Students Applying to More Schools, Despite Continued Worries Over Debt

Posted By Terri Williams on August 11, 2016 at 9:50 am
Students Applying to More Schools, Despite Continued Worries Over Debt

The process of researching, choosing, applying to, and being accepted into colleges is stressful at best. Students (and their parents) are concerned about passing standardized tests, getting into the right school, applying for financial aid, and a host of other issues.

The Princeton Review 2016 College Hopes and Worries Report provides a snapshot of the aspirations, expectations, fears, and concerns of those going through the hectic (and sometimes nerve-racking) college admission process.

The top 10 dream schools

When parents and students were asked to name the school they would most like to attend/send their child to, the responses were as follows:

Rank Top Choice Among Students Top Choice Among Parents
1 Stanford University Stanford University
2 Harvard College Harvard College
3 New York University Princeton University
4 University of California, Los Angeles Massachusetts Institute of Technology
5 Princeton University Duke University
6 Massachusetts Institute of Technology University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
7 Columbia University University of Notre Dame
8 University of California-Berkeley New York University
9 Yale University University of Pennsylvania
10 University of Southern California University of Southern California


The college process

The Princeton Review report says most parents and students apply to several schools:

42% Would apply to 5 to 8 colleges
26% Would apply to 9 or more colleges


So what’s the most challenging part of the college admission process?

37% Taking SAT, ACT, or AP exams
32% Completing applications for admission and financial aid
22% Waiting for the decision letter; choosing which college to attend
9% Researching colleges: choosing schools to apply to


Choosing a college

After applying to so many schools, how do parents and students choose which school to attend?

41% College that will be the best overall fit
41% College with the best program for me/my child’s career interests
9% College that will be the most affordable
9% College with the best academic reputation


Biggest college worries

Both parents and students believe that college will be expensive: 85% of them think college will cost more than $50,000. Among this group:

41% Estimate that it will cost $100,000
58% Of parents put the estimate at more than $100,000
37% Of students put the estimate at more than $100,000


Debt is the single biggest worry among parents and students. Notice how the top concern has changed over the years:

Biggest worry in 2006 Won’t get into top choice college (34%)
Biggest worry in 2007-2012 Won’t be able to afford their top college choice (34%)
Biggest worry in 2013-2016 Level of debt (36%)


Benefit of a college degree

When asked to select the greatest benefit of obtaining a college degree, responses in the Princeton Review study were as follows:

44% The potentially better jobs and higher income
32% The exposure to new ideas
24% The education


Interpreting the data

GoodCall spoke with Robert Franek, senior vice president and publisher of The Princeton Review, and Stephanie Kennedy, founder of My College Planning Team, about the report.

Increase in applications

Last year, when asked how many schools they applied to, the second place response was “1-4 schools.” However, this year, the 2nd place response is “9 or more schools,” which is a significant jump in applications. Franek contributes this increase to the Common Application.  “There are just shy of 700 schools using the Common Application, and as its name states, it’s a near universal application wherein students may apply to each and every school on the Common App list with a just one application.”

Franek explains that many of the Common App schools also have supplemental applications that students must complete. “But much of the heavy lifting is done through that one uniform application, so ease of applying to schools accounts for some of the uptick in the raw number of schools to which a student will apply.”

In addition, Franek thinks students and parents may believe that when they apply to more schools, they increase their chances of getting accepted into the majority of these schools. However, Franek warns, “Applying to a laundry list of schools in no way increases a student’s chances for admission to any of those schools and does not take the place of the good, clear and metered research during sophomore and junior year in high school to seek out schools that will be best fits for them across categories—academics, campus culture, financial aid, career services, the works.”

The burden of debt vs. the hope of a good job

Most students and parents are gravely concerned about paying for college, and Kennedy understands their concerns. She believes that incoming college students are old enough to remember the recession. “They watched their parents tightening their belts and facing financial challenges, and they’re concerned that they may be saddled with debt as well.”

And Franek feels their concerns are justified. “College tuition increases have continued to outpace the rate of inflation (two to three times past the rate of inflation) every year for the past two decades.”

So this somber statistic may help to shape the view that the greatest benefit of obtaining a college degree is the potentially better job and higher income. Kennedy finds it refreshing that respondents realize the seriousness of obtaining a good job.

Exposure to new ideas and obtaining an education are important, and a part of the expected outcome of attending college. However, Franek says the value of a college degree can be defined in three specific ways:

  • Those holding a college degree will earn on average $1 million more over their lifetime than those without a college degree
  • Those with a college degree tend to be more mobile in their professions. Their skills are portable and applicable to many different professions, locations, etc.
  • Those with a college degree report lower levels of unemployment than those without a college degree

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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