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Who said senior year was supposed to be fun?

February 22, 2008 |  9:36 am

Stanford University announced Wednesday that it will join Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and the other elite universities who waive tuition for students whose families earn less than $100,000 a year, throwing in free room and board for families who make less than $60,000.

This mind-boggling observation, from the San Jose Mercury News:

[T]he changes mean Stanford could be cheaper than state schools. For instance, a youth from a family with an annual adjusted gross income of $55,000 would pay $4,400 to $4,900 a year at Berkeley after scholarships. They'd get a free ride at Stanford.

This is great news for brainy high schoolers whose families otherwise might not be able to cover Stanford’s $36,000 yearly tuition tab, right?

Of course. There's just this catch: first they have to become one of the lucky few (around 11%) who make the cut.

Colleges, especially those offering blockbuster student aid deals like Stanford, are receiving record numbers of applications this year. Writes Audrey Kahane, a private college admissions counselor in West Hills:

Cornell's applications are up 7.5 percent this year and an incredible 57 percent since 2004. Northwestern's applications have climbed almost 14 percent this year and 54 percent in just the last three years. University of Chicago has 14 percent more applications this year, and Amherst is up 17 percent. Harvard has had a 19 percent increase in applications this year, which will lower last year's 9.1 percent acceptance rate to 7.7 percent this year.

...Here in California, University of California campuses have received 121,000 applications, an increase of 9 percent. Applications to Cal State campuses are up 11 percent.

With that kind of competition afoot, even safety schools aren’t sure things anymore. Blame it in part on the ease of filling out applications online. Blame it in part on the sheer numbers of boomer spawn swimming their way through secondary school these days (an estimated 3.2 million this year, expected to peak next year.) Whatever the reason, Stanford’s new program won’t make life any easier for most college-bound 12th graders, who, in addition to having to compete for scarce admissions slots, face a student loan credit crunch and rapidly rising tuition bills at most other schools, which don't have $17 billion endowments like Stanford's.

Party on, kids.

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