May 1st has come and gone – decisions made…

It was nail-biting season for the three million high school seniors applying to college — and for their equally anxious parents. May 1 was official Decision Day when families needed to make a deposit at one school where they were accepted, even if they were wait-listed at a college they’d prefer to attend.

According to the Princeton Review, stress levels among applicants and their parents this year are high. So are worries about footing the bills should their ideal college say “You’re in!” But hopes for the return on their investment prevail: college is widely viewed as “worth it.”

In a fantasy scenario — if admission were automatic and cost inconsequential — the “dream” college from which students and parents most wish they’d be getting the good news is Stanford University (CA).

That’s according to findings of The Princeton Review’s 2019 College Hopes & Worries Survey released today. The survey, which the company has conducted annually since 2003, gathered opinions from 11,900 people this year: 78% (9,282) were college applicants and 22% (2,618) were parents of applicants. Respondents hailed from all 50 states and DC. The survey format was a questionnaire with multiple-choice answers. One question invited a fill-in-the-blank answer.

Top 10 “Dream Colleges” of Students and of Parents

Answers to the survey’s one fill-in-the-blank question, “What ‘dream college’ do you wish you or your child could attend if acceptance and cost weren’t issues?” ranged widely: hundreds of school names were penned in.

The schools students most named as their “dream college” were:

  1. Stanford University
  2. Harvard College
  3. Princeton University
  4. New York University
  5. University of California—Los Angeles
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  7. Columbia University
  8. University of Pennsylvania
  9. Yale University
  10. University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

The schools parents most named as their “dream college” for their children were:

  1. Stanford University
  2. Harvard College
  3. Princeton University
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  5. New York University
  6. Cornell University
  7. University of California—Los Angeles
  8. University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
  9. Yale University
  10. University of Notre Dame

Answers of respondents overall (students and parents) to the survey’s multiple-choice questions indicate these findings:

College applications stressful? Yes! 

73% of respondents reported their level of stress about the college application process as “High”: a 17% increase over the 56% who reported such stress levels in 2003, the survey’s initial year.

Toughest factor? Tests.

Asked which aspect of the application process was toughest, 37% (the plurality) chose the answer, “Taking the SAT®, ACT®, or AP® exams.” 33% said “Completing applications for admission and financial aid.”

Biggest hope? Financial Aid.

64% of respondents deemed their need for financial aid (grants, scholarships, or loans) “Extremely Necessary”; 24% said “Very Necessary.” In all, nearly 9 out of 10 (88%) of respondents reported needing money for college outside of their savings.

Biggest worry? Debt.

42% said their biggest concern was “Level of debt to pay for the degree.” 31% chose the answer “Will get into first-choice college but won’t be able to afford to attend.” 20% chose “Won’t get into first-choice college,” which, in earlier years of the survey, was the respondents’ top worry.

Biggest benefit of earning a college degree? Jobs.

43% said the major benefit of a degree was a “Potentially better job / income,” while 25% said “Education,” and 32% said “Exposure to new ideas.”

Distance from home of “ideal” college? Relatively near, say parents. Far, say students.

47% of parents chose “Less than 250 miles” as the ideal distance of their child’s college, and 31% chose “Less than 500 miles.” Among students, 69% chose answers in ranges from 250 to 1,000 miles as the ideal distance of the college they hoped to attend; 37% of that cohort said, “More than 500 miles.”

Issue most important in their final college choice? Career services. 

42% chose “College with the best program for my (my child’s) career interests” as the factor that will most sway their ultimate college choice, while 41% chose “College that will be the best overall fit.” 9% said “Most affordable college.” Only 8% said “College with the best academic reputation.”
Issue most important in their final college choice? Career services.
Asked if they viewed college to be worth the investment, 99% of respondents said “Yes.”

Other survey findings report on respondents’ answers to questions about the number of colleges they (or their child) were applying to, issues that matter most to them when evaluating colleges, and how they rate the guidance from their school counselor. The full survey findings report is at College Hopes & Worries.