Attacks prompt students to rethink college

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2001

PHILADELPHIA -- Sixteen-year-old Bennett ''Beano'' Zylber is starting to think about college. He is not sure about a major -- psychology, maybe -- but he is certain of this: He is sticking close to home.

''I was thinking about Maryland or maybe upstate New York, but I really don't feel like I want to go outside of the state now,'' said the high school junior from Brookline, Mass. ''I'm thinking of schools in my own ballpark, near my family.''

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some education experts expect that many students and parents may make the same decision in the months ahead.

''What we're seeing is more interest in being closer to home, and specifically not wanting to get on a plane. They'd rather do a nine-hour drive than a one-hour flight,'' said Michael London of College Coach, a Massachusetts company that works with high school students in helping them select and get into college.

Bennett's mother, Emily Zylber, said she would support whatever decision her son makes but would be happy to see him attend college nearby.

''Given what's going on in the world, it does give you pause thinking about your child going far away,'' she said.

''There is a feeling among many parents that they want to get to their families quickly if they need to.''

Elsewhere around the country, Jim Miller, dean of admissions at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, said the school has received some calls from parents interested in having their child close to -- but not in -- a big city.

''Some parents are evaluating how far they want their children to go to college. Talking to parents in Texas and Minnesota, we are hearing that,'' said Don Emmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.

At Muhlenberg College in Allentown, officials decided in the days after the attacks to cancel recruiting trips to California and Chicago and concentrate on students within driving distance. They have since decided to return to nationwide recruiting.

''In the immediate aftermath, we did some rethinking. Now we're rethinking again,'' said Christopher Hooker-Haring, dean of admissions. ''It mirrors what's happening in the country in many facets of life and business: getting back to normal and trying to figure out what that new 'normal' is going to be.''

It is too early to tell whether the concerns will result in a real change in college choices, said Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Colle-giate Registrars and Admissions Officers. The application deadline for early acceptance in many schools is in early November, and overall application deadlines are typically not until December or January.

The majority of college students already choose a school that is close to home.

''My take on this is that where students apply might not be as affected; they don't want to shut the door on any opportunities,'' said Alex Segura, a college adviser at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Fla. ''But as this battle escalates, I think colleges will see more students staying closer to home.''

Two big-city schools -- the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Columbia University in New York City -- said student inquiries and visits since the attacks are actually up from last year.

Some say a change in the college landscape might help students vying for a spot at the most competitive schools.

Dr. Bruce Hirsch of Boston said his 17-year-old son Michael has dreamed of attending Columbia since childhood -- a dream that terrorism hasn't changed.

''Three of his friends said they're not applying'' to Columbia now, said Hirsch, a native New Yorker. ''He was happy about that because it cuts down on the pool of applicants.''

Hirsch added: ''The bottom line is, anything could happen anywhere. He's always wanted to go there, he's worked hard and he deserves it.''

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