What College Applicants Worry About Most

Studying at the NYU Stern School of Business – Ethan Baron photo

Applying to college can no doubt be a stressful process. There are the standardized tests. The essays. The entire application process. And then, the anxiety over whether your first college choice will accept you? What about the backup? But according to new research from The Princeton Review, the biggest concern for college applicants and their parents is debt.

The survey, which was conducted between August 2017 and early March 2018 and included nearly 10,000 college applicants and more than 1,000 parents of college applicants asked what their biggest concern about applying or attending college is. Some 42% of parents and college applicants said debt was the biggest concern. The next highest worry was getting into their first college choice but being unable to afford it, which was the largest concern for 32% of respondents. In short, the primary worry of three out of four respondents (74%) had something to do with the cost of college.

The college application process is also incredibly stressful, according to the data. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents reported having “high” or “very high” stress levels with the college application process. The rate is a 17% rise from 2003 when The Princeton Review first conducted the “Hopes and Worries” survey. Just 3% of respondents reported having “low” or “very low” stress levels. More students (74%) reported having high or very high levels of stress than parents (69%).

Concern about debt levels and the cost of college make sense. According to the survey results, 41% of respondents expect college to cost them more than $100,000 out of pocket. Another quarter (25%) expect the cost to be between $75,000 and $100,000. A massive 88% of respondents said financial aid will be “extremely” or “very” important when affording college. Another 11% said it would be “somewhat” necessary, meaning all but 1% of the respondents believed financial aid was at least somewhat necessary to affording college.

Each year when we complete our Best Undergraduate Business Schools Ranking, we ask schools to also report their estimated total four-year cost for the most recent incoming class and percentage of that class receiving need- or merit-based scholarships. Of the 82 schools in the most recent rankings, total cost (tuition and fees plus living expenses) is more than $200,000 at 35 schools before average scholarship amounts are factored into the cost. Once the percentage and average scholarship amounts are applied, 30 schools still have total costs of more than $100,000. All but six schools had estimated four-year costs without scholarships at $100,000 or more. Once average scholarships are factored in, 10 schools are under the six-figure mark.

PRESTIGE OF SPECIFIC MAJOR IS MOST IMPORTANT DECIDING FACTOR FOR FUTURE COLLEGE STUDENTS AND THEIR PARENTS

The survey also asked respondents to weigh certain factors impacting their college decision. More respondents (42%) said the college with the best program specific to their (or their child’s) career interest was the most important deciding factor in choosing a school. Following closely (40%) was choosing a college with the best “overall fit.” Interestingly, affordability was the most important deciding factor for just 10% of respondents and academic reputation of the college was the least important at just 8%. So, while college applicants and their parents are stressed about financing a degree, affordability doesn’t seem to be considered much when actually choosing one school over another. For business schools, this points to the importance of having a strong program even if the overall university doesn’t have a high level of academic reputation.

When asked how much reputation matters in  picking one school over another, 81% of college applicants and parents said it “very much” or “strongly” matters. Only 1% said it mattered “not much” or “not at all.” The “biggest benefit” college applicants and their parents most (42%) see in earning a college degree is the potential for a better job and higher income. Another 34% said the most important benefit is the exposure to new ideas. The remaining 25% said the actual education was the most beneficial part to a college degree.

A positive from the survey is 99% of all respondents said they believe college will be “worth it” for themselves or their children.

STANFORD IS MOST POPULAR DREAM SCHOOL AMONG COLLEGE APPLICANTS AND PARENTS

Survey participants were also asked what their dream colleges are. Broken down into two categories — college applicants and parents — Stanford University was the most popular dream school for both populations. Of the top 10 dream schools, Stanford, MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Columbia were all chosen by both parents and college applicants. The main difference between populations was fondness toward the Golden State. College applicants placed four California-based schools in their top 10 dream schools, while parents only placed Stanford in the top 10. Besides Stanford, college applicants also picked San Francisco Bay Area-based University of California-Berkeley and the two prominent Los Angeles schools, UCLA and the University of Southern California. Both groups only picked two public schools as dream schools.

DON’T MISS: BUSINESS SCHOOLS WITH THE BEST ROI or B-SCHOOLS WITH THE BEST COLLEGE EXPERIENCE