When I was applying to college in 2003 as the first of my parents 3 children, the cost of college was not at the forefront of my college search. At some point during the application process my parents started to realize how expensive a college education could be and my sensible father suggested that I should apply to a state school in addition to the small liberal arts schools I was interested in. I was fortunate in that I received an excellent merit based scholarship at both the state institution I applied to and one of my top liberal arts school choices, so I was able to attend a school I was really excited about. The title of my story, making it through (college) unscathed (financially) really is the truth. I was extremely fortunate to be able to get a degree at a school I wanted to attend without debt. I graduated from college during the great recession and I feel like that is when the conversation around college affordability really started to take off. It might have had something to do with a bunch of recent college graduates with mountains of debt and few job prospects. Or maybe the conversation had been happening all along and I had just started paying attention.
I was the 4 year residence college guinea pig for my family, and it worked out great thanks to merit aid. One of my brothers has since graduated from a state school with an engineering degree. Although his schooling cost a lot more than mine did, he (and my parents) were able to pay for it using the money he earned by co-oping every other semester as a part of his engineering program. My youngest brother just started college at a state school and only time will tell how his undergraduate degree is paid for. One big difference between his college search and mine eleven years before, is that the cost of college was a bigger part of the conversation during all parts of his college search.