The College Decision

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Last week was an important time for the Class of 2017 and the colleges that they will attend. May 1st is the typical deadline for college decisions.  Prospective students wait by the mailbox to see if they have been admitted to the college of their choice.  For generations there have been competing theories about the interpretation of the size of the envelope (Does a thin envelope mean you were admitted or denied?).  Admissions Directors also wait by the mail to see if the expected students’ deposits arrive.

A recent study conducted by the Princeton Review provides interesting perspectives on the college application process from students and their parents.  Entitled, “College Hopes and Worries,” the 2013 survey includes the responses of 14,125 people (9,555 prospective students and 4,170 parents) from every state and several other countries.

First, this is a very stressful experience for both students (70%) and parents (67%).  In fact, only 2% of the respondents reported low or very low stress during the college application process.  What is interesting is that the reported stress level has increased by 13% since the survey was started.

The cause of this increased stress may relate directly to the next two issues: the economy and the cost of education.  Seventy-nine percent of the students and their parents say that the economy has impacted the decision about applying to or attending college.  This is an increase from last year (+4%) and the impact is perceived at a higher level by the prospective students (81%) than their parents (74%).

A vast majority believe that the cost of a college education will exceed $75,000 (84% of parents; 83% of students).  An additional 10% of parents believe the cost will be greater than $50,000 (19% of students) and only 1% of the parents (4% of the students) believe the cost will be less than $25,000.

It is no surprise that 89% of the respondents indicate that they will need financial aid (loans, scholarships and grants) to pay for their college education.  In fact, only 2% of the parents indicate no need for financial aid.  Clearly, both parents and students are worried about affordability and may not have a complete understanding of financial aid opportunities and actual costs.

What is gratifying from this study is the perceived benefit of a college education.  While half of the respondents correlate a college degree with a potentially better job and/or higher income, 25% see the value in exposure to new ideas and the remaining see education in and of itself as the primary benefit.

While prospective students and their parents seem to share similar degrees in regard to their hopes and worries, there is one area of marked difference.  Parents would prefer that their children attend a college closer to home.  Over half of the parents would prefer their child to be within 250 miles from home.  Over 60% of the students would prefer to be further away and a third would even want to be 500+ miles away from home.

The college decision is a challenging one for everyone involved.  Despite the levels of anxiety and concern, the hope remains that each member of the Class of 2017 will find the right fit for his or her educational and personal values and needs.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Thursday, 24 April 2014