With much news lately about the economy improving, there are still many college students who are feelings its ill effects. The economy is affecting students in all sorts of situations. It is influencing decisions for those just entering college, it is affecting the way those in college pay for their education, and it is creating problems for those about to graduate.
FastWeb.com, a website dedicated to helping students find scholarships, conducted a survey in August that found that one-third of students preparing for college are changing their plans in some way based on financial difficulties associated with the slow economy. Of the people surveyed, 38 percent have decided to attend a less expensive school than they had originally, 35 percent say they are going to a community college before moving to a four year institution, and 31 percent say they will attend a school closer to home than originally planned.
Another way the economy is still affecting higher education is through enrollment and financial aid. Economic downturns usually stimulate enrollment in colleges, especially community colleges, according to the Community College Review. Many of these people are adults returning to college because they have been laid off or feel a need to expand their skills to avoid being laid off. With this increase in enrollment comes a further strain on financial aid programs. With more students applying for aid and less private money being donated to colleges for aid programs, there are fears that financial aid will not be available to all those who need it. So far however, these problems have mostly been prevented. Increased government money has helped balance out decreases in private donations at some institutions, and in others, private donations have not decreased significantly since many donors are wealthy enough to withstand the economic downturn (as an example, McDaniel’s Carpe Diem campaign has gone over its goal and is still accepting donations).
Of course, even after being accepted to college, students must still overcome a multitude of financial difficulties. Books are expensive, meals are expensive, and student jobs are sometimes hard to come by and usually do not pay well. Book rental services have made lightened the financial load for students, allowing them to rent their books for the semester or year, and then return them when they are finished. This can save students over 50% of the cost of buying new books. Although pioneered by websites such as Chegg.com, some publishers have begun to rent directly to avoid getting pushed to the sidelines by other rental services.
Finally, the situation for students planning to graduate may be the most frightening of all. What if you have spent the last four years of your life working hard only to be jobless after graduation? One option that many students are considering is going directly to graduate school. While most advisors would discourage students from going to graduate school just because they are afraid they won’t find jobs, getting a post-graduate degree can be a worthwhile way to spend time during an economic drought. When more jobs do become available and there are many people competing for them, people with post-graduate degrees will stand out. In a September article, the University of Illinois Student Newspaper reported that US graduate school applications for the current semester are up 8 percent. However, admissions are only up 2 percent, so if you are planning to apply, make sure you work hard as an undergraduate to distinguish yourself.
There are however plenty of students who say they have not changed their plans based on the economy. Many were trying to save money even before the economy turned sour and have simply continued their efforts. Senior Natalie Hartman says, “I have tried to spend less and save more money, but I think I would be striving to do that even if the economy weren’t in bad condition. Any spending money that I do need while at school I earn working at the college bookstore. I work full time during the summer and that’s when I really try to save most of my money.”
For many students, concerns about what to do after college have to stay on the back burner for now. After all, you can’t worry about what to do after college unless you actually finish college successfully. Senior Marzak Ahmed says, “My plans after college are to do museum studies and eventually work full-time in a museum. I interned over the summer at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, so I’m working towards that goal. I probably will go to graduate school, but I haven’t thought too much about it at the moment. I’m more focused on doing well for my senior year.” Junior Atlee Baker says, “My plan to go to Med school remains the same…even in the face of needing large loans in the future.”
For most students, the best advice is just to continue doing what you want to do. Try to go to school where you want to go, study what you want to study, and try your best to get a job you love after school. Of course, things might not go 100% according to plan right now, but a little flexibility and patience will get you there eventually.