Reports On 12,000 Students’ & Parents’ “Dream Colleges” And Application Viewpoints

– Stanford is #1 “Dream College”

– 90% Say Financial Aid “Very Necessary”

– 73% Report Application Stress

– 76% Would Prefer ACT or Current SAT to New SAT

NEW YORK, March 18, 2015 — Some call it “the other March madness.” It’s nail-biting season now through April as college acceptance / rejection and financial aid award letters land in applicants’ e-mail and snail mailboxes.

According to The Princeton Review’s 2015 “College Hopes & Worries Survey” – the company’s 12th annual poll of college applicants and parents – concerns about college costs are soaring. Ninety percent of respondents this year said financial aid will be “Very necessary” to pay for college. Within that cohort 66% said “Extremely necessary.”

Stress about college applications – which 73% respondents reported – is higher than ever. The toughest part of the process? Taking college admission exams. However, 76% said they would prefer the ACT or current SAT to the new SAT (debuting in 2016) if all three tests were options.

Views about college are upbeat: 45% consider the main benefit of the diploma to be a “Potentially better job / higher income” and 99% believe college will be “Worth it.”

For the third consecutive year, Stanford was the college that applicants and parents most named as their “Dream College.” Harvard was the second most named college. (Top 10 lists follow.)

The Princeton Review (, one of the nation’s best known education services companies, has conducted this survey since 2003. Findings for the 2015 survey are based on responses from 12,062 people: 80% were college applicants and 20% were parents of applicants. Respondents hailed from all 50 states and DC, plus several countries abroad.

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 names of more than 700 institutions.

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

1 Stanford University

2 Harvard College

3 New York University

4 Columbia University

5 University of California – Los Angeles

6 Yale University

7 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

8 Princeton University

9 Cornell University

10 University of Pennsylvania

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

1 Stanford University

2 Harvard College

3 Princeton University

4 Yale University

5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

6 New York University

7 Columbia University

8 University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

9 University of Notre Dame

10 University of California – Los Angeles


For survey questions with multiple answer choices, findings among respondents overall (students and parents) indicate:

• Applications are stressssssss-ful.
73% of respondents gauged their stress levels as “High” or “Very high” – a 17% increase over the 56% who reported such stress levels in the survey’s initial year, 2003. Students reported higher stress levels than parents.

• Toughest factor? Tests.
Asked which aspect of the application process was the toughest, 34% (the plurality) chose the answer, “Taking the SAT, ACT or APs” while 33% said “Completing applications for admission and financial aid.”

• ACT or current SAT more preferred than forthcoming new SAT
Asked which college admission test they’d prefer to take (or see their child take) if each of these were current options: the ACT, SAT, or new SAT (which won’t debut until spring 2016), 39% said the ACT, 37% said the SAT, and 24% said the new SAT.

Biggest worry? Debt.
39% (the plurality) said their biggest concern was “Level of debt to pay for the degree.” For 35% their biggest worry was “Will get into first-choice college, but won’t have sufficient funds/aid to attend.” Given the $28,400 average debt of 2013 college grads, these concerns are understandable. In 2009, the answer most selected was “Won’t get into first-choice college.”

College cost estimate? $50,000+
87% estimated their degree to cost “More than $50,000.” Within that cohort, 42% said “More than $100,000.” Parents’ estimates were higher than students’.

Main benefit of college? Jobs.

• 45% said the biggest benefit of a degree was a “Potentially better job / income” while 24% said the “Education” and 31% said “Exposure to new ideas.”

Distance from home of “ideal” college? Near say parents. Far say students.
52% of parents chose “Less than 250 miles” as distance of ideal college: 63% of students chose answers in ranges from 250 to 1,000 miles.


Other findings report: how many colleges students were applying to, and what will influence their college choice when commitment decisions are due May 1. The Princeton Review also asked respondents their advice for next year’s applicants. The most repeated advice: “Start early.”

A complete survey report is at

The 15-question survey ran in The Princeton Review book, The Best 379 Colleges: 2015 Edition (Penguin Random House, August 2014), and on from August 2014 through early March 2015.

The company is also known for its annual college rankings in 62 categories in The Best 379 Colleges and its lists of “best value colleges” in Colleges That Pay You Back, published in February.