An Unconventional Guide to Paying for College

Top 5 Tips for a Successful Spring Vacation for College Students

Posted by on Feb 22, 2018 in Featured | 1 comment

College students actively look for interesting places to spend their Spring Break vacation. This is particularly true for students that study in colder climates. The idea of enjoying an exotic locale for Spring Break vacation is appealing to escape the cold weather, enjoy the parties, and get some extra sunshine. There are many locales that have capitalized on the Spring Break vacation market; however, when the time comes to choose where to go, it is important to carefully consider which destination has the most value, yet is at a price that most students can afford. Consider the conversation below when picking your next economic Spring Break vacation destination.

The Best Locations for Spring Vacations

When trying to decide where to travel to for your Spring Break Vacation, it is important to analyze several factors and decide which are the most important to you.

Beach: If you are looking for gorgeous beaches, it is highly recommended to spend your Spring Break Vacation in places such as: Cancun, Mexico, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Jamaica, and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. In terms of beaches, these locales have an excellent local culture that also have picturesque beaches. If you are looking for teal blue waters and white sand beaches for your Spring Break Vacation, these are the ideal places to start.

Parties: Spring Break Vacations are known for their parties, particularly when students are enrolled in their four-year degree program rather than graduate school. In terms of parties, it depends what kind of party you are looking for. If you are looking to enjoy tequila shots and authentic Mexican cuisine, then you should be going to Mexico. If you are interested in trying the rum that the Caribbean is known for, you should be visiting Jamaica. If you are looking to stay within the United States and enjoy in American festivities, you should be looking at Miami, Daytona or San Diego for your Spring Break Vacation excursions.

Distance: Distance will depend on where you are studying. If you are studying in the East Coast in the United States, places in Florida and Texas will be better suited for you. You will be able to experience warmer weather, parties, and beaches all in one. If you are already studying in Florida or Texas and want to head to international waters, then heading to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica will provide you with the cultural stimulation you desire.

Price: Price is a major factor for students. Depending on where you are studying, price will be affected with the cost of airfare and hotels available during high season. There are many packages with cruises in the Caribbean or flight/hotel combinations that can be more economical than staying within the United States. Bearing in mind price considerations is important when deciding which destination will be the best possible fit for your ideal Spring Break Vacation.

The Best Dates to Travel

Spring Break vacation varies depending on which university you study at. That said, Spring Break vacation usually happens between mid-March and mid-April of every year. If you are able to reserve your travel plans early, the best date to travel will depend on what discounts you are able to obtain that coincide with your specific Spring Break vacation dates.

The Average Cost of a Spring Break Vacation

When trying to calculate what your average Spring Break Vacation will cost, it will depend on whether you will be staying for the full week, the proximity of the location to where you are studying, and the packages/discounts that you are able to obtain. A general rule of thumb is that a domestic Spring Break Vacation within the United States if you are studying domestically will hover at around $500-$1,000 depending whether you are flying cross country, sharing hotel rooms with travel companions, and the amount of capital you spend on food and beverages. If you are venturing to foreign territories within the Caribbean or Mexico, the average price will hover between $1,000-$2,000.

5 Ways to Save Money During Spring Break

It is possible to cut down the cost of your Spring Break Vacation

1.Travel with Many Friends: Traveling with a group of friends is a great way to cut back on what you will be spending on your accommodation. You will be able to stay in a nicer place for groups and still save money at the same time.

2.Pick a Destination That Is Cost Effective: Picking a destination that is cost effective in terms of distance and overall price will cut back your cost. Be realistic at what you can afford so you are not stressing about the price the whole trip.

3.Look into Travel Packages: There are many travel packages available that can help cut the cost down of your trip. Looking into packages with cruises/airfare, hotels/airfare or all-inclusive packages are a great way to really get a better locale and overall value for your Spring Break Vacation.

4.Cook with Your Friends: One of the costs that hits you unexpectedly with Spring Break Vacations is food. If you are staying in a group setting, it can be really fun and memorable to prepare meals with your friends. This will cut down your cost substantially.

5.Downgrade Your Hotel: If you are in a beautiful place, you may not want to spend much time in your hotel room. If this is the case, then you can downgrade your hotel and save a great deal of capital.

