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Tess Vigeland It's been application mania for college-bound high school seniors this year. Many of them sent out more applications than ever, hoping to boost their choices not just of getting in, but of getting financial aid. Tomorrow, the clock runs out. Time to say "I do" to your choice of school and put down some earnest money to reserve a spot.
Those of you caught up in this drama the past few weeks know just how agonizing a choice it can be. And for many, money is a deciding factor. Especially in this economy. From the Marketplace Education Desk, Amy Scott reports.
Amy Scott: At Laila Goodman's home in Gloucester, Mass., the dining room table is covered with college acceptance letters and financial aid offers. She's filled the margins with math.
LAILA GOODMAN: You can see all the numbers all over, can we do it, can we do it? What if I subtract that? What if I subtract this?
Goodman's son, Reeve Moir, has been trying to choose between the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Ithaca College -- a private liberal arts school. With financial aid, U Mass would cost them about $13,000 a year out of pocket. Reeve would graduate debt free. Ithaca would cost about $28,000. And Reeve would have to take out loans.
GOODMAN: We wrestled and wrestled, and we went back and forth, and I asked Reeve: If money wasn't a factor, where would you go? And he chose Ithaca.
Reeve wants to study sports management. He thought he'd get more personal attention at Ithaca.
REEVE MOIR: I guess the smaller community and the fact that I'd be treated as a person there, I felt, more than at U Mass Amherst with 17,000 other undergraduates, or however many it is, I felt I'd be treated as just another number there.
It'll be a stretch for his parents. Goodman is a high school dean and teacher. Reeve's father is a carpenter and energy consultant. They have no savings for college. And for the next two years, they'll have two kids in private schools.
GOODMAN: Half of our income is going to go to college payments. I don't know. You'll have to ask me in six months when I can't go out to dinner ever, but I do feel proud that my kids care enough to take it really seriously.
Money is weighing heavily on college decisions this year. Though household incomes fell last year, the average tuition at public colleges rose 6.5 percent. The recession has forced many families to reconsider what they can afford.
KIM HERBINE: Dear Kimberly Herbine, congratulations on your offer of admission to the University of Central Florida.
In Dresher, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, Kim Herbine reads an acceptance letter. With scholarships and loans, Central Florida will cost the family about $6,000 a year out of pocket. Kim's older sister, Jessica, is a sophomore at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She expects to graduate with $48,000 in student loans. Their father, Dave Herbine, says when it came time for Kim to look at schools, the economy had changed.
DAVE HERBINE: It just got me thinking a lot more about what's the worth of a college education? How much debt should you really be willing to take on?
With so many recent graduates struggling to find work, he also worried about Kim's job prospects after college. She chose Central Florida over a more expensive school because it offered better career training.
KIM HERBINE: Central Florida has a 100 percent placement after graduation for their college of hospitality. And that pretty much sent me there right away. And I had a scholarship there as well.
To save money, the Herbines plan to drive Kim down to school in August. She's signed up for frequent flier miles to save on future flights back home. But for many students, going far way is no longer an option.
John Boshoven is a guidance counselor at a public high school in Ann Arbor, Mich.
JOHN BOSHOVEN: Many more parents say we're looking closer to home because we can't afford the travel, we can't even afford necessarily to get out to visit the colleges as much as we would have wanted to.
In Gloucester, Laila Goodman is already planning ways to save money next year.
GOODMAN: So we've built new garden beds on the other side. And we are going to grow some food, so we thought we could save money there and eat really healthy. Here's our asparagus. We would do it anyhow, 'cause we like it. And our chickens provide us with good fresh eggs.
Her son, Reeve, is relieved to have made up his mind.
MOIR: I purchased the college sweatshirt, so now it's official. I joined the official class page on Facebook. I'm going to Ithaca.
They mailed the $400 deposit this week. Their first big payment is due in June.
In Gloucester, Mass., I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.