College Admissions: The Other March Madness



· 71% Report High Stress Levels

· 86% Say Financial Aid “Very Necessary”

· 75% Say Economy Affecting Their College Choices

· #1 “Dream College” Among Students: Harvard

· #1 “Dream College” Among Parents: Stanford


NEW YORK, March 27, 2012 / — Some call it “the other March madness.”  It’s nail-biting season now through April as college acceptance / rejection and financial aid letters land in family mailboxes.

According to The Princeton Review’s 2012 “College Hopes & Worries Survey” – an annual poll of college applicants and parents of applicants – stress levels are up this year and college costs remain a sobering concern. Eighty-six percent of respondents say financial aid will be “very” necessary (and within that cohort 61% say “extremely” necessary).  Seventy-five percent report the state of the economy has affected their college choices.

The “dream college” students most named as the school they wish they could attend (were cost and admission not issues) is Harvard.  Parents surveyed most named Stanford as the college they wish their children were heading off to.

The Princeton Review, one of the nation’s best known education services companies, has conducted its “College Hopes & Worries Survey” since 2003. Findings for the 2012 survey are based on responses from 10,650 people.  Seventy percent (7,455) were high school students applying to colleges and 30% (3,195) were parents of college applicants.  Respondents hailed from all 50 states and DC, plus several countries abroad. The 15-question survey ran in The Princeton Review book, The Best 376 Colleges: 2012 Edition (Random House, August 2011), and was accessible on during the 2011-12 academic year until March 9.

Top 10 “Dream Colleges”

Answering the survey’s only fill-in-the-blank question, “What ‘dream college’ do you wish you or your child could attend if acceptance or cost weren’t issues?” respondents wrote in the names of more than 500 institutions.

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

1) Harvard College

2) Stanford University

3) Columbia University

4) New York University

5) Princeton University

6) University of California-Los Angeles

7) Yale University

8) Massachusetts Institute of Technology

9) Brown University

10) University of Southern California

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

1) Stanford University

2) Princeton University

3) Harvard College

4) University of Notre Dame

5) Massachusetts Institute of Technology

6) University of Pennsylvania

7) Cornell University

8) Duke University

9) Yale University

10) University of Southern California

In students’ and parents’ responses to survey questions with multiple answer choices, findings show respondents overall holding these perspectives on the following topics:

– College application stress:

71% gauged their stress levels as “High” or “Very High” (up 2% from 2011, and 15% from 2003, the survey’s initial year).

– Biggest worry about applying to / attending college:

34% (the plurality) chose the answer, “Will get into first-choice college, but won’t have sufficient funds/financial aid to attend,” while 29% checked “Won’t get into first-choice college” (the 2nd most selected answer).

– Estimate of cost of their college education:

87% said “More than $50,000” and within that cohort 45% said “More than $100,000.”

–  Main benefit of college degree:

58% said “Potentially better job / income”: 42% said “Education / exposure to new ideas.”

– Distance from home their “ideal” college would be:

51% of parents chose “Less than 250 miles”: 67% of students chose answers in ranges exceeding 250 miles.

The Princeton Review asked respondents for advice for next year’s applicants and parents.  The most common refrain from parents and students alike: “Start early.”  One student targeted his advice to parents: “Your kid is going through the process. NOT you.”  Another teen wisely wrote, “Enjoy applying to colleges. You (hopefully) only get to do it once.”

A survey report showing all questions, answer choices, and findings, plus a sampler of students’ and parents’ advice is at

The Princeton Review is also known for its student survey-based annual college rankings in 62 categories ( that it reports in August in The Best 376 Colleges – one of 150 Princeton Review books published by Random House.  The Company’s many other categories of school rankings and lists are accessible at  The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University and not a magazine.


  1. I echo the advice of “start early.” This also goes for scholarship searching and applying. College scholarships can make dream schools more affordable.

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