I put up an online survey for students about college admissions last month, and I’d like to report on the results. There’s nothing at all scientific about this survey: I only got 126 responses, and most of those were from a high school where I made a presentation…including time to take the survey. Percentages are rounded. I didn’t do any statistical analysis.
Still, I think the answers are quite illuminating, especially since the seniors who responded were a diverse crowd of college-bound, successful high school students.
The most significant overall theme I see is that local reigns supreme. Even for these students (at a college prep magnet school for gifted students) who have access to information and representatives from all over the nation, most of their attention is in state. Almost every school named was in Texas, a well-known “elite” university, or—in the case of Rice—both. Here at the details.
1. What grade are you in?
100% of the responses were from seniors.
2. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being "super confident and excited" and 10 being "ready to give up") how are you feeling about college admissions right now?
The average was 5.65, just slightly on the negative side. Only a single person answered “super confident and excited.” Four answered “ready to give up.”
3. If you were only going to apply to one college, and you had to choose right now, which one would it be?
I like this question because it forces you to think about your overall approach. If I’m only going to apply to one, do I go for it and apply to my dream school? Or do I play it safe and apply to one I’m confident I’ll get accepted to? The schools listed look much more like the students were thinking “go for it!” Whereas half of them would go on to say that University of Houston is their “safety,” only 21 mention it as the one place they’d apply. Overall, 27% chose some sort of “elite” school and 63% chose something in state. 2% named . aschool outside the United States.
4. True or false: you've talked to your family about money and affordability, and you have a good idea of what you can afford for college.
81% answered “true.” This makes me very happy, and is much higher than what I usually see when I ask this question (around half is typical).
19% answered “false.” There’s still time!
5. Please write the top three adjectives that describe the ideal college for you.
There were lots of answers, but the most popular by far were urban, diverse, small, affordable, supportive, and challenging.
6. What school is currently on the top of your list, what's usually called a "dream school"?
50 different schools were named, among the 122 people who responded. One just said “still deciding.” But some dream schools are more popular than others. Rice is the dream school for 23 of the responding seniors. 15 Said U.T. Austin. M.I.T. is the dream school for nine, and Stanford is for eight. University of Houston, University of Pennsylvania, and Northwestern each got five votes.
7. What school is currently on the bottom of your list? In other words, what is the school that you feel good enough to have on your list, but not higher than the bottom? This is often called a "safety school."
There’s a lot less variety when it comes to safeties. Only 25 different schools named. All of them are in Texas. The most popular “safety school” is the University of Houston, with 63—exactly half of the respondents. Texas A&M got 19 mentions, and U.T. Austin got eight.
It’s really interesting to me that University of Houston and U.T. Austin are both a “safety” and “dream” school. It stands as a great reminder that the ideal school is in the eye of the beholder.
8. When it comes to college applications, you feel most prepared for...
Putting together a good list of colleges to apply to. 43% felt good about this.
Getting teacher/counselor recommendations. 35% said this is their top strength.
Writing essays. 11% chose this as what they’re most prepared for.
Finding an affordable match. Only 8% feel most prepared for affordability.
Other. 2%. chose Other and gave some version of “none of the above.”
9. When it comes to college applications, you feel least prepared for...
Writing essays. 68% said this is their main weakness.
Finding an affordable match. 12% are worried about affordability above all else.
Getting teacher/counselor recommendations. 10% are struggling most with this.
Putting together a good list of schools to apply to. Only 6% said this is what they’re least prepared for.
Other. 4% said formatting their list of activities to put them in the best light, filling out paperwork, and keeping track of everything. One person answered “waiting.”
10. Where does your family want you to go to college?
21% essentially said their family wants them to go what the student feels is the best fit. That’s awesome. 5% said their family is focused on the most affordable choice. Most answered this question with a specific school name, and those were dominated by local schools or famous elite schools like Stanford, M.I.T., and Northwestern. One person simply answered “Ivy.”
Thanks for reading! Please send this to someone who would like to read it, or share it on your social networks. I’ll be conducting a parent survey next.
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