Final Remarks on the Subject

Traveling for your Spring Break Vacation is a memorable time for many college students. It is important that you are intelligent with how and when you are spending your capital. Being realistic about what you can afford and where you are interested in visiting is essential to finding the right Spring Break Vacation for you. Lastly, be open to exploring the tropical areas immediately around the United States. At times, there are potential travel packages that can help you to save a substantial amount of capital on your Spring Break Vacation while simultaneously providing you with a rewarding travel experience.

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How to Earn your Graduate Degree For $12 Per Semester

Posted by on Jan 17, 2012 in Featured, Scholarships and Grants | 10 comments

master's degree

Getting a Master’s degree is time consuming, stressful, and expensive.

As bad as that sounds, an advanced degree is an essential element of career growth for many professions. A Master’s degree will often open the door for management opportunities, and separate you from your peers in a battle of credentials. For some professions, a Master’s degree is a required credential or “piece of paper” that can be a literal brick wall to your career if you do not have one. This is where I have found myself as a staff member in higher education.

I work for a large public university and the state human resources board has determined that virtually all management positions and the majority of positions with any responsibility (and therefore decent pay) require a Master’s degree. I have known since entering this career that I had to get my Master’s degree if I ever wanted to advance my career past entry level.

Master’s Degree Cost

Master’s degree can vary widely in cost. For example, the graduate programs at the school where I work range from $380 per credit hour, to $14,000 flat rate fee per semester. This wide range of pricing can be torture for someone who likes to plan. Thankfully, every program has a set price so you can narrow down your research to the programs that you are interested in applying to.

The graduate program that I applied for is $602 per credit hour. The program requires 48 credit hours to graduate which will come to an approximate cost of $28,896. That price does not include books, supplies, and the other little extra fees that colleges tack on every semester. So you can figure an even $30,000 by the time I would have finished my degree.

My plan is to take two classes per semester, which would total 6 credit hours, or $3612. A semester is roughly 4 months in length, which would mean that my master’s degree would cost me $903 per month.

That is more than my house payment!!

With the depressing cost of an advanced degree in my blurred vision I began to look around for alternatives to paying this tuition cost all by myself.

Employee Tuition Assistance and Reimbursement

My first place to look was the human resources website for my employer. What I found, was one of the few perks of working in higher education. The university I work for allows employees to take up to 6 credit hours per semester for free! Talk about a benefit. This essentially means that I just earned a $903 per month raise if I was able to take advantage of this benefit.

The only fee that I am required to pay is a $12 per semester software license fee that goes to support the IT infrastructure and the discounted software that we have access to as students. I think I can handle that!

If you work for a company that is not an actual higher education facility your company will likely offer tuition reimbursement of some form. Many companies will reimburse you up to a certain amount as long as you earn an A or a B in a course. Some companies may have a pool of professional development funds that you have to apply to every semester, and other companies may actually pay you an increased salary with the intent of using those funds to help cover the cost of your Master’s degree.

With a variety of different formats, it is a really good idea to speak with your human resources department to get an idea of how your employee tuition assistance program works.

If you feel stuck in your career, often times an advanced degree will give you the jumpstart that you need for upward mobility. It may even open up an entirely new career path. Who knows, you might learn the skills necessary to start your own business and break free of the 9 – 5 work chain.

A Master’s degree can be an incredibly rewarding experience, and it is even sweeter if you can get someone else to pay for it!

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ShareBuilder Review: PLUS $75 Free Money Bonus Codes

Posted by on Jan 11, 2012 in Featured, Getting Started | 2 comments

sharebuilder

We have not talked a lot about investing here at Money for College Project. My focus has been on helping you find money for college through scholarships, grants, and student loans. That is still my focus, but with the recent change here on the blog, I have been thinking a lot more about investing.

Investing for the sake of building wealth is an excellent goal, but please be careful not to put the cart before the horse. Financial experts, including Dave Ramsey’s seven baby steps, put investing for wealth building near the bottom of your check list when trying to reach financial security. I completely agree. Before you even consider investing, you should have a 3-6 month emergency fund, have paid off all non-mortgage debts (or even your mortgage if you truly prescribe to the no-debt lifestyle), invest 15% of your income into tax advantaged retirement vehicles, and started to save for your child’s education. Once you have completed all of these goals, then you can get serious about investing.

