Alumnus, Author, Financial Planner Tells Why He Chose NOVA

September 8, 2023

Jason Howell is a very proud alumnus, even though he never expected to attend NOVA. He went to W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax for nearly four years but ended up graduating from Osbourn High School in Manassas after his family moved. He applied and was accepted into George Mason University. But Jason had a financial awakening when his father told him that he would have to pay for his own education–all of it! 


As this future accounting major sat in freshman orientation at George Mason in 1992, he was crunching the numbers, comparing costs for both colleges. He decided to attend NOVA to pursue a business major before transferring to Mason to study accounting. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself: 
My parents were Caribbean immigrants who met in Canada. Five years after they moved to California, I was born. We spent five of my elementary school years in Trinidad and Tobago. Then, my family moved to Virginia, where my sister attended NOVA and George Mason University while I was in junior and high school. Following her example, I also attended NOVA and graduated in 1995. I was considered for the graduation speaker, but since I had to take one more class over the summer, I was technically ineligible. Darn it! 

I got here in 1992 and spent all three years on the Annandale Campus, even though I commuted from Manassas. Six days a week, I was in Annandale either to attend school or to work. I now live in my old neighborhood, behind W.T. Woodson High School. I moved back a year ago. 

What brought you to NOVA? 
Great question! When I was in high school, there was an expectation that only the students who were failing would “end up at NOVA.” When I was a senior in high school, I didn’t know anything about where the community or “junior” college fit in the educational system. But my dad was a college professor and helped me to see NOVA from a financial perspective. 

The primary reason I chose to attend NOVA was the value it offered. Warren Buffet says, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.” Before I even worked in the banking industry, I realized it wouldn’t make financial sense for me to take on four years of student loans. Instead, I pursued a two-year degree at NOVA while working and paying off the tuition as I went along. I believed then, and even more now, that the value proposition of NOVA is significant. 

What were your educational goals? 
I was always certain that I would obtain a four-year degree and possibly attend graduate school. At NOVA, I earned an associate degree in business administration, and at Mason, I earned my accounting degree. 

I began my career as an accounting software consultant but eventually became a corporate accountant. I had considered law school and even received a conditional acceptance to George Mason University’s law school but never attended. Instead, over the past many years, I’ve earned 12 letters after my name and written a book – JOY of Financial Planning – which was an education unto itself!  

Can you share a fun memory or anecdote about your time at NOVA? 
In 1995, the Student Activities Committee in Annandale was born. I’m sure it has a different name today. But I had volunteered to bring music to campus. I booked my first band at NOVA’s Annandale Campus. The band was called On Edge and played in the CF building. I rushed out of class and practically ran to the CF Building, where I saw them setting up. I had never seen anything so cool! 

After making just one phone call to a booking agent, I managed to have all these people show up and set up huge pieces of equipment, which really amazed me. Once the band had performed, they thanked me for booking them and told me that I didn’t need to go through a booking agent anymore but could contact them directly. This was a big “wow” moment for me. 

After that, I started booking artists and bands, mostly with unsigned musicians. I worked as a booking agent, band and business manager for years. 

I’m now a financial planner, empowering professionals and helping people achieve their lifelong dreams. But I cut my teeth working with musicians who wanted to become rock stars, and I have NOVA to thank for getting me started. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA? 
Believe in yourself and your abilities. You can be, do and have anything. NOVA can be as much a steppingstone as a four-year university on your path to success. Coming here does not mean anti-success. It means that you are on your pathway, and if you utilize the resources available at NOVA, you can become anything you want to be in life. You are better off than you think and will be better off than you can imagine. 

Many people, whether young or old, believe that where they ended up is their destiny. But who you are today is not who you will be in 10 years. If you are alive, you can change your life’s direction. Perhaps fate ultimately decides whether possibilities become realities, but only you decide – in your mind – what’s possible. By preparing for your moment, you put yourself in a position for success. NOVA put me in that position. NOVA can put you in that position. It’s up to you! 

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