The Princeton Review Reports Findings of Its 2023 "College Hopes & Worries Survey"
Survey Asked 12,225 College Applicants & Parents of Applicants Their "Dream" Schools, Admission Concerns, Stress Levels, Perspectives on Tests, and More   

  • #1 "Dream" College Among Students: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • #1 "Dream" College Among Parents: Princeton University
  • 72% Report High Levels of Stress About Applications
  • Biggest Hope: Financial Aid—82% Deem It "Very" Necessary
  • Biggest Worry: Level of Debt to Pay for College
  • Biggest Benefit of the Degree: Better Job and Earning Prospects
  • 99% Say College Is "Worth It"

NEW YORK, March 15, 2023 / — For millions of high school seniors and their parents, now through April is nail-biting time. Letters from colleges are landing with decisions about admission as well as financial aid applications. According to a February report by the organization Common App, college applications are up 30% this year from 2019–2020. By some estimates more than seven million applications were submitted for fall 2023.

Hopes are high and so are worries, according to The Princeton Review®, which released findings of its 21st annual College Hopes & Worries Survey today. The education services company (which is not affiliated with Princeton University) polled 12,225 people for its 2023 survey. Seventy-two percent (8,802) were college applicants and 28% (3,423) were parents of applicants. The survey was conducted online from January 26 to March 1.

Respondents answered 20 questions—some of which have been on the survey since 2003—ranging from what their “dream” college would be to how important it will be to receive financial aid. The 2023 survey also asked respondents their views on current topics from the test-optional movement to the forthcoming digital SAT. Nearly all the questions had multiple-choice answers. A survey report showing all questions, answer choices, and findings broken out by respondents overall, by students, and by parents is downloadable here. A summary of selected findings follows.  

“As we report findings of our 2023 survey, we thank the more than 216,000 college applicants and parents who have participated in this project since 2003,” said Rob Franek, Editor-in-Chief of The Princeton Review and director of the survey since its inception. “Their feedback about their applications and their perspectives on trending topics in education have provided unique insights into the college hopes and worries of millions of others like them. Our hope is that all students bound for college can access resources to identify the school best for them, get accepted to it, get funding for it, and graduate to rewarding and successful careers.

Students' and Parents' "Dream" Colleges

The survey’s first question—“What 'dream' college do you wish you (your child) could attend if acceptance and cost weren't issues?”—invites a fill-in-the-blank answer. The names of several hundred institutions were cited as “dream” colleges. Among them were all the Ivies, dozens of flagship state schools, large community colleges, tech and nursing schools, well-known private universities, and lesser-known gems.

The top 10 schools named by surveyed students as their "dream" colleges were:

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  2. Stanford University (CA)
  3. Harvard College (MA)
  4. New York University
  5. University of California—Los Angeles
  6. Princeton University (NJ)
  7. University of Pennsylvania
  8. Columbia University (NY)
  9. University of Michigan
  10. University of Texas—Austin

The top 10 schools named by surveyed parents as their "dream" colleges for their children were:

  1. Princeton University (NJ)
  2. Harvard College (MA)
  3. Stanford University (CA)
  4. New York University
  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  6. Duke University (NC)
  7. Yale University (CT)
  8. University of Michigan
  9. Brown University (RI)
  10. University of California—Los Angeles

Among findings based on responses to questions with multiple-choice answers:

  • Financial aid is a great hope.      

Asked how necessary financial aid will be to fund their college degree, 82% of respondents chose the answers “Extremely” or “Very.” Overall, a majority of 54% deemed aid "Extremely” necessary, 28% deemed it "Very" necessary and 16% said "Somewhat" necessary. Only 2% chose the answer “Not at all.”

  • Debt is the major worry.      

Asked their biggest concern about their applications, 42% of respondents chose the answer "Level of debt to pay for the degree.” Significantly fewer (27%) chose the answer "Will get into first-choice college but won’t be able to afford to attend” and 23% chose "Won't get into first-choice college." Twenty years ago, in 2003, “Won't get into first-choice college” was chosen by 52% of respondents while “Level of debt to pay for the degree” (the answer most chosen by respondents this year) was chosen by just 8% of respondents.

