New Survey Explores How Students Really Choose a College

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A national survey of college-bound high school seniors found that parents are, by far, the most influential factor in their child's decisions about where to go to college. The study found enormous stress levels within families, ambitious parents "pushing" kids to apply to "prestigious" colleges, and the economy taking a toll in where kids finally attend. One segment of kids that the study took a special look at was first-generation college-bound students.

more than I ever imagined.

A national survey of college-bound high school seniors found that parents are, by far, the most influential factor in their child's decisions about where to go to college. The study, conducted by Zinch the leading online student-to-college matching service, also found enormous stress levels within families, ambitious parents "pushing" kids to apply to "prestigious" colleges, and the economy taking a toll in where kids finally attend.

The findings were reported in a soon-to-be released study entitled "How Students Really Decide", published by Zinch. "This is the first survey of college-bound students in recent history that really explores the dynamic of students, their parents, and others who influence application and enrollment decisions," said Anne Dwane, Zinch's President. "We wanted to get beyond the statistics; to understand the factors - including social media -- that really influence students."

But students also wanted their parents to back off. "Let your opinion be known, but don't force the school that you want your child to attend on them. College is the first step in their lives for the adult world," said one graduating senior who will be attending her first-choice school in the fall.

Other findings from the study, which incorporated more than 1000 responses from college-bound high school seniors included:

  • Friends were significantly more of an influence than either teachers or guidance counselors.
  • Coaches and siblings were not very influential.
  • The stress level was significant - for both kids and their parents. More than 40% of kids reported a "great deal" of stress, surrounding the process; with more than 20% experiencing "more than I ever imagined."
  • Not surprisingly, the economy contributed to the stress levels. Fully half of all students report that they eliminated colleges from consideration because of price.

One segment of kids that the Zinch study took a special look at was first-generation college-bound students. Were their experiences very different from kids whose parents had attended American colleges and universities? The answer was no - with one noted exception. While first-generation college-bound seniors agreed with their peers about the influence of their parents, there was a much greater reliance upon high school guidance counselors.

Was "prestige" a significant factor? Yes - for about half of all students and parents.

Prestige was so much of a factor that despite the economy, applications to the 8 Ivy League Schools and other highly selective universities was never higher. The 8 Ivy League colleges reported a total of just over 202,000 applications between them, an increase of 8% over the previous year.

In turn, the Ivies were even more selective this year than in years past. They accepted just 11.9% of applicants, down from 12.6% the year before. And despite the economy, the yield at the Ivies - the percentage of kids who choose to enroll after being admitted -- actually inched up a bit. But even the most selective schools - Harvard and Penn among them - went to their waitlists to fill their class.

Acceptance Rates
(School- Class of 2012, Class of 2013)

Brown- 13.3%, 10.8%
Columbia- 10.0%, 9.8%
Cornell- 20.4%, 19.4%
Dartmouth- 13.2%, 12.0%
Harvard- 7.1%, 7.0%
Penn- 16.4%, 17.1%
Princeton- 9.3%, 9.8%
Yale- 8.3%, 7.5%

Stanford- 11.2%, 7.6%
Northwestern- 30.1%, 27.0%
Amherst- 19.4%, 15.1%
Wesleyan- 28.3%, 22.0%
Pomona- 18.0%, 15.7%
Chicago- 38.5%, 26.8%

Source: Zinch, interviews with admission offices; Fiske Guide. The full study is available from Zinch.

About Zinch: Zinch is a network connecting young people with colleges, scholarships and opportunities. 1,000,000+ students have built Zinch profiles to showcase themselves as "more than test scores". Over 690 colleges and universities tap Zinch to efficiently recruit students.

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Sid Krommenhoek
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