- Associated Press - Saturday, April 12, 2014

WASHINGTON, Pa. (AP) - For months, Trinity High School senior Sydney Dydiw toyed with an important decision.

The 18-year-old applied to at least a dozen colleges and universities, and quickly heard back she had been accepted. But with the commitment deadline quickly approaching, she was desperately holding out for one, Johns Hopkins University.

“Johns Hopkins is the total package for me,” the 18-year-old said before getting word on her application. “I fell in love with the campus … I’m just trying to put it out of my mind.”

Unfortunately, Dydiw didn’t get in.

“I was anxious and excited,” she said. “I thought I could really get in.”

While she was let down, Dydiw was prepared with a back-up plan; she will attend Case Western Reserve University in the fall.

She’s making the decision just in time.

May 1 is Decision Day for high school seniors around the country - the final day to notify the school of their choice that they will be part of the fall freshman class. Increasingly, cost is playing more of a role in that decision.

A recent survey of the country’s college freshmen found the percentage of students attending their first-choice school reached an all-time low, as cost and the availability of financial aid now plays an influential role in decision-making. The survey, which was conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, found just 57 percent of students end up going to their top school.

Dydiw is aware of the huge financial obligation that comes along with attending Case Western. The current tuition rate is more than $41,000 a year.

“I applied all over,” she said. “So I am looking for the best financial package because they are all on the same playing field. Our guidance counselor tells us not to worry about the price tag. But I’d rather not be $100,000 in debt.”

Dydiw also received acceptance letters from the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke University and Vanderbilt University. It’s an impressive lineup, and Dydiw knows it.

Her avalanche of acceptance letters didn’t come by chance. Dydiw is one of six seniors at her high school in the running for valedictorian. Her grade-point average is 4.75, which she accomplished by carrying a rigorous academic schedule. Dydiw also was involved in sports, school clubs and volunteered her time with various organizations.

“I tried to be as well-rounded as possible,” she said.

She also put roughly 20 hours into college applications, mainly personal essays.

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