By Hannah Keyser> Junior > Ancient History and Journalism > University of Pennsylvania
Zac Bissonnette is totally charming. I go in to our first interview skeptical of the ideology he preaches because it seems to contradict my own college experience. But by the end of what has felt more like a conversation, not only am I sold on how adeptly he incorporates my Ivy League ambitions into his fiscally conservative outlook…I also want to be his friend.
It doesn’t all click until later when I tell someone about interview: how was he to talk to? Totally charming. And suddenly his story makes more sense. It isn’t that his work is without substance, no amount of charm can explain how he’s maintained a paid writing position for AOL’s DailyFinance.com since senior year of high school, but good ideas alone do not an author make in this day and age. The charm explains how Bissonnette, currently a senior art history major at University of Massachusetts Amherst, landed a book deal before even graduating.
Growing up, Bissonnette developed an interest in finance and entrepreneurialism at a young age, scouring yard sales for unique finds to sell on ebay and learning first hand the importance of managing money matters when his parents financial problems eventually contributed to their divorce.
In high school, Bissonnette emailed Andrew Tobias, author of The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need (“an incredible book—everyone should read it,” he praises), to ask a question and the two became “email friends” Clearly taken with the young Bissonnette’s obvious affinity for financial matters, Tobias, also the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, invited him to a DNC fundraiser in New York City. There, Bissonnette met David Kuhn, a well-known literary agent. “I told him about this idea that I had for a book and went and met with him at his office and the rest is history!”
That idea was a tell-all advice book for high school students and their parents on how to handle college applications and bills without getting so caught up in the pursuit of elite schools that they end up having to take out a second mortgage. In Debt-Free U: How I Paid for An Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching Off My Parents Bissonnette combines convincing statistics, personal experience, and a touch of tough love to debunk the power of prestigious rankings and prove that with a certain amount of motivation, anyone can pay for their own college career.
He advises against second-tier schools. Arguing that except for the most elite universities, that generally have large enough endowments to significantly defray costs, it’s not worth it to go to a private school with an impressive name if your family can’t afford it.“College is just too expensive for most people to get too emotional about it. You can ruin your life if you borrow too much money,” Bissonnette says.
But more importantly, skipping the steep prices doesn’t have to mean making a huge sacrifice. “There is no return on going to these better schools,” Bissonnettesays. “A study out of Princeton showed that, on average, students who are accepted into elite colleges but attend less selective ones earn the same amount of money as students who attend elite schools.”
Ultimately it’s your innate talents and drive to succeed that determines your future. According to Bissonnette, being in the top 10% at your school and getting a lot of attention from your professors for standing out will balance having a less prestigious university’s name on your resume when you apply for jobs.
He also reminds students to keep in mind the consequences of spending more than they can afford to on college. Student loans and debt forces recent grads to pick a job based on entry-level salary. Graduating debt-free, however, gives students more freedom to pursue a career they’re passionate about. Bissonnette proves his point with a hypothetical anecdote about Phillies pitcher, Cliff Lee who turned down a more lucrative offer with the Yankees to return to Philadelphia: “If Lee had a lot of debt he would have had to sign with the Yankees.”
Zac Bissonnette’s Tips for Success
Bissonnette, who is currently working on his second book – a guide to financial advice for recent grads – lets CM in on how to make the most of your time in college.
- Gain work experience: “What employers really want is people who have work experience, a demonstrated ability to work and work hard.”
- Do what you love: “Most people who are rich found success doing something they are really passionate about. The best shot for financial success is to find something you passionate about.”
- Avoid distractions: “Smash your television and don’t play video games.”