This time of year, high school juniors and seniors start making plans for college.  Though high-priced and ivy league institutions have a certain cachet, more and more young people are “voting their pocketbook”.

As an example, the  National Journal reporter Stacy Kaper covers the discussions of between a student and her counselor that included an analysis of fiance and debt as part of the selection process:

Vanessa Bertrand always intended to go to a big-name, out-of-state school. She made the decision as a little girl, watching Cliff Huxtable on a rerun of The Cosby Show argue the merits of Princeton, Yale, Howard, and his father’s favored alma mater, the fictional Hillman College. The conversation that unfolded on that episode of the 1980s sitcom—a show whose run ended before she was even born—left a deep impression on the child, driving her to research universities before even reaching high school. And at 18, it informed the decisions she made about college applications and the way she ranked the most desirable universities.

“A school’s name opens more doors than many others,” Bertrand explains. “Not only did college open doors, but the school’s name did. So if you have Yale on your resume, it felt like an automatic yes, you’ll get a certain job. ”

Dan Mendelsohn, Bertrand’s counselor, then urged Bertrand and her classmates to start financial planning, including an application strategy to have  “financial safety net” schools, and to  begin searching for scholarships and financial aid. The plan helped when acceptance letters from elite schools arrived.

Mendelsohn broke down the costs and the truth began to sink in. Bertrand could go to Howard, but it would cost her $38,000 a year. Her parents could give her $12,000, but another $20,000 would come from loans. They multiplied that by four years of undergraduate study. Bertrand realized that going to Howard would be a heavy lift, especially when she factored in the cost of medical school, which typically leaves graduates with about $150,000 in additional debt.

“I was shocked.… I felt that I had to go wait by the mailbox for other schools,” Bertrand says.

Bertrand also received acceptance letters from Spelman College, Xavier University of Louisiana, and College of the Holy Cross that described costs above her budget. Ultimately she decided on the state university option, which she had always brushed off as beneath her: University of Massachusetts in Amherst.