Worries about Paying for College Changes the Admissions Expe

by Vault Education Editors | May 06, 2009

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As you've heard us say before, worry about paying for college is at an "unprecedented high," according to The New York Times. This week, the Princeton Review gave us more statistics to back this up in the results of its 2009 College Hopes and Worries Survey.Of the applicants and their parents who responded to the survey, 66percent reported that their stress level about the process was high.Applying to college is already a very stressful experience--throw inworrying about paying tuition, not just freshman year, but sophomore,junior and senior years as well, and it's a nightmare. About 85 percentof respondents noted that financial aid played a huge part in theirdecision about where to apply and would continue to influence theirthinking later on when deciding when where to go.

Clearly, the economy is playing a much larger rolein this year's admissions cycle across the board than it has in yearspast. Sixty-seven percent of respondents reported that the currenteconomic crisis has affected their choices of where to apply. However,applicants are addressing this challenge in different ways: 38 percentsaid that they were applying to schools with "lower sticker prices,"like public colleges and state universities; 34 percent said they wereapplying to more "financial aid safety" schools, or schools at whichthey know they will receive substantial financial aid; and 28 percentsaid they were applying to programs closer to home to save on travelcosts and, potentially, cut out room and board all together by livingat home. When asked about their worst-case scenario, students didn'tmention not getting into their dream school--the typical response formost college aspirants. Instead, in the words of one student, thebiggest fear is that he "will get [his] into first-choice college, butwon't have sufficient funds/financial aid to attend it."

Interestingly, this shift in applicants' worstnightmares has changed the way they look at their dreams as well. Aspart of the College Hopes and Worries Survey, Princeton Review asksstudents and their parents "What 'dream college' do you wish you (yourchild) could attend if acceptance or cost weren't issues?" From 2004 to2007, New York University topped the top-10 dream school list forstudents. This year, it is in the No. 5 spot, following some more"traditional," internationally prestigious universities—Stanford,Harvard, Columbia and Princeton (in that order). For parents, NYU is inthe No. 6 spot, after Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Notre Dame andYale. Some could argue this reflects a change in how students viewtheir college experience—that students are looking to top-name,academic universities with tried and true postgraduate employmentprospects. Students are considering their financial situation not onlyfor college, but beyond.

Princeton Review also asked students if they hadany advice for future college students about the admission process.Says one respondent: "It's hard. Take up yoga."

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