Underfinanced student turns to the Web

Enterprise: Lack of money is not going to stop Allyson Levy from going to college, not when she can make her pitch online.

March 10, 2000|By Brendan A. Maher | Brendan A. Maher,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Like many would-be scholars, Allyson Levy of Bethesda has dreamed of going to a top college to study the great thinkers, but she encountered one major obstacle: money.

Levy's solution? Go digital -- tap into America's online auction fever and see if she can't raffle off the privilege of paying her tuition to the highest bidder.

Actually, that was Levy's first idea. But not long after she offered two tickets to her presumed 2004 graduation ceremony to the highest bidder on eBay, the online auction giant bounced her off its Web site. Their reason: Levy wasn't selling any tangible good or service.

But that setback hasn't stopped the determined Levy, 24. Instead, the philosophy and theology major in waiting just set up her own Web site: www.sendallyto college.com.

Now, in addition to graduation tickets, she promises those who donate to defray her college costs such things as monthly reports, anecdotes about school, even copies of her report cards.

Somehow, she says, she'll get the education she's after: "I can't think about it any other way."

For Levy, attending a top college is not a pipe dream. A part-time student on the dean's list at Montgomery College in Rockville for the past two years, she has already been accepted for the fall at both Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts at Boston and is awaiting word from Boston University.

She's lived on her own and worked full-time since she was 18, she says, and can't call on her parents for help the way the average high school senior might. She's also found scholarships for "non-traditional" students like herself hard to come by, she says, and her earnings as an administrative assistant won't pay the freight at any of her chosen schools.

Thus the online gambit, which she admits is meant as much as a publicity stunt as a serious plea for aid.

"So many people don't ask for the help that they need," Levy says. "I think many people are willing to help if they only knew who needed it."

Still, she adds, "I'm obviously not in it [going to college] for the money," noting that her post-graduate ambition is a tour in the Peace Corps. "I hope to make enough for college and to pay my expenses. I wouldn't put a limit on it, but I wouldn't take any more than I actually need."

So, visitors to her Web site are not asked just for money, she says, but also for any information on scholarships she might have overlooked.

So far, she says, she is getting far more encouraging words than actual cash from the site; pledges of only a few hundred dollars have arrived to date.

But encouraging words are also coming from her intended colleges.

Boston University spokesman Colin Riley said he thought there was probably more financial help available than Levy perhaps realizes, adding: "We don't want the potential success of a student hindered by his or her financial situation."

He added, however, that she ought to be cautious about selling graduation tickets. At least at BU, he said, there might be a limit to the number of guests she could invite.

Kevin Myron, a spokesman for Northeastern University, said that Levy "definitely seems like NU material."

"This is truly unique," he said of her endeavor. "It sounds as if the business dean should persuade her into becoming an e-commerce major."

While she doesn't plan to go that far, Levy says she is looking into helping others follow her lead on the Web. But with her heart sold on philosophy and theology, she says an e-commerce career would be an option only "if I could cater it toward helping people."

For now, though, she'll take all the help she can get.

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