Finances affect current college decisions

By Alexia Boyarsky and Cathi Choi

After spending years studying at Harvard-Westlake, Delilah* ’09 aimed high. Although she had “okay” grades, she applied to an Ivy League school and other reach schools hoping that she would get in. Not even considering the finances, Delilah believed that she would eventually end up at the best school that accepted her.

In March, Delilah found out that she had gotten into Columbia and Northwestern, two of her reach schools.

Although Delilah’s parents had always wanted her to go to UCLA, she assumed that if it came down to one of her top choices and UCLA, they would be on her side.

But when she called her parents at work to tell them the good news, she was a little surprised. Instead of the happy congratulations and party planning that her friends had received following their acceptances into college, her parents instead sounded like “someone had died in their office.”

That night, her parents sat her down for a straightforward talk.

“They told me that they were financially incapable of paying for my school of choice, Columbia. That I would either have to go to UCLA, or take out loans amounting to $120,000 at the end of four years if I went to the schools I wanted to go to,” she said.

“I have to make my decision in four days at this point,” Delilah said on Monday, “and I have no idea what I’m going to do.”

Roxanne* ’09 had to drop her top choice school as an option because they did not offer her any aid.

Although her second choice school, University of Chicago, offered some aid, it wasn’t enough for her parents to be completely comfortable.

“I’m now choosing between University of Chicago and NYU,” Roxanne said. “I love University of Chicago, but NYU gave me so much more aid that I have to consider it.”

Although her parents tell her that they would be all right with her going to Chicago, Roxanne is more concerned with their situation.

“My parents say it doesn’t really matter to them. They want what’s best for me,” she said. “They don’t want to admit it, but I think it would be difficult for them and I would definitely feel guilty.”

There are a few students who are simply choosing the cheapest option because of their situations, but the majority of students are facing what upper school dean Sharon Cuseo calls “the name versus the money” problem: choosing between schools that have offered money and the school that’s harder to get into.

Jane* ’09 is confronted with this problem as she is being forced by her parents to choose UC Santa Barbara or UC San Diego over USC, her top choice school from the beginning of the process.

“My parents are not down with paying for USC. They just told me straight up that they can’t,” Jane said. “It definitely happened within the past two years, and it’s partly because of the economy.”

Jane is not on financial aid at Harvard-Westlake, and when her sister went to Georgetown, money was not a deciding issue. But now, because of her parents’ situation in the economic recession, her sole deciding factor is money.

Besides choosing less expensive schools, students are also pursuing other financial options. While attending UC Berkeley in the fall, Mitch* ’09 plans to not only apply for a work study program but also to take out federally subsidized loans.

“It’ll probably be like four or five thousand dollars a year,” Mitch said. “That’s not so much. My father said he probably would be in the position to pay them off in four years.”

Mitch plans to take out federally subsidized loans which have a low interest rate. Therefore, even if his father is not able to pay them off, Mitch says the estimated $16,000 would be manageable to pay on his own.

Cuseo advises students to only take out loans if they are federally subsidized.

“Those are deferrable while you’re in school,” Cuseo said. “So you can go to graduate school, and you won’t have accruing interest. Those are never a problem.”

Jane, on the other hand, is not considering taking out loans.

“Loans were never really an option,” Jane said. “Paying them off for the rest of your life doesn’t really sound like a good thing.”

As the deadline for college deposits approaches, both Delilah and Jane have a difficult decision to make.

Although a year ago these decisions would not have been so hard, the economy has severely hindered their options.

“Where I want to go changes every day,” Jane said. “One day I want to go to SB and the next to SD. I don’t really know where I’m going to go. It’s kind of frightening.”

*Names witheld upon request