Job insecurity and tanking retirement portfolios and 529 Plans have some families rethinking their college applications strategies.

Bloomberg reports that applications are down at seven of the eight highest-rated liberal arts colleges in the country. Williams College was the hardest hit with an astounding decline of 20% in applicants. Swarthmore fell by 10%, Middlebury was down 12%, Amherst College 1%, Carleton College 3%, Bowdoin 1.6%, and Pomona 2.2%. Wellesley reported a 2% increase.

the $40,000 and $50,000 price tags are doubtless scaring beleaguered parents, but the reality is that not applying to these colleges is probably not the best strategy. The most elite colleges generally have the largest endowments and are able to offer the best financial aid packages -- and students who are admitted are also likely to receive merit-based scholarships. Although the endowments have plunged in value, they are still able to offer financial aid to higher-income parents than most other colleges.

For whatever reason, the Ivy League universities did not experience this recessionary decline. All eight reported increased applications, with Yale reporting a 14% gain -- perhaps motivated by cost-conscious families hoping to gain entrance and hit the financial aid jackpot.

The schools that will probably be the most squeezed by the downturn are the middle of the road private colleges, who will lose out to more affordable public institutions. Technorati Profile

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