The Princeton Review's 2018 "College Hopes & Worries Survey" Reports on 10,500+ Students' & Parents' College Application Perspectives and "Dream Colleges     

  • #1 "Dream" College: Stanford, #2: Harvard
  • 42% Say Likely to Choose the College “Best for Career Interests”
  • 73% Report High Stress Levels About Applications
  • 98% Say Financial Aid Will Be Necessary To Pay for College
  • 99% View College as "Worth It"

NEW YORK, March 27, 2018, 9 AM EDT — ‘Tis the season for more than three million college applicants and their parents to stress as college admission and financial award offers begin landing.

According to The Princeton Review's 2018 College Hopes & Worries Survey , the company's 16 th annual survey of college applicants and their parents, anxiety levels about the admission process are consistently high this year.  73% of the over 10,500 respondents reported high levels of stress— 17% more than in the survey's initial year, 2003. For this year, more students (74%) than parents (69%) reported high stress levels.

The rising cost of college may well have contributed to parents' and students' college application stress: 99% of the respondents this year said financial aid would be necessary to pay for college. 65% deemed it "Extremely Necessary."

For the sixth consecutive year, Stanford was the college that both applicants and parents most named as their "Dream" college. Among students, Harvard was the second most named and MIT was second most named among parents. (Lists of students' and parents' top 10 dream colleges follow.)

The Princeton Review one of the nation's best-known education services companies, has conducted this survey annually since 2003. Findings for the 2018 survey are based on responses from 10,958 people: 85% were college applicants, 15% were parents of applicants. Respondents hailed from all 50 states and Washington D.C., as well as more than 80 countries abroad. The 16-question survey ran in The Princeton Review book, The Best 382 Colleges: 2018 Edition (Penguin Random House, August 2017), and on from August 2017 through early March 2018.

A complete survey report is at College Hopes & Worries.

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 800 institutions.

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

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

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

  1. Stanford University
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  3. Princeton University
  4. Harvard College
  5. Yale University
  6. Brown University
  7. University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
  8. University of Pennsylvania
  9. Columbia University
  10. Cornell University

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

Priorities shifting: focus is on finding the best program for a student’s career interests

In 2005, over half the students and parents focused on the best overall college fit when choosing a college and less than 25% emphasized career, while in 2018 career interests were a much higher priority (42% of students and 41% of parents).

Toughest factor? All the applications

Asked which part of the application process was the toughest, 35% (the plurality) chose the answer, "Completing applications for admission and financial aid," while 32% of respondents chose the answer, “Taking the SAT®, ACT® or AP® exams," as the toughest part of the process for them. A majority (69%) of respondents said it is “Somewhat,” “Very,” or “Extremely likely” that they would take (or have their child take) both the ACT and the SAT

Main benefit of college? Jobs & Earnings

41% said the biggest benefit of a degree was a "Potentially better job and income" while 34% said "Exposure to new ideas" and 25% said the "Education."

College cost estimate? $50,000+

85% estimated their degree to cost "More than $50,000." 41% said "More than $100,000." Parents' estimates were higher than students'.

Biggest worry? Debt

42% (the plurality) said their main concern was “Level of debt I/my child will take on to pay for the degree." In 2006, the answer most chosen by the plurality (34%) was "Won't get in to first-choice college."

Issue of most disagreement between students and parents? Location, Location, Location

50% of parents would like their child to attend a college less than 250 miles from home while 67% of students said they would like to attend a college more than 250 miles from home.

Overall Opinion? College is worth it.

On the positive side, students and parents feel great about the value of a college education: 99% say that college will be worth the investment for them/their child.

Other report findings: how many colleges respondents were applying to and what factors will influence their college choice when decisions are due May 1.

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 its more than 150 print and digital books published by Penguin Random House. Its brand is the largest online tutoring service in the U.S. It comprises a community of more than 3,000 tutors who have delivered more than 15 million one-to-one tutoring sessions. The Princeton Review is headquartered in New York, NY. The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University. For more information, visit The Princeton Review. Follow the company on Twitter  @ThePrincetonRev.


  • Penguin Random House / Princeton Review Books



The Princeton Review:

Note To Editors:

Robert Franek, Editor-in-Chief, The Princeton Review, is available for interviews. (Please contact Amy Briskin.) A download of the full report of survey findings and the survey findings in infographics are at: College Hopes & Worries. A reporter resource "Dream Colleges" list alphabetical by state/city/college is below.

“Dream Colleges” of Students and of Parents

Alphabetically by State / City / College / List


  • Berkeley / University of California—Berkeley - #9 Students' "Dream College"
  • Los Angeles / University of California—Los Angeles - #5 Students' "Dream College"
  • Los Angeles / University of Southern California - #10 Students' "Dream College"
  • Palo Alto / Stanford University - #1 Students' "Dream College"; #1 Parents' "Dream College"


  • New Haven / Yale University - #8 Students' "Dream College" ; #5 Parents' "Dream College"


  • Cambridge / Harvard College - #2 Students' "Dream College"; #4 Parents' "Dream College"
  • Cambridge / Massachusetts Institute of Technology - #6 Students' "Dream College"; #2 Parents' "Dream College"


  • Ann Arbor / University of Michigan – #7 Parents' "Dream College"

New Jersey

  • Princeton / Princeton University - #4 Students' "Dream College"; #3 Parents' "Dream College"

New York

  • Ithaca / Cornell University - #10 Parents' "Dream College"
  • New York / Columbia University - #7 Students' "Dream College", #9 Parents' "Dream College"
  • New York / New York University - #3 Students' "Dream College"


  • Philadelphia / University of Pennsylvania - #8 Parents' "Dream College"

Rhode Island

  • Providence / Brown University - #6 Parents' "Dream College"