Over the last four months we’ve partnered with some really terrific universities to fund scholarships through the Give Something Back Foundation. Rowan University, The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University and the University of Delaware have all agreed to put our scholars through their colleges for four years, debt free. We’re also finalizing plans to partner with another university in Illinois, in addition to the three we already have.
I’m proud of the institutions we selected as they provide students with top-notch facilities as well as a plethora of career paths from which to choose.
But to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it matters that much where you go to college — just as long as you go and graduate.
The New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote in his latest book, Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, that the college you attend may not matter as much as what you do when you get there.
Take me, for example. I didn’t go to Harvard or Yale, rather the University of Illinois. While Illinois ranks very high, it isn’t a Princeton or a Stanford either, but it is a great college filled with gifted professors and passionate students. It was a school that I could afford and it led me to where I am today: part owner of a Fortune 1000 payment processing company and founder of a wonderful non-profit organization.
Going to the best possible school is not always an option for students. And I want to reinforce that here today.
An op-ed piece in last week’s Wall Street Journal pointed to the exasperation often felt over the college application process. The author of this article — a professor of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt University — complained about the new definition of college fit and how it didn’t match that of his own, which is to find a college that your parents can afford with a strong program in the field you want to study. This professor also went on to say that it doesn’t make much of a difference where a student goes to college — or at least as much of a difference as some people would like to think.
What happens when students select a brag-worthy college they can’t afford? They often find themselves shackled by mounds of debt; debt that won’t go away any time soon. It’s the type of debt that often prevents young people from buying a home, starting a business, getting married, or buying a car to get them to their new job. In many cases these students drop out of college because the cost is simply too unmanageable. Then they’re left with all this debt — and no degree to show for it.
Students need to be smart shoppers about their college choices, and plot strategies that realistically fit their financial circumstances. This may include opting for a community college for the first two years, or going to college closer to home to keep transportation costs down.
In addition, while public schools can be great bargains, students should look at private institutions, which in many cases are in a position to offer very generous financial aid packages.
Students should also keep in mind that colleges will sometimes negotiate costs, especially when a student has an attractive offer from another school, or has exam scores that can help boost the admissions profile of an institution. Most financial aid offices are grateful when a family asks questions and takes the time to fully explain their financial circumstances.
So before you set your sights on a college that, while prestigious, costs way more than you and your family can afford, remember that what you get from a university has almost everything to do with the attitude you bring to it. A willingness to work hard is what we look for in Give Something Back Foundation scholars. And with a 95 percent graduation rate in four years and scores of our graduates going on to become successful business executives, teachers, lawyers, physicians and IT stars, I’d say this theory is working.