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Dream Schools and Application Concerns of US College Applicants

The Princeton Review began publishing the “College Hopes & Worries Survey” in 2003. The 2021 study surveyed 14,093 individuals from the US and over 40 other countries. 79% surveyees were college applicants and 21% were parents of applicants.

Here are some insights from the survey that we hope you will find helpful in the college application process.

Parents and Students Have Different Dream School Preferences

According to the report, parents and students rank their dream schools differently. It is interesting to note that UT-Austin ranks the 8th amongst students but does not make the top 10 list among parents. Duke, chosen by the parents as the 10th dream school, is not on the students’ list.

Students’ top 10 “dream” schools are Harvard, Stanford, NYU, Columbia, UCLA, Princeton, MIT, UT-Austin,UPenn and Yale.

Parents’ top 10 “dream” schools: Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Yale, UPenn, UCLA, NYU, Columbia and Duke.

Admission Exams Are The Most Difficult Part

41% of the respondents are applying to 5-8 schools. 27% are applying for 1-4 schools while 23% apply for 9-12 schools.

Half of the respondents (53%) consider "high school transcript, grades, and GPA" the most important part of college application, while "SAT / ACT scores"(17%) and “Essay” (15%) the second and the third most important.

"Taking SAT, ACT or AP exams" is chosen by 38% of respondents as the toughest part of the college application, which remains as the most chosen answer for the past 13 out of 15 years. 31% find “completing applications for admission and financial aid” the most challenging portion of the application.

When asked “which admission exam(s) have or will take”, 39% answered the SAT, nearly three times as many as the 14% of respondents who chose "The ACT." 33% of the respondents plan to take "both tests”.

Pandemic’s Influence On Application and Choice of Schools

Majority (74%) of the respondents claim that their stress level about the college application process is “very high”. This is probably due to the pandemic, as 33% of respondents choose"a lot" while 17% claim "extremely" when asked “how much has the coronavirus pandemic affected your (your child's) perspective with respect to college admission and applications”.

"Attending school remotely: possible impact on grades and participation in extracurriculars" is the most chosen (48%) concern/challenge with respect to college application that the applicants are experiencing due to the pandemic, while "restrictions on travel: problems visiting colleges," and "changes in family finances: possible impact on college affordability," were each selected by 18% of respondents, respectively.

Most respondents (59%) confirm that the pandemic has affected their choice of colleges. When further asked “in what way the pandemic has most significantly affected the choice of schools”, over half (54%) choose "applying to colleges with lower sticker prices" and 32% choose “applying to colleges closer to home" .

Schools' Career Services Offerings is the Main Contributor to Application Decision

In terms of selecting which college the applicants will attend, 41% of respondents prefer “college that will be the best overall fit" while nearly as many respondents, 39%, choose the answer of "college with the best program for career interests." The latter had been the most chosen answer from 2018 to 2020.

Respondents' interest in colleges' career services is high and has been rising in recent years. In 2021, 73% of respondents said having information about the career services of a school would contribute "very much" or "strongly" to their decision to apply to or choose the college, a 7% increase from 2020. Another 23% said such information would "somewhat" contribute to their decisions. This means almost all (96%) of the respondents consider career service offerings would contribute to their application decisions.

In the past year, with the impact of the pandemic, college application procedures have changed e.g. the cancellation of SAT Subject Tests and decisions of applications have been affected. With the near future being unstable and ever-changing, professional advice is required to assist in sound decision making. So do not hesitate to talk to us for more insight!

Full report is available at

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