It's the time of year when high school students are finding out if they are going to college and where. The Princeton Review reports in its "College Hopes and Worries" survey that student and parent anxiety levels are way up; 71 percent of respondents report high levels of stress. Most people (86 percent) say financial aid will be "very" necessary, and within that cohort 61% say "extremely" necessary. Seventy-five percent of respondents report that the state of the economy has affected their college choices, and about half of those (52 percent) say they are applying to more "financial aid safety schools."
The advice offered by parents and students on dealing with these stresses is achingly familiar to those of us who have been through it.
"Start saving even before your children are born."
"Don't limit your child's vision of their future by your own financial worries."
"It does end."
"Take a deep breath and let your parents help. They may actually know something."
"SCHOLARSHIPS! Make sure you apply for as many scholarships as possible and take the practice SATs multiple times because unfortunately colleges take that into big consideration."
"Whoever said that senior year is the easiest is a liar."
This is just the application process, typically with kids who have at least some support and understand the importance of higher education. It's the kind of conversation that policymakers and educators want in every U.S. household to ensure the health of the country's economic future.
The only trouble is that it's not clear that the higher education system is cut out to handle that kind of responsibility. Colleges vary widely in quality and cost, and a job isn't always guaranteed at the end. No one disagrees that higher education is the best, and perhaps the only, path to ensure young peoples' economic security. But how stable is that path?
What are the biggest hurdles facing college-bound kids these days? If the difficulties are largely financial, as the Princeton Review suggests, what should kids and parents know that will help them solve those problems? How much of the stress is self-generated based on academic competitiveness or sheer pride? How much of the stress is based on the actual difficulty of getting in to college and paying for it? Is it possible to go to college without the emotional trauma?