I am at the point in my financial life where I have completed all of the above, and am ready to invest. This means that I have a small portion of discretionary income that is free to invest into non-guaranteed securities, with the potential for loss. Granted, I don’t plan to lose anything, but I have always heard that you should never invest money in the stock market that you cannot afford to lose.

So with that in mind, I went about to find a discount online broker that would allow me to begin my adventure into investing.

ShareBuilder

For many years I have used ING savings accounts. I initially signed up with them because their interest rates were among the best in the industry, at about 4.00% at the time. However, even with a now paltry 0.8% I have stuck with them because I trust them, and I  love the ability to create sub-savings accounts. When I began my search for an online investment broker I went directly to ShareBuilder.

I had read excellent reviews on ShareBuilder, and I had seen their advertising for $4 trades online, so I assumed they had to be a good bet.

Easy Account Creation

If you already have an ING Savings or Checking account, then opening a ShareBuilder account is incredibly easy. You simply login to ShareBuilder with your ING username and password, agree to their terms and conditions, and then link your savings and checking accounts to your investing accounts in ShareBuilder. This then allows you to easily transfer money from your linked ING savings account into your ShareBuilder investment account.

*One word of caution. I almost freaked out when I saw the display screen with my savings accounts linked to my investment account. I freaked because I absolutely did not want my savings to be withdrawn and somehow invested into the stock market and lost forever. It was a rash thought, but still, I freaked. If you don’t like this option which I did not, you can choose NOT to link these accounts, and you can fund your ShareBuilder investment accounts through another bank, or through manual transfer.

Trading and Pricing

ShareBuilder has 2 separate pricing structures.

Depending on your investment strategy it might make sense for you to subscribe to the Advantage program. If you are an active investor, the examples below show how a $12 per month Advantage subscription might save you money.

 

Feature Scenario Advantage Basic Advantage Value
Real-time Trade 6 Real-time Trades
per month
$47.70 in base
commission
$59.70 in base
commission
$12.00
Automatic Investment 3 plan purchases
per month
$0 in commission $12 in commission
($4 each)
$12.00
Options Trade 4 trades and 8 contracts per month $37.80 in commission $49.80 in commission $12.00
Margin Discount $30,000 margin loan Interest rate of 6.00% will incur $152.88 in monthly interest1 Interest rate of 6.50% will incur $166.62 in monthly interest1 $12.74

I would definitely recommend the basic program for a beginning investor, but the final call is up to you.

$75 Free Money Bonus Codes

Finally, we get to the reason that I took the plunge and opened my ShareBuilder investment account when I did. When I was researching ShareBuilder I ran across a site that had free money codes for ShareBuilder. I thought they had to be fake, but sure enough, once I opened my account, I clicked on the promotion tab, entered the codes, and they gave me $75 in bonuses.

Once you have created your account, click on Overview > Profile and Settings> Enter Promotion Tab> Select Account and enter your Promotion. Simple as that.

Here are the two promotions that I used to earn $75 in free money!

  • START50 – Make a deposit of $25 or more to earn a $50 bonus.
  • INVEST122111 – Make a deposit of $25 or more to earn a $25 bonus.

Both of these worked for me. I have not gotten the money funded yet, but it was confirmed by ShareBuilder, and they said it would take 4 to 6 weeks for the money to be deposited. Yu also can withdraw the initial investment funds, and you truly did earn $75 in free money!

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Is a College Degree Worth Taking Out a Student Loan? Student Story

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 in Featured, Scholarships and Grants | 4 comments

money for college

I have dedicated the Money for College Project to helping you find more money for college, and finding better ways to manage that money while in college, and after graduation. I have railed against student loans, and the many negative consequences that can come along with them.

Rather than another tirade against “The Man” I wanted to share with you a recent story that I heard while speaking with a student on my college campus. It might surprise you to see how some students view student loans, and I hope it is a wake up call. It was for me anyway.

Student Story: Jake – The 19 yr old Engineering Student With No Plan
______________________________________________________________________________________________

When Jake wakes up every morning, he is even further in debt, even though he spends no money during the day. How is this possible? He has unsubsidized Stafford Student Loans that are accruing interest while he is enrolled in school. Because he does not have  part-time job, and has elected to focus his energy 100% on school, he chose not to pay the accruing interest on his student loan, and therefore it has continued to increase daily for the past two years.

