000. You must approach this as an investment. You need information. You should know how the higher education system works. You should know everything about higher education before you invest in it. My book “Colleges Behind Closed Doors: What You Need To Know (Long) Before You Go” not only gives you a step-by step process you should use to make your college decision, it also identifies the problems and issues that are essential for you to know before you make your decision. It provides understanding and illumination so sorely needed before you attend.
The most important thing to do right now? Invest $15.29 in this book. You will be glad you did.
A Final Word
Please don’t forget that for every day you attend college, for every day you have not paid interest on student loans, this interest (for most private and even some government loans) will be added to the principle of your debt. And it will grow and grow until in many cases, the interest added to your loan may even exceed the amount of the original principle.
No matter what you do just remember that almost all of the students graduating from non top-tier schools (99%+ of all colleges) are experiencing the same problems. Don’t believe the empty promises of a system so dependent on your tuition and fee-based dollars that they will say anything to get you to attend their school.
I HOPE I HAVE BEEN OF SOME HELP!
My name is Professor Roberts and just by the fact that you have reached this website, means that you have already heard about me and my mission to demand honest, full disclosure of colleges and universities. I have spent most of my career in the financial services sector. I have also spent seven years teaching at major universities.
Help me get the truth in the hands of the public!
You may know people in schools, libraries or who are connected with higher education in some way. You can help all students and people contemplating a college education. I have spoken many times on the subject and am willing to disclose the truth about higher education to all people who are interested. Please tell them to come to the website and use the “contact us” page to communicate with me.
I periodically do speaking engagements and editorials for student newspapers. And I would be very willing to write such an article for your organization. (I also visit many campuses). Please let me help. You have nothing to lose.
I will specifically discuss various topics identified the the faqs above.
We are planning on covering many such topics. As we construct the sight more topics important to the students will become available.
My experience is in the real world (as opposed to the “academic” experience of most full-time professors). I will share with you information that will hopefully allow you to, one day, select a college and obtain the job you are looking for in your chosen field. Most of the full-time professors and administrators in second-tier colleges do not know what to tell you to do. They have no experience in the real world. But you have to start preparing now! There is no time to lose.
If you wish to contact me please give me an email address or phone number I can reach you at by using the following link: Dear Professor Roberts…