College Parents and Students: We Hope and We Worry

We all know we have hopes for our students, and we certainly worry about them in many ways. Our students have their own worries, and their hopes. But we may wonder how what we worry about and what we hope for match what other parents and students are thinking. Are our dreams and concerns totally unique?  Of course, there’s no way of knowing all of the things others dream or worry about, but when it comes to colleges, and especially getting into colleges, we do have some insight.

Each year the Princeton Review conducts a survey of students and parents to explore what we are all thinking about college. They call it the “College Hopes and Worries Survey.”

Who’s doing the research?

The Princeton Review is not associated with Princeton University. It is a tutoring, test prep, and college admissions services company. Founded in 1981 and headquartered in New York City, The Princeton Review is now in its 42nd year. For the last 21 years, it has conducted a survey of parents and students to investigate what’s on their minds. This year’s survey was conducted online from January 26 to March 1.

The survey collected information from 12,225 college applicants and parents. 72% of the responses came from students and 23% from parents. Both students and parents were asked about their “dream” schools, admission concerns, stress levels, perspective on testing, and financial aid. Overall, the survey found that everyone’s hopes are high – and so are their worries.

The results of this survey provide a window into some of the dreams and application viewpoints of students and parents. Many parents may find it reassuring that they are not alone in their feelings.

Hopes and dreams

The survey asked both students and parents to identify their dream schools – if admission and finances were not an issue. Their responses were similar but differed slightly. For students, their top 5 dream schools were Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Harvard, New York University, and University of California – Los Angeles. Parents’ top choices were Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, New York University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Everyone’s biggest hope was for financial aid. 82% of respondents ranked this as “very” or “extremely” necessary. Only 2% said this was “not at all” an issue.

The biggest benefit of a college degree was seen as getting a better job and better earning prospects with 46% responding that this was important. 31% thought exposure to new ideas was the biggest benefit. When asked whether they thought going to college was worth it, 99% responded yes. (Note: those surveyed were college applicants and parents of applicants, so this was a select group.)

And also worries . . .

As optimistic and hopeful as we all are, both students and parents have worries and concerns as they go through the admission process.  Stress about the process itself is one of those concerns. 73% of students and 69% of parents said they experienced high levels of stress about applications.

Much of this stress is related to finances. The biggest worry for all was the level of debt acquired by students and their families. 42% of respondents worried about their level of debt while only 23% worried that they would not get into their first choice college. Interestingly, for comparison, twenty years ago in 2003 52% worried about not getting into their chosen school and only 8% worried about debt.

What else is on everyone’s mind?

The Hopes and Worries survey asked some additional questions to see what students and parents are thinking. See how your thoughts compare.

What’s the ideal distance from home?

Students and parents differed on their ideal distance as they have since 2007.

  • Less than 500 miles = 79% of parents and 66% of students.
  • 500-1000 miles = 13% of parents and 21% of students
  • More than 1000 miles = 8% of parents and 13% of students

We clearly want to keep our student near us.

What best describes the college you (or your student) will likely choose?

  • 43% – The college with the best fit
  • 38% – The college with the best program for a chosen career
  • 11% – The college with the best reputation
  • 8% – The college that is most affordable

How are the test-optional policies affecting choice of college?

  • 69% – It is not making a difference where they apply
  • 23% – More likely to apply to test-optional schools
  • 8% – Less likely to apply to test-optional schools

Why take the SAT or ACT if going test-optional?

  • 44% – To distinguish themselves from other students
  • 33% – Scores may be needed for scholarships or financial aid
  • 23% – To have them “just in case”

And some advice . . .

Finally, the Hopes and Worries Survey contained an open question that asked students and parents to share advice they would give to next year’s applicants and their parents. According to the Princeton Review, the most offered advice for 21 years has been “START EARLY.”

Some other advice that you may find helpful if you’re just setting out on this journey includes:

“Breathe! It’s a huge deal but take it one step at a time. You got this.”

“The college doesn’t make the person, the person does.”

“Aim for the best fit school, not the most prestigious.” 

“Always double check the due dates for applications, financial aid, and housing because there is very little, if any, wiggle room in regards to those dates.” 

“Applicants should not fear the college application process. In fact, the process allows applicants to see how much their work over the past four years has paid off and which colleges respect the work you put in.”

“Apply to different places because you never know where the application process will take you. You might end up going to a school that you never wanted to apply to in the first place.” 

Don’t be too stressed about not being ready; college applications are a process. Commit a small portion of your time each day (an hour, thirty minutes, even fifteen), and you can be very much prepared.” 

“Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines! Do not procrastinate especially on college applications. “

“Have hope.”

Surveys such as this one provide a snapshot. They help all of us see that we’re not alone as we embark on this often intimidating process.  Robert Franek, Editor-in-Chief of The Princeton Review and director of the survey since its inception, said this, “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.”

Isn’t that what we all want?

You can access the full Hopes and Worries Survey to learn more.

Related articles:

2015 College Student Hopes and Worries

Should My Student Take Advantage of Test Optional Admission Policies?

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