Jake is a typical student. He likes to sleep late, he grumbles about going to class, he pulls all nighters in the library before big exams, and he loves college life. His big secret however, is that he already has over $28,000 in student loans as he nears completion of his second year of college. He’s not even half-way done.

How is this possible? He maxed out his Stafford Loans ($5500 for Freshman Year, $6500 for Sophomore Year), he received a Federal Perkins Loan ($4,000), and he took out a private student loan with this parents ($12,000). All told, he already owes back the price of a brand new SUV, and he has not even finished his Sophomore year of college.

I wanted to dig a little deeper and see what led Jake to the decision to take out so much in student loans.

I asked Jake about when he first made the decision to attend college. He said that he had applied to multiple schools, but he finally made the decision to attend our college because of the excellent Engineering program. The average starting salary for a Civil Engineer (his program of choice) is $44,000 for graduates of our program, and there is an 83% job placement rate. (I was actually very impressed that he knew these figures, and it gave me some hope!)

I asked further about his financial aid package, and he noted that when he received it, he was initially elated. His financial aid package was enough to cover virtually all of his tuition and fees. Then he looked a little deeper. $7500 of his awards were from student loans; money he would have to pay back. He had also not factored in the cost of a meal plan ($1450 per semester), required on-campus housing ($2900 per semester), and a required laptop for his Engineering program ($1200). With all of these extra fees added in, he began to realize that he still needed more funds to cover his costs.

He said that he approached the Financial Aid Office to see what help they could offer him. His FAFSA had already been evaluated for federal aid, and all of the Academic scholarships had already been awarded, so Jake was left with only one option: More Student Loans.

The process was virtually the same for his Sophomore year. He was able to score a small scholarship through the engineering department, but with the rising cost of tuition, and extra lab fees for some of his courses, that was quickly eaten up.

This brings us to the present, with Jake stuck $28,000 in debt, and only half-way through his degree program.

The more we talked, the more I could tell that Jake was resigned to his fate. All of his friends had student loans, so he saw no harm in it. He wanted to be a Civil Engineer, he wanted to graduate, and this was the only way he knew how.

I finally worked up the nerve to ask Jake the big question: “Is your college degree really worth the student debt that you will have when you graduate?”

Jake said an emphatic yes, and I knew he would. I knew that almost every college student would say that when asked. What else would they say? “Well not really, but I figure I have no other choice and I have to have a degree to get a job!” Oh wait, I’ve heard that one too!

What would I recommend to Jake and any other student in this situation?

I would ask them to take a step back, and take a serious look at their situation. Start by looking at real numbers. Let’s assume that Jake gets a job paying $44,000 (it is a big assumption). After taxes his take home pay will be roughly $2750 per month. Let’s assume that Jake’s student loan consumption continues at his current rate and he graduates with $56,000 in loan debt. The average loan payment is $50 per $5000 borrowed. Jake is looking at a $560 per month student loan payment. That leaves him with only $2,190 per month to pay all of his other bills, save for retirement, pay for his health care premiums, put gas in his car to get to work, and enjoy life a little bit.

Not exactly a rosy financial picture for our friend Jake.

Then comes decision time. You might ask “Is the juice really worth the squeeze?” Should Jake and other students like him remain in school, continue to borrow loans, and struggle financially once they graduate while they perpetuate the cycle of college graduates who are in over their heads in debt?

I honestly don’t know the right answer, but I can see that something needs to change.

I think we need to have a serious conversation with our next generation of college students BEFORE they enter into college and walk them through this scenario. Help them to see how much student loans can sidetrack them financially for years. Help them to find a major that will allow them to get a job. Help them choose a school that has a good track record of placing their graduates in jobs that actually pay a decent salary. Help them understand how to find FREE financial aid and avoid taking out student loans.

These conversations are not easy, but I believe they are essential to help our future generations avoid bankruptcy and our country avoid utter financial ruin.

