College Decision Day Brings Relief, Excitement And Big Worries About Money : NPR Ed On May 1, high school seniors must submit a commitment — and financial deposit — to their final college choice. But for low-income students, it's not necessarily the end of the road.

College Decision Day Brings Relief, Excitement And Big Worries About Money

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Today is decision day for many high school seniors. It's when they commit to a college. They announce their decisions at school assemblies, and they send in financial deposits to hold their spots on campus. Elissa Nadworny of the NPR Ed Team has been talking to students about their decisions and the road ahead.

JADA BOUIE: I, Jada Bouie, will be attending Delaware State University. Kayla, introduce yourself, sweetie.

KAYLA RICHARDSON: I'm Kayla Richardson (ph). I will be attending the North Carolina Central University.

BETHLAHAM ASEF: My name's Bethlaham Asef (ph). I'll be attending University of Southern California.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: We're in a college adviser's office at McKinley Tech High School in Washington, D.C. And there's a constant chorus of, where are you going next year? Where are you going to school? Some are waiting on their financial aid award letters, and others are signing up for dorms. The room is abuzz.

ALEXIS HIGGINS: My name is Alexis Higgins (ph), and I will be attending Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Fla. - thank you very much - majoring in biology.

NADWORNY: Alexis is a senior here at McKinley Tech. And when she visited the Florida campus earlier this year, she said she just knew.

HIGGINS: It was like a nurturing environment when we went. It was like a big family.

NADWORNY: Later this week, she'll get up in front of her peers and say her school choice out loud.

LINDSAY PAGE: I kind of like the idea that there's glorification of the academic. Like, I think that's awesome.

NADWORNY: That's Lindsay Page, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. She studies college access. And she says she's glad high schools have moved away from only celebrating sports. But today can be a bit misleading, especially for low-income students.

PAGE: They can say where they're going. You know, they're intending to go there in the fall. And then for a large share of those students, they don't successfully make the transition.

NADWORNY: Her research has shown that in some places, 40 percent of high school seniors don't show up as freshmen in the fall. And the biggest reason - the money.

PAGE: Oftentimes there's a big gap in between what students and their families are able to pay and what is their unmet need, basically what's left in their bill that they're supposed to make up.

NADWORNY: I ask Alexis, the girl who committed to Florida A&M, about her finances.

HIGGINS: My financial aid, it isn't that much.

NADWORNY: How much money do you have to make up?

HIGGINS: A lot, probably like 20,000, 20-something thousand per year.

NADWORNY: Page has seen this before. That 20,000 looks doable right now. But come July or August, that 20,000 is a big number. And over four years, that number is actually $80,000. But Alexis, she's determined that in August she'll be soaking up that warm weather in Tallahassee.

HIGGINS: I'm still going to go. I just have to do more on my side.

NADWORNY: She just has to apply to as many outside scholarships as she can find.

HIGGINS: Every single day during class, during lunch, during my sleep time that I wish I get (laughter).

NADWORNY: She says she'll work all summer and get a job when she moves to Florida in the fall. Elissa Nadworny, NPR News.

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