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For many seniors, this is a time of both sadness and great joy. High school has come to an end, and they stand facing a new challenge -- college.

We've see the Class of 2001 go through the process: taking the trips, writing essays, resumes, applying and waiting. The last and most important phase is deciding. What do seniors look for when making that final decision? Parties? Fraternities? Distance between them and their parents? Financial aid?

For five seniors from City Honors, their final decision on a college brought a two-year process to an end. They are excited to be done, but their decisions are quite final. No one wants to look back on the day they sent their deposit in as a horrible mistake. Like me, I know many seniors agonized over where to go. What is the best place for them? Some would respond "any place but home." Yet, there are a couple of more things that influenced their final choice.

Emma Hollander, a senior at City Honors, had a tough decision to make. "Financial aid played a large role in my decision. It helped me narrow down my college choices to two: RIT and University of Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh gave me more merit money and less loans. However, RIT had my specific program and career preparation."

By choosing the Rochester Institute of Technology, she will have more loans, but she feels she will ultimately be happier. Emma suggests making a list of pros and cons for each school when trying to come to a final decision.

Financial aid and academic programs played a role in Christina Pasternak's college choice. She will be attending Bryn Mawr, a women's college, in the fall. "Due to my prospective major of archaeology and chemistry, my choices were greatly limited from the start. When I took the tour I fell in love with the campus. It was beautiful, and it was a friendly and personal tour."

She also liked the location. By picking a school on the outskirts of Philadelphia she has a large city nearby, without the distractions of being in one. In addition it has a strong community of alumni.

Bryn Mawr costs approximately $35,000 a year. She received $22,000 in scholarships and grants. The difference will be made up in loans and a campus job.

A great financial aid offer was important, she said. While she was offered a full scholarship to her second choice, she said she's willing to take on the few loans to attend Bryn Mawr. Christina also applied for outside scholarships and did Internet research. She suggests investing some money earned from summer jobs during college years to help pay off college loans. She also suggests investigating loan options from banks.

Jaimie Iuranich applied for early decision to Cornell University and was accepted. "I chose Cornell because it has a good reputation in a variety of majors, which was important because I'm not sure what I want to do. I could have gone to UB for about the sixth of the cost, but I'd rather go to a school with a better reputation."

Cornell has some programs that are subsidized by the state, making them "about $10,000 cheaper for New York State residents than other colleges" at Cornell, she said. "If I ultimately decided to choose a major in a college that isn't publicly funded, I won't go because it's too expensive," she said.

Jaimie is concerned about how much the outside scholarships she won will help her. "I'm not sure if they'll even help because they may just go to reduce the grants I was given. Like a lot of other students I will be working next year to help make up the difference. My family is going to pay a large part of the cost."

Adria Swain applied for more than 20 independent scholarships. She wrote letters requesting scholarship information and is also looking for the best loan rates. In choosing Daemen College, she decided she was not ready to leave home, although she does plan on moving out. Another factor in her decision was that her "away" school has yet to send her a financial aid package. "Without the package, I had to eliminate that school as an option." Off-campus attendance at Daemen is approximately $13,200. Of that, "I have to pay $97," she said.

Michael Maisonave wanted to stay close to home also. "Because I am attending UB, financial aid did not play as large a role for me. About a fourth of the total cost is provided through aid, and I will be taking out loans. UB is cheaper than other schools and it cuts down on the cost of traveling."

That is an important note. Colleges include tuition, room and board and miscellaneous fees in figuring costs. However, travel, a computer and items such as clothing and linens are not included in a $35,000 bill. So you always have to factor in "living" costs at your school. UB, for instance, does require its students to have access to a computer on campus whether you purchase a new one or bring one from home.

Emma also stresses the idea about additional costs. "Once I added in the cost of books for each class and money for free time, I realized that there's a lot more money involved than is listed in a college brochure. I looked for schools with campus-sponsored activities and a strong student body." The college itself and campus-run organizations may provide activities such as movies and parties that are cheaper than off-campus activities and often free depending on the college. This can definitely save you money in the long run.

Jermaine Younger, who just graduated from City Honors, will live on campus at the University at Buffalo honors program in the fall. How did he make his decision? "In the end I want to graduate with as few loans as possible. If I would have attended my first choice, I would have so many loans, my children would be in debt." His advice on the college quest for the Class of 2002: "Choosing a college is a large responsibility. It requires time, patience and lots of help. You'll go through many sleepless nights, cramped hands and nagging. However, if there is one tip to leave you with, it would be: deadlines! Everything has a deadline. Unfortunately, most colleges will not care that you missed the deadline because of the party of the century. So good luck, future high school graduates, and best wishes.

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