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Survey: college applicants want to earn, not learn

Why go to college? Surely, for an education. But a new survey suggests the latest crop of applicants are thinking more of fattening their wallets than broadening their minds.

The finding comes from a nationwide survey of 1,175 high school seniors by WiseChoice, a college guidance website.

The online survey captured the moods of students who have endured two years of grinding recession. And it shows.

Asked to cite their reasons for going to college, the largest group, 80 percent, emphasized better job opportunities. A slightly smaller share strongly agreed with the statement, "to reach their goals in life," which at least sounds a little less mercenary. The next-most-popular reason was "to earn more."

Farther down the list: "to broaden their mind and learn more" (69 percent strong agreement), and the "social experience of going to college" (51 percent).

There's no cause here to reassess the entire higher education industry; the survey seems to have polled users of the site, a group that is predominantly female and probably not entirely representative of the population.

Nonetheless, the responses provide a good sense of how the senior mindset has shifted amid recession.

The survey, conducted previously in 2007, found dimmed optimism. Fewer students said their family can afford to pay for college with savings and salary: 22 percent now, versus 38 percent three years ago. The share who said they were worried about paying for college rose from 59 percent to 80 percent.

A few more tidbits:

Of the respondents, 20 percent said they had applied to six to nine colleges, and 7 percent had applied to 10 or more.

Eighteen percent of students said they had been wait-listed at one or more schools. (Wait lists are said to be growing.)

Fifty-six percent said they wished they had received more help from their school guidance counselors. Counselors are spread thin these days, amid tightening budgets.

Forty-three percent of those surveyed said rankings played no role in their college search. Perhaps students are not as obsessed with rankings as people suppose.

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By Daniel de Vise  |  April 29, 2010; 1:35 PM ET
Categories:  Admissions , Finance , Rankings , Research  | Tags: college admissions survey, high school senior survey, paying for college, reasons to attend college, student survey, why go to college, wisechoice survey  
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I'm not entirely convinced that "to get a better job" is the most popular due to the recession (that might be part of it, but I think your causal link is faulty).

Even before we hit the recession (disclosure: I got my BA in 2005), the big thing was that college was a way to get better opportunities, better jobs, and how to be more materially successful down the road. Especially in the DC area where you need a college degree to get a lot of desk jobs (even ones where you paper-push for $10 an hour), it is drilled into kids' heads very, very early that college will open doors that a HS diploma won't. One of the primary doors held up as an example is the "better-paying job" one, with the statistic that on average, college degree holders earn [some astronomical amount] more than non-degree holders in their lifetime.

I'm not going to argue the merits or demerits of this philosophy here (it is a bit problematic at times), but this may be more what is reflected in the survey than "OMG, we're in a recession! The only safe haven is within lecture halls!"

Posted by: | April 29, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

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