Staff Ed: When it comes to college apps, the odds are not in your favor
Watch out, parents. There’s a new form of gambling that your teenager is highly likely to partake in during his or her senior year in high school. No, this isn’t some card game. It’s college admissions.
What is it exactly about applying to colleges that makes it akin to gambling? For starters, when it comes to colleges, nothing is certain. Colleges receive a record-breaking number of applications every year for the same number of spaces.
Cornell University, for example, only admitted 6,123 students out of the 37,812 whom applied, giving the college a 16.2 percent admission rate for this year. Compare this number to the Cornell’s admission rate in 2003, which was 31 percent. This steady decline in percentages shows no hopes of letting up.
But it’s not enough to just get in. That’s the easy part, compared to the step that comes next: student loans. This is where the financial aspect of gambling comes into play. While the benefits of going to a prestigious college are obvious, are they worth the risk in comparison to being in debt for the rest of your life?
The idea of a life-long student loan is no exaggeration. According to data from Equifax credit report, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that people 50 and older currently carry a grand total of nearly $135 million in student-loan debt. The student-loan debt of those 60 and older amounts to more than $36 million.
To make matters even more horrifying, the total student-loan balance in America stands at about $870 billion, which is more than the total balances due on credit cards, $693 billion, and auto loans, $730 billion.
According to the New York Federal report, “with college enrollments increasing and the costs of attendance rising, this balance is expected to continue its upward trend.”
Perhaps the most terrible part of the college gamble is that many students don’t even know the rules of the game. A student loan of $20,000 can easily turn into a $60,000 if you fall behind on the payments. Interest rates are typically high, and student loans don’t disappear when you file for bankruptcy. They stay with you for the rest of your life.
How is a poor underclassman to have a chance of success in these college games? Basically, the more cards you have in your hand, the better. In other words, apply to lots of colleges you like. While having a long list of colleges is not a guarantee of a debt-free future, it will definitely increase your chances of obtaining this ideal situation.
Don’t just apply to colleges, though. Scholarships are available to students in every grade level. Although receiving scholarships is not guaranteed either, at least they don’t carry the financial risks that college acceptance letters come with.
This should go without saying, but also make sure you stay focused on your academics. There exists no substitute for hard work in the college admissions process.
Unless, of course, you’re a legacy – that is, one or both of your parents graduated from a college you are applying to. This is an extremely good substitute for academic dedication.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, a researcher at Harvard University found if one of the applicant’s parents attended a college as an undergraduate, the applicant was 45.1 percent more likely to be accepted to that particular college.
Finally, look up facts about how student-loans work, and decide how much of a risk you’re willing to take. Remember, college applicants and tuitions increase every year, but the number of available spaces and minimum wage don’t. Develop a personal plan for how you want to play your cards.
Good luck, because the odds are certainly not in your favor.