Student Debt Affects College Decisions

Madison Alvarado, Staff Writer

As college acceptance letters start finding their way into the hands of many Miramonte seniors, these students are faced with the difficult but highly anticipated choice of picking a university to attend next fall. While many factors weigh into this decision, money appears to be taking an increasingly important role in pushing students in one direction or another.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s most recent National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), which is conducted every four years, the average student debt at the end of four years of college is $29,400. This is the mean of all United States colleges, both private and public. Within public schools, the average student has debts around $25,550, with private school student debts totaling about $32,300.

While numerous high school students anticipate leaving the nest and exploring college life, many don’t think about what comes after getting a degree. Student loans and other debts pile up, leaving people with immense stress and not a lot of options to lessen it. With unemployment rates for people under the age of 25 at 14.5 percent and recently graduated college students at 8.5 percent, money is often a huge factor in making plans for the future.

“In some cases it’s a very important factor,” College and Career Center advisor Eloise Schneider said. “It’s always going to be a factor. I don’t think it should be number one, but if you do homework upfront when applying for colleges, then you’re going to apply to schools from which you can get merit or financial aid.”

It seems as though the safest way to protect yourself from student debt that piles up over the years is by choosing a school that provides substantial financial aid or merit. With numbers like these, the process of choosing a college is much more difficult because money outweighs other aspects of decision making. Many recent graduates and soon-to-be graduates of Miramonte High School agree that the cost of college and other expenses greatly influence the choice of school.

“I chose to apply to colleges based mainly on endowment and how well they were known for financial aid. At first after I got the decisions back I committed to Whitman which was one of my top choice schools, even though other schools gave me better aid packages, because I liked it so much more,” Miramonte graduate Camille Anderson said. “But knowing how much it would cost was always kind of stressful. I was scared of student debt, and there was a chance we wouldn’t have been able to afford it for four years. So when Occidental offered me more money I committed to there, even though it wasn’t as high on my list as Whitman.”

The pressure to choose a college is enough without adding in an economic factor.

“I don’t think money should play a role in college decisions,” senior Alexa Clark said. “If someone has the right qualifications for a college, money should not deter them from going to a school of their choice.”

In affluent communities such as Orinda, many students apply for financial aid but seldom receive it. Another option is applying for scholarships, but writing the essays or filling out the forms for these can add stress to any already heavy schedule. The Miramonte website lists available scholarships for each class, but there is often a lot of work required in submitting these applications which do not always result in scholarships. Therefore many people often don’t find the possible pay off worth it.

“A lot of students don’t take advantages of scholarships and they go by the wayside,” Schneider said. “One expired yesterday and it’s a shame no one applied for it. Fifty seniors could have easily applied for it.”

“It would be great if I could get a merit scholarship and I will definitely be applying for many,” Clark said. “However, I do not think this will be the deciding factor for what college I decide to go to.”