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Turn Your Hobby Into a Business Worth $1 Million

Posted by on Dec 12, 2011 in Featured, Getting Started | 6 comments

turn your hobby into a business

Let’s suppose that you have a hobby which you love. This hobby could be anything from fixing bicycles, creating model train villages, playing paintball, sewing, writing/blogging, creating websites, or even driving. You are passionate about this hobby, and you would be perfectly content spending 8 hours a day working on your hobby.

What if I told you that you could make over $1,000,000 by turning that hobby into a business?

It’s entirely possible, and here is a real life example.

Personal Finance Blogs Equal Serious Cash

I read an article this morning that rocked me to the core. First, because I did not realize that this had happened, second, because I had no clue that this was even possible. The article was a list of personal finance blogs that have sold for 1 million or more.

First, I had no idea that Get Rich Slowly,  Bargaineering, and Consumerism Commentary had even been sold. That should be read as a compliment to their former owners and current publishers. Second, they were sold for staggering sums of money!

All of these blogs had been created out of a hobby, a passion for writing, and a need to get their financial lives on track. The end result was a business that made them a fortune.

I have interacted with all three of these bloggers, and I know that they have worked very hard to reach this goal. They have also all been blogging for several years, so their success was not overnight. They have positioned themselves as experts in their fields, and have been financially rewarded for their efforts.

How to Turn Your Hobby into a $1,000,000 Business

$1 Million seems like a fairly tale. It seems like such an insurmountable goal that it is not even worth setting. However, I bet you that all three of the above personal finance bloggers would have told you the exact same thing if you had asked them several years ago.

What changed?

The path to a $1 million business begins with a realization that your hobby can indeed be turned into a business. Like any good business, you must have a plan. Your plan does not specifically have to state it eventually being sold for $1 million, but it does have to include a plan to make a profit, and to expand.

For example, if you are passionate about playing paintball; how can you turn your passion for paintball into a profitable business?

I would suggest learning how to repair paintball guns. When you go to play paintball with your friends, you can charge a small fee to fix the guns that malfunction. Your friends will be willing to pay you because they can have them fixed on the spot. You have a captive audience.

Then you could branch out to buying and reselling paint. Out in the woods, or on the field, players will always run out of paint and need more. If you have the supply they need, you can turn a quick profit. Buy low, sell high!

With the profit you make from these sales, you could then rent a piece of property and create your own paintball field. You can furnish it with scrap junk, and players will likely flock to your location. Then you can charge entrance fees, sell paint, sell paintball guns, and even sell concessions. Before you know it, your passion for paintball has turned into a real business.

Then an investor may swoop in, see the progress you have made, and offer you $1 million to buy your business outright. They will likely even hire you back on to run the show.

Any hobby can be turned into a business.

I would recommend taking the following steps once you make the decision to take your hobby to the next level:

  • List the needs of people you know who also participate in your hobby
  • Place a star beside the needs that you believe your business can fill
  • Detail your plan to fulfill the top 3 needs on your list
  • Spread the word to your friends about your new services
  • Create an expansion plan to scale your business as it grows

Don’t Lose Your Passion In Your Business

One of the most common problems with starting a business out of a hobby is that many people quickly lose their passion for that hobby. There is a fine line to be walked, and many people quickly become complacent in their business because the joy in their hobby has been overtaken by the stress of a business.

Finding the right balance, and keeping your passion are what will take your business to $1 million.

In my experience, the key to keeping the passion for your hobby is to still participate in that hobby outside of your business.

If you write for a profit, you should carve out some time every day to write for fun.

If you create websites as a business, have a coding party with your friends.

If you sell model trains, invite some kids over to check out your model train village.

If you start a limo driving service, take a joy ride in the mountains.

Don’t ever forget what initially attracted you to the hobby in the first place. Focus on that, never lose your passion for your work, and someone might write a post about your $1 million business in a few years!

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The College Bucket List Top 10

Posted by on Dec 8, 2011 in Featured, Getting Started | 6 comments

college bucket list

What are the 10 quintessential things every college student should experience?

What makes a college experience more than just a series of grades and a piece of paper?

What are you most looking forward to during your college years, or what do you wish you could go back and do that you never got to?