  • College applications are highly stressful.      

Among respondents overall, 72% reported "Very High" or “High” stress about the application process. More students (73%) than parents (69%) reported such stress. In 2003, the survey’s first year, 56% of respondents reported “Very High” or “High” stress.

  • Opinions about test-optional policies vary.       

Asked if and how colleges’ test-optional policies were affecting their college decisions, 23% of respondents said they were more likely to apply to a test-optional college, while 8% said they were less likely to do so. The majority—69%—said colleges’ test-optional policies were not affecting their application decisions. 

  • More students have taken (or plan to take) the SAT® than the ACT® this year.

Asked which admission test(s) they (or their child) had taken or planned to take, 47% chose the answer “The SAT,” while 16% chose “The ACT.” However, 30% said "Both tests” and 7% said “Neither test.”   

  • Reasons for taking the SAT/ACT vary.

Respondents indicating they (their child) took or planned to take the SAT or ACT were asked what motivated that decision in light of the high number of test-optional colleges. While 23% chose the answer “To have test scores ‘on hand’ if needed,” 33% chose the answer “Scores are considered in scholarship and aid decisions,” and 44% chose “Scores can distinguish my application.”

  • Perspectives on the forthcoming digital SAT are mixed.      

Asked their perspective on the big change ahead for the SAT, 42% of respondents said they think the digital SAT will be “a better test,” while 25% said they think it will be a “more difficult test.” However, 24% said they would “opt to take the paper and pencil ACT instead,” and 9% said they would “not take either test.”

  • "Overall fit" and "career interests" matter more in college selections than "academic reputation" and "affordability."

Asked what best describes the college they were likely to choose, 43% of respondents chose the answer "College that will be the best overall fit." Nearly as many, 38%, selected "College with the best program for my (my child’s) career interests." Only 11% said "College with the best academic reputation," and 8% chose “College that will be most affordable.”

  • The biggest benefit of a college degree is a potentially better job.   

Asked what they consider the major benefit of earning a college degree, 46% of respondents chose the answer "Potentially better job and income," while 31% chose "The exposure to new ideas" and 23% chose "The education."

  • Parents and students differ on the distance from home of "ideal" college.   

Asked how far from home their (their child’s) "ideal" college would be, 79% of parent respondents chose answers in the range “Fewer than 500 miles” while 66% of student respondents chose answers in that range. Choosing “500 to 1,000 miles” were 13% of parents and 21% of students. Choosing “More than 1,000 miles” were 8% of parents and 13% of students. For 16 years, since this question was added to the survey in 2007, parents’ and students’ druthers about college-to-home distances have differed.

  • College is "worth it."

Asked quite simply if they believe college will be “worth it,” 99% of respondents (parents and students alike) checked the "Yes” box.

The 2023 survey also asked respondents about their estimates of college costs, the number of colleges to which they were applying, the toughest part of their application experiences, and more.  

Note: May 1 is National College Decision Day—the deadline by which applicants with offers of acceptance are required to commit to the college they’ve decided to attend.

Advice from Respondents

An optional question on the survey since 2003 asks respondents their advice for next year's applicants and their parents. For 21 years, the advice most noted—indeed, exhorted—from students and parents alike has been “Start early.” Among other advice this year was this from a student named Diyaa: “Breathe. It’s a huge deal but take it one step at a time. You got this!” A mother wisely wrote “The college doesn’t make the person, the person does.” Said a student named Jordyn, “Aim for the best fit school, not the most prestigious.” And a parent named Christian offered these encouraging words: “Have hope.” Samplers of the best advice from surveyed students and parents are posted here.

