Many Prospective Students Are Still Hung Up on Sticker Prices

Last October the federal government started requiring colleges to include on their Web sites net-price calculators, tools designed to help prospective students estimate what they would pay at each college after financial aid. But the requirement doesn’t appear to have made much of a difference in how students view their college options, at least not yet.

Only 35 percent of college-bound high-school seniors had used a net-price calculator as they considered colleges, according to a student poll conducted by the College Board and the Art & Science Group, a higher-education consulting firm, in December 2011 and January 2012.

And more than half of the seniors surveyed said they had ruled out colleges based on their sticker prices, without considering the availability of financial aid, according to a report on the poll’s results that is being released on Tuesday.

But students did expect financial help. About a third of the students had already applied for aid, and 58 percent said they planned to. As it has in the past, the poll found that a majority of students expected to face at least some difficulty in paying for college. Only 7 percent indicated their families could afford to send them to nearly any college.

Still, the report says, “students and families remain engaged in what appears to be naïve or incredibly wishful thinking” about how they will pay for higher education.

Three-quarters of respondents indicated they would stretch financially to attend a college that had strong academics in their intended field of study.

Many students who said they were applying for aid expected to receive it based on their academic merit, including a good share of those with low test scores. Sixty-four percent of respondents with a combined mathematics and verbal SAT score of less than 1110 thought they were likely to receive merit-based aid.

“These data suggest that the merit-scholarship arms race may very well have created a very strong and pervasive sense of entitlement on the part of the current generation of students,” the reports says, “even among those with lesser academic ability as well as those with greater need.”

The online poll sought participants from a random national sample of high-school seniors registered to take the SAT, and 1,461 of them responded.

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