“I know there will be tears shed in this office. Maybe more so this year than before,” said Pierson guidance counselor Linda Aydinian as she leafed through college financial aid materials on her desk. The shrinking economy has hurt local parents and increased demand for scholarship aid, Aydinian added, making it harder for Pierson students to finance higher education. Almost every week, Aydinian is visited by distraught students who were accepted into top private colleges, but will have to attend community and state schools in the fall instead.
“Some kids are tens of thousands of dollars short …When your heart is set on going somewhere, but you can’t and its not because you didn’t get in … It’s because of money … It’s heartbreaking,” Aydinian observed.
But it appears the economy not only determines the schools students can afford to attend, but also shapes the way they now think about the college process. According to Aydinian, Pierson kids are being more pragmatic when selecting a school, financing their education and picking a major.
“You need to make sure the investment you make is going to pay off,” said senior Nicole Keane. “You need to know that the school you attend is going to get you where you want to be for the tuition you are paying.”
A fellow classmate, who preferred to remain anonymous, applied to larger schools with deeper pools of aid money, while Keane chose schools that ran the gamut from state institutions to small and specialized private colleges. Megan Pintauro applied to Plymouth State University where she is likely to get more financial aid because her sister is currently attending the school.
This year, Pierson students are looking for more aid as opposed to financing the bulk of their education through student loans. The anonymous student is drawing upon a number of resources in order to attend the University of Puget Sound in the fall. As her mother works for a not-for-profit and her father is currently unemployed, the school awarded her around $21,000 in financial aid. Annual tuition, however, is $44,000. To shore up the difference, the student plans to enroll in a work-for-study program and is open to becoming a resident advisor in a dorm to offset her living expenses. Members of her immediate family have also offered to pitch in. After her first year, she is likely to receive more scholarship money as the school tries to retain its student body through increased financial aid.
Pintauro was originally offered the most lucrative financial aid package from Dowling College. After her mother, Laura, read the fine print though, she learned a majority of these funds would be derived from student loans. Luckily Pintauro’s school of choice, Catawba College, gave her more scholarships and grant money.
“I think a lot more kids are looking for scholarships than in the past. I think they are more reluctant to take out loans,” noted Aydinian. She added that students often look online for scholarship monies, but have a better chance of receiving local grants. Numerous community organizations, from the Lion’s Club to the American Legion, offer modest scholarships to qualifying students. The teacher’s association also raises between $4,000 to $5,000 in funds every year.
“I see students thinking about their education in the long term. Some know they are going to go on to medical school and law school … They have a lot more education ahead of them,” guidance counselor Eileen Kochanasz chimed in. “I think they are also worrying about their ability to get a job coming out of school.”
Selecting a major that will translate into a viable career is a pressing concern for these students. Keane wanted to pursue illustration or a degree in bi-lingual studies at first, but decided upon computer animation for practical reasons.
“Animation is not only the art side, but it is technical as well. I will have computer knowledge and will be able to work for an animation company,” said Keane.
Although students seem to be taking a sage look at the college process it remains stressful, especially for parents. Once Megan begins her freshman year in the fall, Laura Pintauro and her husband Robert, will have three children attending college at the same time. All of her children attend state schools, but Pintauro maintains the costs are still high.
“It’s hitting the wallet big time, especially in this economy,” said Pintauro. “I try to teach Megan about loans and all of that … How it isn’t just like picking money off of the money tree.”