There was a time when high school seniors, even poor ones, set their sights on a university first and figured out how they would pay for it later.

But with tuition up as much as 104 percent in 10 years, the average student in 2012 shouldering nearly $30,000 in debt, and nearly $1 trillion in federal student debt going unpaid, young Americans heading off to college are more price-conscious than ever.

That, at least, is according to a new survey from UCLA's Cooperative Institutional Research Program:
The American Freshman National Norms report, sponsored by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, found that while three out of four teens were accepted at their first-choice schools … 

 … the number of those who actually enrolled at their first-choice school hit an all-time low, as cost and financial aid incentives swayed decisions.

So says a UCLA summary. About 57 percent of freshman headed to their first-choice campuses in 2013, the lowest reported percentage since researchers began tracking these things in 1974, the report says.

The proportion of students who said cost was a “very important” factor in their choice was also at a high point of nearly 46 percent, UCLA reported. That's a near-15 percentage point increase in almost 10 years.

Nearly half (almost 49 percent) of the students said financial aid was “very important” in their quest to receive a college degree, a number that also represented a historic high, the report said.

Cost was even more important for first-generation college kids. About 54 percent of them said the price of their education was “very important,” UCLA reports.

Kevin Eagan, interim director of UCLA's Cooperative Institutional Research Program says:

The difficult financial decisions that students and their families have to make about college are becoming more evident. Colleges that can reduce net costs to families are gaining more of an edge in attracting students to their campus. Over 62 percent of students who were admitted to but did not attend their first-choice college said they were offered aid by the institution they chose to attend.

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