College Student Hopes and Worries

As high school students work through the college admissions process and then anxiously await those all-important admission letters, they — and their parents — are filled with hope, and also worry.  It is the nature of the process.

Since 2003 The Princeton Review has conducted an annual survey investigating those hopes and dreams.  This year, the survey was available from August 2014 to March 2015 and was completed by slightly more than 12,000 students and parents.  80% of the respondents were students and 20% were parents.  The results of this survey provide a window into some of the dreams and application viewpoints of these students and parents.  Many parents may find it reassuring that they are not alone in their feelings.

The admissions process and finances

73% of those responding reported ”application stress;” This represents 17% more than those indicating stress in the first year of the survey in 2003.  The greatest source of stress for most students was the testing — taking admissions exams.  The second greatest source was the application process itself — completing admissions and financial aid applications.

The greatest concerns for both students and parents related to finances.  39% worry most about the amount of debt they will incur, and 35% worry that they will be admitted to their first choice of college but be unable to attend because of lack of finances.

College — why and where?

99% of those students and parents filling out the survey this year feel that college will be ”worth it.”  However, there is some divergence in thinking about why to attend college.  45% of respondents feel that the greatest benefit of college will be a ”potentially better job” or ”higher income.”  Another 31% feel that the benefit of college will be the opportunity to ”explore new ideas.”

Future college students and their parents differed in their opinions about the ideal distance between home and college.  52% of parents thought the ideal distance would be less than 250 miles from home.  63% of students placed the ideal distance between 250 and 1,000 miles from home.

One question on the survey was open ended, asking students and parents to fill in the blank.  That question asked them to identify their dream college.  “What ‘dream college’ do you wish you or your child could attend if acceptance or cost weren’t issues?” On this question, there was less difference between the dreams of students and their parents.  All respondents rated Stanford as their number one choice and Harvard as their second choice. Other colleges making the top 10 for both parents and students included Columbia, Yale, Princeton, University of California — Los Angeles, New York University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Words of wisdom

One additional, optional question asked respondents what advice they have for next year’s applicants and their parents.  We’d like to share a few of the pieces of advice from parents — for parents.  We hope you find them helpful.

Start sooner!

Start the whole process a year earlier than you think you need to.

Create a calendar with deadlines, test dates, college events and visits, etc. This will eliminate a lot of stress for you and your child.

Treat the application process like a job. Set a regular time each week to tackle some aspect of the process.

Do what you can to make sure your child “owns” the entire application process. Start the FAFSA and CSS early as they require a lot of information and pay careful attention to the instructions. Don’t wait until the last day to apply for anything as the servers frequently get overloaded.

Relax! Somehow, it all comes together. Everyone goes through it, so ask your family and friends for advice/help. You will be surprised at the great advice you can gather that way.

Your child will not be nearly as stressed as you will be.

Do college visits with your child and make it a fun experience. Spend a night if you can in the city you are going to to get a feel of the surroundings. Also, it is fun to experience the excitement of your child when they have decided on a college! The special family time is never going to be the same, so cherish this important decision on the right college. 

Listen to your child!

Allow your child to dream about anything he can be!

Be a guide and not a choice-maker. Believe in your child’s own intuitions and advocate for their personal interests.

Focus on your child and what is best for him/her and try not to focus on all the competition between parents. This is about your child, not about you.

Look at the average financial aid package, not just cost, and don’t say no to yourself (your child) on behalf of a school by never applying to it.

Dare to dream. Don’t limit your child’s vision of their future by your own financial worries.

Do your homework on the entire process, including understanding how the financial aid process works, and don’t wait until the last minute to delve into this stuff.

Don’t be overly focused on “brand name” colleges. There are other excellent choices that offer very good value, and are quite affordable.

Don’t focus on a major so much as interests and opportunities. Nobody is sure at 18 what they want to do. They beauty of college is you have a chance to expand your horizons and perspective.

Try to think about the best fit for your child, not what others think is the best or most prestigious.

Everything will be OK. Kids are happy in lots of places and for different reasons. It is important to remember they bring their own world with them and can create good things wherever they are.

It matters more what your child does at the college he/she gets into than which college he/she gets into.

It does end.

You can access more information on the 2015 College Hopes and Worries Survey at the Princeton Review.

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