best financial move in college, part 1

Patrick, of Cash Money Life fame, has tagged me to give my best financial move in college. This “organically growing” meme was started by plonkee. This will be a two-parter because I didn’t want a post that looked like a short novel…

ventress hall

I have what might be an “unallowed” answer, so I’ll give both of them. One of them had a huge impact, one of them had less of an impact, but both were important long-term decisions.

Best Financial Move in College #1: I attend a public university.

I will be as clear as possible about this: my choice of college has made more of an impact on my financial life than any other decision I have made. A little background: I was a good student in high school. I was class valedictorian, I had high scores on my SAT and ACT exams, I was a varsity athlete. I had received a full scholarship to attend school in Germany as an exchange student; I was an International Science Fair finalist; I had clubs and academic honors and extracurriculars out the yin-yang. I applied to a fairly wide spread of colleges, ranging from my hometown state university to small private liberal arts schools (one I really liked I’ll call Tiny Private) to well-known-very-good-but-not-Ivy schools (one of which I will call Regional Private) to the big grandaddy of them all, Harvard.

I got accepted to every one. I got scholarships to every one. I got tennis scholarships, academic scholarships, etc. etc. However, many people are surprised that anyone who was accepted to Harvard would turn it down. I did. I applied to Harvard on a whim, with no serious intention of attending even if I was accepted. I sent in the application on the deadline date. I started the application, handwritten, in black ink and when that pen died I finished in blue ink. I did it because one of my friends told me there was no way I could get in, and I took the bet. I had no intention of going there. I actually had my mind set on Regional Private – and received a full scholarship there, too.

But one school was ferocious in their recruitment – my hometown state university, which I’ll call Hometown State (for obvious reasons). They were relentless – they gave me not only a full scholarship but they swamped me with calls, meetings with academic deans, calls from alumni, even additional scholarships to cover the costs of books, fees, housing, and on and on. Part of this was due to my dad’s relationship with the university, but a lot of it was simply because I was well-known there already – friends of mine had parents who were professors or administrators or otherwise associated with the school.

I visited Regional Private School and detested the people I met, who were condescending and intellectually dead rocks. Harsh, I know, and maybe it was bad luck, but as a multi-generational legacy (I would have been a third-generation student there) but I couldn’t stand it on multiple visits, including a “new prospects weekend.” I toyed with attending a few other schools, including Tiny Private, but I decided the cool atmosphere didn’t make up for the fact that nobody had ever heard of them or that the academic and social programs were limited.

I decided to go to Hometown State. It was the best decision I ever made financially, for one reason: I actually made a profit attending school. After tuition, fees, books, fraternity dues, food, everything I made a profit. I got a bachelor’s degree and started day one of my postgraduate life with money in the bank and no debt. I think (although I don’t know) that even with full scholarships at Tiny Private or Regional Private or Harvard I would have had enormous expenses not covered by tuition scholarships. My parents would have covered many of those expenses, I’m sure, but I would still have struggled.

I have never regretted attending Hometown State for a minute. To this day I point to that as one of the best decisions I ever made. I loved college. I did well academically. I was again active in all sorts of things: club sports, varsity lacrosse, a fraternity where I was pledge trainer, social chairman and rush chairman at various times, and interest groups from a Russian-language club to political organizations. I did all of this without having one minute’s strain or stress or worry about how I could afford this, or how I was accumulating debt. And I have still done well in my career.

That is my “unfair” answer, since it wasn’t IN college. I’ll give my “fair” answer in my next post.

photo credit: me! an original photo!