Survey: Students and parents stress cost and career prep when picking a college

More respondents chose a "college with the best program for my (my child’s) career interests" (38%) than they did a "college with the best academic reputation" (11%) as the two top factors in the selection process, according to The Princeton Review's 2023 College Hopes & Worries Survey Report.

It’s no secret applying to college is a stressful time in both the applicants’ and parents’ lives. A recent report by The Princeton Review considered the perspectives of 12,225 people—with a 72/28% split between student and parent respondents—to understand what colleges they’re interested in and why they’re motivated to apply.

The “dream school”

Without taking acceptance or cost into consideration, students and parents were asked what their dream school would be. Here are the results:

Student Pick: Parent Pick:
1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1. Princeton University (NJ)
2. Stanford University (CA) 2. Harvard College (MA)
3. Harvard College (MA) 3. Stanford University (CA)
4. New York University 4. New York University
5. University of California—Los Angeles 5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
6. Princeton University (NJ) 6. Duke University (NC)
7. University of Pennsylvania 7. Yale University (CT)
8. Columbia University (NY) 8. University of Michigan
9. University of Michigan 9. Brown University (RI)
10. University of Texas – Austin 10. University of California – Los Angeles


Students and parents agreed on seven schools: MIT, Stanford, Harvard, NYU, UCLA, Princeton, and the University of Michigan.

Students seek career readiness, academics an afterthought

The academic reputation of a school and the education students would gain from a degree proved to be unpopular priorities for most students and parents.

More respondents chose a “College with the best program for my (my child’s) career interests” (38%) than they did a “College with the best academic reputation” (11%) for an institution they’d most likely select. Additionally, almost half of the respondents believed the biggest benefit of a college degree is the potential for a better job and income while only 23% chose its educational value.

Financing school is the top roadblock for applicants, parents

In 2003, 52% of respondents chose “Won’t get into first-choice college” as their biggest worry while 8% chose “Level of debt to pay for the degree.” Twenty years later, the respondents flipped the survey on its heads.

  • 42% of respondents chose the answer “Level of debt to pay for the degree.”
  • 27% worried that they “Will get into first-choice college but won’t be able to afford to attend.”
  • Only 23% chose “Won’t get into first-choice college” as their top worry.

Similarly, 98% of respondents said financial aid will be necessary to support themselves or their child while 54% said the need would be “extremely likely.”

Access to scholarships and additional aid is one of the leading reasons students chose to take the SAT or ACT even though Ivy League schools and others no longer require standardized testing for admission consideration.

Read more on UB: Community college students hit an academic ceiling, report finds

Test-optional policies get mixed reviews

While access to scholarship money and other avenues of financial aid was the second-most quoted reason to take the SAT/ACT (33%), the leading reason was in hopes that standardized test scores could distinguish their application (43%).

Overall, schools’ test-optional policies aren’t creating such a hoopla. Nearly 70% of respondents reported that their policy didn’t affect their application decisions. However, 23% of respondents said they were more likely to apply to a test-optional college.

“Our hope is that all students bound for college can access resources to identify the school best for them, get accepted to it, get funding for it, and graduate to rewarding and successful careers,” said Rob Franek, editor-in-chief of The Princeton Review and director of the survey.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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