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For Love or Money? Insight on What Motivates Students' College Choices

May 02, 2011

Students have a lot to consider when it comes to college. From choosing what school to attend to identifying the right academic program, there are a wide variety of decisions to make. In a difficult economy, most students are weighing financial factors heavily as they make choices.

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By Douglas Fehlen

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Decisions, Decisions

Should you go to the college that you love or the one you can best afford? Will you choose a program that allows you to do what you're most passionate about or one that will help you achieve financial security? If you're fortunate, answers to these and other college questions won't require compromise. That great school you want to attend may also make the most economic sense. The career path you've always dreamed of following might lead to a rosy financial future.

For everyone else, decisions about colleges and careers can require a great deal more consideration. Economic realities may put that dream school out of reach unless you're willing to take on loads of student debt. Maybe the field you've always envisioned yourself working in has been hit hard by the recession so that jobs are scarce. Perhaps the type of program you'll enroll in remains up in the air because you're unsure how long you can stay in school before a funding source dries up.

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The Bottom Line

While some can afford to be idealistic when it comes to college and career, most students have to at least consider the financial ramifications of their choices. And increasingly, students are being swayed more strongly by economic factors in their decision making. A recent Associated Press-Viacom poll surveying 1,100 individuals ages 18-24 shows that a majority of students worry about money on a weekly basis.

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More than half of college students also rely on more than one funding source to keep up with tuition and living costs. About 60% must take out loans in order to be able to attend school. And roughly two-thirds of students work at least part time. Some are looking to complete their studies more quickly so that they can more quickly get into the workforce. And financial difficulty, not poor academic performance, is the reason most given by students who are considering dropping out of higher ed programs.

A Harsh Reality

Economic considerations are not only a factor when it comes to how long students stay in school. They're also a primary consideration in determining where and what individuals study. According the survey, cost was a major factor for most students when it came to what schools they applied to and which they ultimately chose to attend. About half of students also suggested that money was a significant factor in selecting which professions they decided to prepare for in school.

With the financial realities of the present likely to persist for a significant period of time, economic factors are sure to continue influencing students' college and career decisions. Unfortunately, even those who do set about the most financially prudent course are likely to be saddled with some debt. And with a poor job outlook in many economic sectors, not even those students in high-demand areas are assured jobs after graduation. Still, students remain optimistic - roughly 9 out of 10 believe they'll find work in their chosen profession.

Still deciding on a school? Read a cost comparison of different types of institutions.

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