DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Here in the United States, this is a big day for many high school seniors. It is College Decision Day, May 1st. It's when many seniors have to send in their deposits to college to secure a place in next year's freshman class. For many, this decision caps a long college application process. And to find out what it's been like, we visited a high school here in Washington D.C.
NICK VITALE: My name is Nicholas Vitale. I'm 18 years old and I'm a senior here at Gonzaga College High School. And I applied to six colleges.
INAKI DE GUZMAN: I'm Inaki de Guzman. The schools I applied to were really, only, maybe two or three.
GREENE: Gonzaga is an all-boys Catholic school, and Nick Vitale recalls what it was like when seniors there were deep into writing those college application essays.
VITALE: You can tell it's a stressful time when you just start falling asleep in every class.
VITALE: And you're just like - you have such, like, negative attitude toward everything.
GREENE: And then consider: If you've got your applications in and you're just waiting and waiting. It seems like you're the only one on Facebook who hasn't gotten into a school.
GUZMAN: You can just log and it's like, oh, let's see who got in today.
VITALE: Right. Right. Right.
GUZMAN: It's like oh, OK. This guy got went to and so. It's like almost obligatory for you to, like, Like that post just to show your support for that person.
VITALE: Yeah. And then it's just like here I am like just like sitting on the computer, it's like I haven't gotten a college acceptance yet. And like, you know, you just go crazy.
GREENE: Then, when the acceptance letters do arrive - many students have just a month to decide.
Inaki de Guzman says he was swayed by Ohio State University, where the staff made him feel like he'd fit right in.
GUZMAN: They said even though OSU is a big school you fall into communities that you can stay with. I can be myself in places like that even though it can be intimidating from what I've heard.
GREENE: Nick is also heading to the State of Ohio, to Case Western Reserve University. It's a school he almost didn't apply to.
VITALE: I actually applied to it, maybe, four days before the deadline came up because I just had a change of heart. I was like well, let's just what happens if I get in. And I got in, took a trip to Ohio and absolutely loved it. I was like this is where I want to go. This is where my new home's going to be.
GREENE: Now, shepherding these boys - and more than 200 hundred others - through this whole process is Eli Clarke.
ELI CLARKE: Everyone who's in college counseling, we know, we always say how's your May 1st going or can't you wait for May 1st. We all breathe a sigh of relief when May 2nd comes we're like thank goodness May 1st is done.
GREENE: Clarke is the college counselor at Gonzaga. He says this process of moving onto a new stage of life, has always been stressful. But now add to that the soaring cost of college.
GUZMAN: Even though my parents were like we'll find a way for you to go to any college you want, I knew that choosing a school that wasn't as expensive was probably a good, probably an idea.
VITALE: Case Western is close to 50, I believe, a little bit more. I got a large scholarship so I'll be paying close to 34. So my mom was really happy about that.
CLARKE: I think in this day and age with the economy being the way it has been and is continuing to be in our society, parents are concerned - and not just on a yearly basis - I mean they think about 50,000 a year times four, times five.
GREENE: And numbers like that are daunting for many families and, so they're looking for help.
LUCY LAPOVSKY: Most students don't pay the sticker price. Higher education is a highly discounted commodity or service. The discount rate today at private colleges for new students is averaging almost 40 percent.
GREENE: Lucie Lapovsky is the former president of Mercy College in New York. She's a consultant who gives colleges advice on financial matters. She points out that besides the students who get discounts in the form of merit scholarships and financial aid, many will just choose far less expensive public universities or community colleges.
LAPOVSKY: Most students, about 80 per cent of students, actually, go to college within 200 miles of their house. There are a relatively small number of student who are participating in a national market among the very top colleges. Those are the people we think about and talk about, the ones that will pay upwards of a quarter million dollars for four years of education.
GREENE: For Nicholas Vitale and Inaki de Guzman, looking back on the last few years of taking and re-taking SAT and ACT tests, visiting schools, hustling teacher recommendations, writing application essays, they now have some advice for high school juniors.
GUZMAN: Man, if I could restart my life I would just turn everything in early, but...
VITALE: Yeah, I kind of wish I would have outlined my essays for the common application in the summer rather than like in the middle of like midterms and stuff like that, but I think that happens all of the world.
GREENE: And for the all those high school seniors out there who are listening and still haven't made up their minds, don't worry, most schools will give you till midnight tonight.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREENE: And on this May 1st, you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.