This year, The Princeton Review also invited respondents to weigh in on what matters most in their college searches, inviting them to rank categories of college rankings that the company reports in its annual Best Colleges project and book. The five categories most chosen, the percent of respondents choosing them, and some of the ranking lists that The Princeton Review reports within those categories are:

  1. Academics, 97% (lists based on ratings of professors’ teaching ability and accessibility)
  2. Financial Aid, 72% (list based on student satisfaction with aid awards)
  3. Amenities, 70% (lists rating campus facilities, dorms, food, etc.)
  4. Campus Culture, 64% (lists based on student body political leanings, sports interests, community engagement, etc.)
  5. Career Services, 55% (list based on ratings of school’s career center)

The Princeton Review’s college rankings, now in their 32nd year, are tallied in multiple categories. Unlike other college rankings—only on academics and based only on institutional data—the company’s 50 categories of college rankings are based entirely on its surveys of more than 160,000 college students who rate their own schools and report on their campus experiences at them.

About The Princeton Review

The Princeton Review is a leading tutoring, test prep, and college admissions services company. Every year, it helps millions of college- and graduate school–bound students as well as working professionals achieve their education and career goals through its many education services and products. These include online and in-person courses delivered by a network of more than 4,000 teachers and tutors; online resources; more than 150 print and digital books published by Penguin Random House; and dozens of categories of school rankings. Founded in 1981, The Princeton Review is now in its 42nd year. The company’s brand, now in its 23rd year, is one of the largest online tutoring services in the U.S. It comprises a community of thousands of tutors who have delivered more than 23 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 and the company's Media Center. Follow the company on Twitter (@ThePrincetonRev) and Instagram (@theprincetonreview).

SAT® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with and does not endorse The Princeton Review.

ACT® is a registered trademark of ACT, Inc., which is not affiliated with and does not endorse The Princeton Review.

SOURCE: The Princeton Review




    Contact: Jeanne Krier, Publicist for The Princeton Review,


    Rob Franek, Editor-in-Chief of The Princeton Review, is available for interviews on the survey and advice for students and parents navigating the college application process. A survey findings report and an infographic depicting selected survey findings is here.


    Alphabetical by College

    Brown University (RI) – #9 Parent Dream College   

    Columbia University (NY) – #8 Student Dream College   

    Duke University (NC) – #6 Parent Dream College

    Harvard College (MA) – #3 Student Dream College, #2 Parent Dream College

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology – #1 Student Dream College, #5 Parent Dream College

    New York University – #4 Student Dream College, #4 Parent Dream College

    Princeton University (NJ) – #6 Student Dream College, #1 Parent Dream College

    Stanford University (CA) – #2 Student Dream College, #3 Parent Dream College

    University of California—Los Angeles – #5 Student Dream College, #10 Parent Dream College

    University of Michigan – #9 Student Dream College, #8 Parent Dream College

    University of Pennsylvania – #7 Student Dream College

    University of Texas—Austin – #10 Student Dream College

    Yale University (CT) – #7 Parent Dream College

    Alphabetical by State/City/College


    • Los Angeles / University of California—Los Angeles – #5 Student Dream College, #10 Parent Dream College

      Stanford / Stanford University (CA) – #2 Student Dream College, #3 Parent Dream College


    • New Haven / Yale University (CT) – #7 Parent Dream College


    • Cambridge / Harvard College (MA) – #3 Student Dream College, #2 Parent Dream College

      Cambridge / Massachusetts Institute of Technology – #1 Student Dream College, #5 Parent Dream College


    • Ann Arbor / University of Michigan – #9 Student Dream College, #8 Parent Dream College

    New Jersey

    • Princeton / Princeton University (NJ) – #6 Student Dream College, #1 Parent Dream College

      New York

    • New York / Columbia University (NY) – #8 Student Dream College   

      New York / New York University – #4 Student Dream College, #4 Parent Dream College   

    North Carolina

    • Durham / Duke University – #6 Parent Dream College


      • Philadelphia / University of Pennsylvania – #7 Student Dream College

        • Rhode island

        Providence / Brown University (RI) – #9 Parent Dream College  


        • Austin / University of Texas—Austin – #10 Student Dream College