This will all be answered here today, as Money for College Project is proud to present:

The College Bucket List Top 10

 

No. 1 – Take a Cross Country Road Trip

Nothing screams the freedom of college more than a cross country road trip with close friends. This can be done during spring break, over the summer, or even on a long weekend. More points are obviously due if you can pull this off spontaneously. No planning, no destination, just get in the car and drive. Oh, and don’t forget to bring the TP.

No. 2 – Study Abroad

One of the joys of being in college is the opportunity to travel with no strings attached. Most likely the closest relationship you are leaving behind would be a girlfriend/boyfriend. No spouse, no kids, no job, no major responsibilities. At what other point in your future life will you be able to transplant yourself into a foreign country for a few months? I submit…most likely never! So take advantage of a study abroad program while you can. This can also greatly impact your ability to get a job and give you a worldview that looks beyond the coasts of your home country.

No. 3 – Join an Intramural Team

The vast majority of college students do not have college athletic scholarships. This does not mean however, that you lose your athletic ability. In fact, many top tier high school athletes simply decide not to pursue college athletics and focus on their academics. Smart move. Intramural sports gives you an outlet for your athletic prowess without the pressure and time commitment of practice, coaches, and a grueling game schedule. Intramurals are also excellent times to spend with close friends, and create some great memories for the years to come. Many colleges have everything from flag football, soccer, basketball, hockey (field or ice), and ultimate frisbee.

No. 4 – Earn a B, or even a C

So this might sound like strange advice. After all, you go to college to get the best grades you can, and to be successful right? I agree, but I also strongly believe there are more important things in your college life than grades. If we were all good college students with a 4.0 GPA, the world would be a sad place. A college degree is as much about the experience, and learning to become an adult as it is about earning your degree. If you have the option of studying a few more hours for an exam to make an A, or volunteering to help build the Habitat for Humanity House your college sponsors every year, I would pick the Habitat house ever year. When you look back, the experiences you have in college will be what stick with you the most.

With that said, you need to shoot to keep a B average. Some employers still look at those things, and virtually every Grad School sets a 3.0 GPA as it’s minimum entrance requirements.

No. 5 – Go Fanatical for a Sports Game

Even if sports are not really your thing, being a fanatical fan at your college’s biggest sporting event can be all kinds of fun. You could paint up for your home football game against the in-state rivals, you could camp out all night to get tickets to the conference championship basketball game, you could bring a megaphone to the big soccer game, you and all of your friends could make signs for the women’s volleyball team at their big game, or you could even work your way into the President’s box at a home football game. I highly recommend anything short of streaking…..definitely not recommended.

No. 6 – Cultivate a Caffeine Addiction

This can be incredibly useful while highly enjoyable. Late nights in the library can be dreary and dull but with a fresh dose of caffeine in your system your night can be instantly turned into a frenzied race to the finish. Caffeine will always be the one friend you can count on when you need it the most, especially for those 8am exams which leads us to…

No. 7 – Pull an All Nighter

This may be the standard by which all other college activities are measured. You are assured of at least one all night study session with a 8am exam the next morning. As referenced above, your only true friend may be caffeine, but with your newly cultivated caffeine addiction you should have no problem keeping your spirits up and your focus where it needs to be. Ace the exam, then enjoy the sweet crash of sleep for the rest of the day.

No. 8 – Start a Business with College Friends

Does The Social Network mean anything to anybody? You may never have another opportunity in your life where so many intelligent people are all gathered in one central location. Colleges are a cornucopia of brilliant ideas and young minds with the energy to bring these ideas to life. Starting a business with your college friends can be the most rewarding decision of your life. Even if your business does not take off and earn you millions, you still will have begun down the path of entrepreneurship, which hopefully will stay with you for the rest of your life.

No. 9 – Join a Protest, Rally, or Demonstration

Not everyone is political, and not all rallies are for a fanatical cause. College is a time to figure out what you believe, and learn how to make a difference. A protest, rally, demonstration or march is a great way to link yourself to a good cause and make a difference. Who knows, it might even lead to a new career prospect!

No. 10 – Graduate

I know, this might seem dumb, but the best goal you can set for yourself in college is to graduate. Your college experience might be amazing, but you really limit your options without your diploma. There certainly are exceptions who have done alright without a degree (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg) but they are just that, exceptions. Your college legacy will be firmly sealed in the alumni status as you walk across the stage and receive your diploma.

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