PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 226 | Turning Down USC For Community College

Why did Roman turn down USC for community college?

In this week's podcast, I describe why Roman turned down his dream school (USC) for a more practical approach to college (community college to UC Irvine).

If you've been wondering whether there are options beyond going to the most prestigious (and expensive) college that your child gets admitted to, listen to this episode.

Show Transcript:

Hello friends. Welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. Today, I'd like to share a scenario that seems to be getting more and more popular with each passing year. That is turning down the dream of attending a fancy brand name dream school in favor of the practicality of a less glamorous path. Here's what I mean. Let's call the student in this fictitious scenario Roman.

Roman lives in Southern California, and it's been his lifelong dream to attend USC. University of Southern California. He's been to the USC campus dozens of times. He's attended sporting events, summer camps, cultural happenings. He's got all the USC gear. He follows them on the socials. His parents are all about USC, too. They know that if Roman goes to USC, they'll earn a lot of Social Credit with their peers.

Because USC is a reputable liberal arts school that's highly selective. So they've been cheering him on and dutifully putting money away for years to help defray some of the ultimate costs. As gung ho as Roman was, he was also realistic. He was a very good student, but not a superstar. He realized that his chances of actually getting into USC were not that great.

Not because he wasn't qualified or good enough, but just because of the numbers. It's a very popular school. The odds were not with him. He also wanted to major in engineering, which was very competitive. So he was trying not to get his hopes up too high. And then came decision day in Rome and lo and behold, was accepted to USC.

Hallelujah! His prayers had been answered. His childhood dream had become a reality. He could wear that USC sweatshirt to school and tell all of his friends that he was going to USC. He could post that Instagram photo. Roman was on cloud nine. Unfortunately, this joyful feeling did not last long. When Roman's parents received their financial aid package, they saw that they had received zero financial aid.

Roman would be a full payer at close to $100,000 a year times four years. How could this be? Roman's dad was a firefighter and his mom was a nurse. Not exactly. Occupations known for their financial largesse. However, between the two of them, they made over $225,000, which, if you can believe it, was enough to kick them out of the need based financial aid territory.

Did this mean that they were rich? Not by a long shot. They lived in a modest home. They drove modest cars and didn't exactly feel like they were living a life of luxury. In fact, their lifestyle was considerably more humble than most of their friends. Nevertheless, they figured sending Roman to USC would cost them over $400,000 over four years.

Assuming he graduated in four years. Their college savings account, which they were proud of, was only $79,000, which hardly would make a dent in this number. Roman's parents went numb. We can't afford this. Not even close. We're not even in the ballpark. But what about Roman's dream? A dream he'd be working on for ten years. He worked so hard.

We encouraged him to shoot for the stars. And now we're going to pull the rug out from under him. What kind of parents are we? They thought at first Roman's parents were hesitant to bring up these financial issues with him. They didn't want to burst his bubble. He was so excited. But eventually, once the dust settled, his parents had a reality check.

Could they, in good faith, support spending $400,000 for Roman's education just because it was a long standing dream of his? What about their two other younger children? Where would that leave them? Who would take on this debt? Roman. His parents. A combination of the two. With today's subsidized student loan programs. It was possible to do it. But was it practical to do so?

In the end, Roman and his parents had a long, hard to hard talk. And when Roman found out how much USC actually costs because he had no idea how much it would impact his parents and his younger siblings, and how much of that cost might land on him personally in the form of student loans. He began to question whether pursuing this lifelong dream was worth it.

He began to wonder whether the 24 hours of adulation from his classmates, which would dissipate within days, was worth taking on a $150,000 in personal debt. Was wearing the USC sweatshirt to school for six hours worth taking on $150,000 in debt. Was posting an Instagram photo proudly wearing the USC sweatshirt something that would disappear within seconds? Was that worth taking on a $150,000 in debt?

Was going to USC his dream school worth putting his parent's financial future in jeopardy and severely limiting the opportunities for his younger siblings? Or was there a different path? In the end, much to the delight of his parents and siblings, I assume Roman came to his senses and took a markedly different path. Not one that teenagers necessarily dream about.

Not one that you hear about all that often. Not one that presents particularly well on Instagram or on sweatshirt day. But one that puts him in a much better position. Five, ten years down the road. Something that most teenagers never even consider. Roman decided to attend a local community college, where he would take all the same general ed classes that he would have taken at USC with the express intention of transferring to a UC school.

University of California school. That's a state school here in California. After his two years at a community college. And by the way, out here in California, there are many community college programs that guarantee this transition from community college directly to a UC school, which are very prestigious. State schools out here financially, the last two years that he would spend at a UC school, let's call it UC Irvine, would cost about the same as one year at USC.

So the $79,000 that his parents had saved for him would almost pay for both years at a UC school, leaving Roman with practically zero debt, and his parents with the satisfaction that their discipline savings actually paid off. He would live at home during these two years, saving $40,000 in room and board. He would work part time at a local engineering firm, making money and earning valuable real world experience.

He would enjoy smaller classes, closer relations with professors, more access to one on one help. He would ease into the transition to college life, which for some students can be traumatic when they go directly from high school to college. He would presumably avoid a lot of the wild, unhinged social experimentation that is so often, unfortunately, encouraged during the first few years in college.

I'm talking about the debauchery that people euphemistically call, quote unquote, having the full college experience. We can all use our imaginations on what that entails. He would have more time and space to focus on his academics to ensure a smooth transition to a top UC program. After two years. His two years of part time work at an engineering firm would give him a good idea of what he might want to do professionally once he graduated, something many full time, bubbled college students who never leave the campus never even think about.

That part time job might even turn into a full time position after graduation. And oh, by the way, when he graduates from UC Irvine, a great school with an incredible reputation, will anyone ever ask, know, or care about the fact that he went to a community college for his first two years? No. No one will know. No one will care.

He will be a UC Irvine graduate. Not that there's anything wrong about going to a community college first, but it's just not something that comes up. He would be giving his parents and his siblings some well needed breathing room, especially financially, by not wiping out every bit of money his parents had saved, and then some for years and years to come.

And with what his parents saved for him in a college fund and what he earns during his two years of part time work and summer work, Roman will graduate with zero debt. Think about the difference between graduating from college and beginning your career and your life with zero debt, compared to $200,000 in debt between you and your parents, maybe more.

This is a life altering difference. In my experience, a lot of students, particularly boys, would be better off taking this path. Community college. Part time work. Transfer to a four year college. Compared to the traditional path, which is force yourself into a super expensive four year college experience and hope for the best, especially if a student is not particularly mature, has no idea what they want to study or do with their life and finances is an issue.

But I will admit this is not an easy sell. I'm not naive to that. Students have been conditioned for years that if they don't go directly to a four year college right out of high school, replete with drinking, skipping classes, late night video game bingeing, pot smoking, unfettered sex that they have somehow failed to launch. I beg to differ.

$400,000 is a big price to pay for all of that. So the bottom line here is maybe your son should consider an alternate path. If you'd like to discuss this treasonous idea with me privately, don't hesitate to reach out. We can get on a zoom call and discuss whether or not it makes sense for your son, and you, as a family, should consider this more unconventional approach.

That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports Prep Academy's online mentoring program, where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges.

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Podcast Host:

PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

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