The Tuition (& Admissions) Blues

Bob Primmer is a typical American dad. He makes dinner and helps his high school kids with their homework and worries about getting them into college, which is now a much more difficult process than when he went to school.

"When I went to college, I pretty much applied in July, and I was enrolled in August. As long as you got a certain grade and a certain G.P.A., that was pretty much a lock," he told Sunday Morning correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

Getting into a good college is an uphill battle that favors the rich and well connected and will cost parents more than ever before. At the same time, the cache of an Ivy League school is increasingly appealing.

Primmer, a marketer at the EMC Corporation in Hopkinton, Mass., didn't go to an Ivy League school, but, like a lot of parents, he thinks about it for his kids.

"I'm gonna fight to make sure that every possibility of them getting the best possible education is what happens," he said.

Chantal Lyon is a lawyer with three kids in high school. For her, college admissions are a big worry.

"I have stress coming from all directions and that's definitely one of them," she said.

Lyon attended Boston College but she thinks it'd be a stretch for her son Christopher now.

"I think it's a lot more competitive than ever before," she said.

And then, of course, there's paying for it, another thing about attending college that has become more difficult.

"I know that B.C.[Boston College] is $42,000 a year — that's very steep. Multiply that by three kids, I'm gonna be working a long time," Lyon said.

This year, with more than 500,000 more high school graduates applying to college than just 10 years ago stress levels are at an all-time high for both kids and parents.

The nation's universities have never been more selective. At top schools like Harvard, Princeton, Northwestern, and Stanford only one in 10 of the highly qualified applicants have a chance at being accepted.

Today, even some so-called safety schools are no longer a sure bet.

Reed College is a small liberal arts school in Portland, Ore. that markets itself as a smart alternative to the Ivy League. But like other colleges, admission is highly competitive. The larger number of qualified applicants, says Reed President Colin Diver, allows colleges to be more choosy and more aggressive in going after the best and the brightest.

"Over the last five years we've almost doubled the number of applications and we've obviously made it harder to get in here," Diver said. "They're trying every trick in the book. To try to attract the very best students so yes, it's a very competitive environment right now."

Parents, Diver says, are competitive, too.

  • Caitlin Johnson

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