The Princeton Review's 2019 College Hopes & Worries Survey Reports on 11,900 Students' & Parents' "Dream" Colleges and Application Perspectives     

  • Stanford is #1 "Dream" College; Harvard is #2
  • 73% Report High Stress About Applications
  • 64% Say Financial Aid "Extremely Necessary"
  • Biggest Worry? Debt
  • Biggest Benefit of the Degree? Better Job

NEW YORK, March 6, 2019, 9 AM EST —  It’s nail-biting season for the three million high school seniors applying to college — and for their equally anxious parents. Now through April, college acceptance or rejection letters and financial aid award offers are landing in mailboxes and inboxes nationwide. 

According to The Princeton Review® — the education services company that has helped students research and gain admission to colleges since 1981 — stress levels among applicants and their parents this year are high. So are worries about footing the bills should their ideal college say “You’re in!” But hopes for the return on their investment prevail: college is widely viewed as "worth it."

In a fantasy scenario — if admission were automatic and cost inconsequential — the "dream" college from which students and parents most wish they’d be getting the good news is Stanford University (CA).

That’s according to findings of The Princeton Review’s 2019 College Hopes & Worries Survey released today. The survey, which the company has conducted annually since 2003, gathered opinions from 11,900 people this year: 78% (9,282) were college applicants and 22% (2,618) were parents of applicants. Respondents hailed from all 50 states and DC. The survey format was a questionnaire with multiple-choice answers. One question invited a fill-in-the-blank answer.     

Top 10 "Dream Colleges" of Students and of Parents

Answers to the survey's one fill-in-the-blank question, "What 'dream college' do you wish you or your child could attend if acceptance and cost weren't issues?” ranged widely: hundreds of school names were penned in.

The schools students most named as their "dream college" were:

  1. Stanford University
  2. Harvard College
  3. Princeton University
  4. New York University
  5. University of California—Los Angeles
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  7. Columbia University
  8. University of Pennsylvania
  9. Yale University
  10. University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

The schools parents most named as their "dream college" for their children were:

  1. Stanford University
  2. Harvard College
  3. Princeton University
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  5. New York University
  6. Cornell University
  7. University of California—Los Angeles
  8. University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
  9. Yale University
  10. University of Notre Dame

Answers of respondents overall (students and parents) to the survey’s multiple-choice questions indicate these findings:

College applications stressful? Yes! 

73% of respondents reported their level of stress about the college application process as “High": a 17% increase over the 56% who reported such stress levels in 2003, the survey's initial year.

Toughest factor? Tests.

Asked which aspect of the application process was toughest, 37% (the plurality) chose the answer, "Taking the SAT®, ACT®, or AP® exams." 33% said "Completing applications for admission and financial aid."

Biggest hope? Financial Aid.    

64% of respondents deemed their need for financial aid (grants, scholarships, or loans) "Extremely Necessary"; 24% said "Very Necessary." In all, nearly 9 out of 10 (88%) of respondents reported needing money for college outside of their savings.

Biggest worry? Debt.    

42% said their biggest concern was "Level of debt to pay for the degree." 31% chose the answer "Will get into first-choice college but won’t be able to afford to attend." 20% chose "Won't get into first-choice college,” which, in earlier years of the survey, was the respondents’ top worry.

Biggest benefit of earning a college degree? Jobs. 

43% said the major benefit of a degree was a "Potentially better job / income," while 25% said "Education," and 32% said "Exposure to new ideas."

Distance from home of "ideal" college? Relatively near, say parents. Far, say students.

47% of parents chose "Less than 250 miles" as the ideal distance of their child’s college, and 31% chose "Less than 500 miles." Among students, 69% chose answers in ranges from 250 to 1,000 miles as the ideal distance of the college they hoped to attend; 37% of that cohort said, "More than 500 miles."

Issue most important in their final college choice? Career services. 

42% chose "College with the best program for my (my child’s) career interests" as the factor that will most sway their ultimate college choice, while 41% chose "College that will be the best overall fit." 9% said "Most affordable college." Only 8% said "College with the best academic reputation."

Issue most important in their final college choice? Career services. 

Asked if they viewed college to be worth the investment, 99% of respondents said "Yes."

Other survey findings report on respondents' answers to questions about the number of colleges they (or their child) were applying to, issues that matter most to them when evaluating colleges, and how they rate the guidance from their school counselor. The full survey findings report is at College Hopes & Worries.

Respondents completed the survey between August 2018 and February 2019 via the company website or submitting a paper version that ran in The Princeton Review book, The Best 384 Colleges / 2019 Edition (Penguin Random House, August 2018).  

About the Princeton Review

The Princeton Review is a leading tutoring, test prep, and college admission services company. Every year, it helps millions of college- and graduate school–bound students achieve their education and career goals through online and in-person courses delivered by a network of more than 4,000 teachers and tutors, online resources, and more than 150 print and digital books published by Penguin Random House. The Princeton Review is headquartered in New York, NY. The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University. For more information, visit Follow the company on Twitter @ThePrincetonRev.


  • The Princeton Review



Contacts at The Princeton Review: Jeanne Krier, 212-539-1350, or Suzanne Podhurst,

    Note To Editors:

    Robert Franek, The Princeton Review’s Editor-in-Chief, is available for interviews on the survey findings as well as advice for students and parents receiving college admission, rejection, or waitlist letters and financial aid award offers. The full report of survey findings and the survey findings represented in infographics are at The Princeton Review's College Hopes & Worries webpage. The "Dream" Colleges list, alphabetical by state/city/college, is below.    


    • Los Angeles / University of California—Los Angeles - #5 Student List, #7 Parent List
    • Palo Alto / Stanford University - #1 Student List, #1 Parent List


    • New Haven / Yale University - #9 Student List, #9 Parent List


    • South Bend / University of Notre Dame - #10 Parent List


    • Cambridge / Harvard College - #2 Student List, #2 Parent List
    • Cambridge / Massachusetts Institute of Technology - #6 Student List, #4 Parent List


    • Ann Arbor / University of Michigan—Ann Arbor - #10 Student List, #8 Parent List    

    New Jersey

    • Princeton / Princeton University -  #3 Student List, #3 Parent List    

    New York

    • Ithaca / Cornell University - #6 Parent List
    • New York / Columbia University -  #7 Student List    
    • New York / New York University -  #4 Student List, #5 Parent List    


    • Philadelphia / University of Pennsylvania -  #8 Student List