Avoid costly colleges to graduate debt-free

STUDY HALL: Sure, your kid is gonna rack up an enormous amount of debt over the next four years. But isn't that just the price your coed, or maybe you, has to pay for a good college education these days?

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ERIN CONROY (AP Business Writer)

STUDY HALL: Sure, your kid is gonna rack up an enormous amount of debt over the next four years. But isn't that just the price your coed, or maybe you, has to pay for a good college education these days?

Not so, says Zac Bissonnette, a student at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, blogger and author of the recently published book "Debt-Free U." Having a prestigious university's name on a diploma or sweatshirt will never outweigh the burden of student loans, he said.

"If you look at sending your kid to an expensive elite school in terms of an investment, it just doesn't make sense," said Bissonnette, who writes regularly for AOL Money & Finance. "It's simply an emotional appeal, and looking at the facts, you would never make a similiar deal that involves taking a mortgage on your house."

Students weighing schools should be especially wary of college rankings and unreliable financial aid advice from guidance counselors and recruiters, Bissonnette says. Meanwhile, parents should consider whether student loans are really necessary. One of the biggest myths about college performance, Bissonnette says, is that working to pay for school will hurt grades.

A report in the Journal of Student Financial Aid shows that students who work between 1 and 20 hours per week have a higher average grade point average than students who don't work at all.

"The biggest complaint coming from employers is that recent college graduates in the work force are entitled, lack good communication skills and are looking for instant gratification," Bissonnette said. "There's no better way to disprove all of those things than to march into a job interview and say that you worked off your student expenses to graduate debt-free."

Worried that a part-time job might interfere with studying? The average full-time student at a U.S. four-year college only hits the books about 14 hours per week, according to recent research - down from 24 hours four decades ago, and less than half as much as universities claim to require.

The dramatic decline in study times occurred for both students who worked and those who did not, and at four-year colleges of every type, degree structure and level of selectivity, said Philip Babcock, a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, who conducted the study with Mindy Marks at the University of California, Riverside.

Having a job while in college could hurt a student's performance in one area, Bissonnette points out: beer pong.


LUCKY 7: Wondering who you're up against for that job interview? Probably half a dozen other candidates.

A recent telephone survey of advertising and marketing executives found that the employers met with a lucky seven applicants on average before filling an open position in their department.

The poll, commissioned by The Creative Group and conducted by market research firm ICR, surveyed 375 marketing executives randomly selected from companies with 100 or more employees and 125 with advertising executives randomly selected from agencies with 20 or more employees.

The Creative Group, a division of staffing firm Robert Half International Inc., offers seven tips for helping job candidates stand out against the crowd:

- Do your prep work. Visit the firm's website, search online for news articles and ask people in your network if they have any insight about the company.

- Put your best foot forward from the start. Be polite to the reception staff when you check in, and smile warmly with everyone you meet.

- Be aware of body language. Subtle cues, such as your eye contact, facial expressions and posture will affect how hiring managers perceive you. While practicing a mock interview, ask a friend for feedback on any distracting habits.

- Have a good story to tell. Be prepared to provide memorable anecdotes about how you have helped solve business problems. Describe the challenge, talk about your actions and outline the final results.

- Come with interesting questions.

- Be yourself. A hiring manager wants to get to know a real person who he or she would be happy to see every morning at the office. Avoid rehearsed responses and interact in a way that's honest and genuine.

- Stay positive. If you don't get the job but have developed good rapport with the interviewer, request feedback on what you might have done better. If you accept rejection graciously, you may even put yourself first in line for the company's next opening.

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