The Princeton Review's 2017 "College Hopes & Worries Survey" Reports on 10,000+ Students' & Parents' College Application Perspectives and "Dream Colleges"

  • #1 "Dream" College: Stanford, #2: Harvard
  • 76% 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 28, 2017, 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 2017 College Hopes & Worries Survey – the company's 15th annual survey of college applicants and their parents, anxiety levels about the admission process are up this year. 76% of the over 10,000 respondents reported high levels of stress—4% more than last year's survey respondents, and 20% more than in the survey's initial year, 2003.

The rising cost of college may well have contributed to parents' and students' college application stress: 98% of the respondents this year said financial aid would be necessary to pay for college. Among that cohort, 65% deemed it "Extremely Necessary."

For the fifth consecutive year, Stanford was the college that both applicants and parents most named as their "Dream" college. Among students, Harvard was the second most and Princeton 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 2017 survey are based on responses from 10,519 people: 81% were college applicants, 19% were parents of applicants. Respondents hailed from all 50 states and DC, as well as several countries abroad. The 16-question survey ran in The Princeton Review book, The Best 381 Colleges: 2017 Edition Penguin Random House, August 2015), and on The Princeton Review from August 2016 through early March 2017. 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 515 institutions.

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

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

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

  1. Stanford University
  2. Princeton University
  3. Harvard College
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 
  5. Duke University    
  6. University of Pennsylvania
  7. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  8. New York University    
  9. Cornell University
  10. University of Notre Dame

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

Stress levels are high

76% of respondents gauged their stress levels as "High" or "Very high"—a 20% increase over 56% who reported such stress in 2003, the survey's initial year. Students reported higher stress levels than parents.

Toughest factor? College admission tests

Asked which part of the application process was the toughest, 37% (the plurality) chose the answer, "Taking the SAT® , ACT® or AP® s," while 33% of respondents chose the answer, "Completing applications for admission and financial aid" as the toughest part of the process for them.

College cost estimate? $50,000+

85% estimated their degree to cost "More than $50,000." Within that cohort, 43% said "More than $100,000." Parents' estimates were higher than students'.

Biggest worry? Debt.

38% (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."

Main benefit of college? Jobs & Earnings.

42% said the biggest benefit of a degree was a "Potentially better job and income" while 33% said "Exposure to new ideas" and 26% said the "Education."

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 68% of students said they would like to attend a college more than 250 miles from home.

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

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.

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. The Princeton Review is headquartered in New York, NY and is an operating business of Match Group (NASDAQ: MTCH). The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University. For more information, visit The Princeton Review. Follow the company on Twitter @ThePrincetonRev.

The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University.


  • 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.) 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 - #8 Students' "Dream College"
  • Los Angeles / University of California, Los Angeles - #5 Students' "Dream College
  • Palo Alto / Stanford University - #1 Students' "Dream College"; #1 Parents' "Dream College"


  • New Haven / Yale University - #10 Students' "Dream College


  • South Bend / University of Notre Dame - #10 Parents' "Dream College"


  • Cambridge / Harvard College - #2 Students' "Dream College"; # 3 Parents' "Dream College";
  • Cambridge / Massachusetts Institute of Technology - #3 Students' "Dream College"; #4 Parents' "Dream College"


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

New Jersey

  • Princeton / Princeton University - #2 Parents' "Dream College"; #7 Students' "Dream College"

New York

  • Ithaca / Cornell University - #9 Parents' "Dream College"
  • New York / Columbia University - #6 Students' "Dream College"
  • New York / New York University - #4 Students' "Dream College"; #8 Parents' "Dream College"

NortH Carolina

  • Durham / Duke University - #5 Parents' "Dream College"


  • Philadelphia / University of Pennsylvania - #6 Parents' "Dream College"; #9 Students' "Dream College"