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As Late as April, Students Choosing a College Still Think of Stretching to Pay

In the final weeks before they decided which college to attend last spring, students were still considering options they considered to be “too expensive” and were willing to stretch to pay for their education.

That’s one of the main findings of the latest student poll from the College Board and the Art & Science Group, a strategic-planning and marketing firm.

Large shares of high-school seniors indicated they would still consider a “too expensive” college if it had strong academics in their field of interest, was a place they felt comfortable, had a prestigious academic reputation, or had an excellent record of placing graduates in graduate school or good jobs.

In a report, the firm compares the new poll, conducted in April, with a similar one conducted from November to January. The latest poll found that students were just about as likely to expect to have some or a lot of difficulty affording college in April as they were back in the winter.

Only 9 percent of respondents indicated their families could afford to send them to almost any college. But that did not mean everyone else planned to choose a college they could comfortably afford: Twenty-six percent said their family would have to stretch a lot, but “I think we’ll make it”; 22 percent chose “I’m not sure how my family will afford to send me to college, but I believe we’ll work something out when the time comes”; and 11 percent said, “I don’t think my family can afford to send me to college, but we are going to try.”

Richard A. Hesel, a principal of the Art & Science Group, said he was consistently surprised by how unrealistic students and families can be about college costs.

That families are willing to stretch to pay for college can be a retention risk, Mr. Hesel said. “Institutions have to work much harder to monitor what’s going on with students and stay in touch.”

The students who responded in April were more likely to have discussed the cost of college with their parents than those surveyed in the winter, and they were more likely to have considered net cost.

But they still did not have a sense of what their education might cost in the long run: Nearly 40 percent said they had “no idea” what their likely monthly payment on student loans would be after graduation.

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