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Survey Finds College-Applicant Stress and Money Worries Up

If you sense a little tension or anxiety around high school seniors and their families this time of year as they mull over college decisions, you aren't imagining it.

The Princeton Review's 2012 "College Hopes & Worries Survey" finds 71 percent of college applicants and their parents gauged their stress levels as "high" or "very high"—a 2 percent increase from 2011, and up 15 percent from the first year of the survey in 2003.

Blame part of it on worry over finances. In this year's survey, 75 percent of families say the state of the economy has affected their child's decision about applying to or attending college. To get a degree, 86 percent of parents and families think financial aid will be "very necessary."

When it comes to estimating the cost of college, 81 percent of parents estimated it would cost $75,000 or more, while only 65 percent of students thought the price tag would be that high.

The biggest worry among respondents this year:
"Will get into first-choice college, but won't have sufficient funds/financial aid to attend." (34 percent)
"Won't get into first-choice college." (29 percent)

Not surprisingly, parents and students had different wishes for the proximity of a college to home. About 51 percent of parents would ideally like their children to attend school within 250 miles of home; 67 percent of students would like to attend somewhere at least 250 miles away, and 37 percent wanted to venture out at least 500 miles.

If cost and admission were not issues, the No 1. student dream college was Harvard College, followed by Stanford University, Columbia University, New York University, and Princeton University. The parents' top five schools were: Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, University of Notre Dame, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The survey conducted in the 2011-12 academic year was based on responses from 10,650 people—70 percent (7,455) were high school students applying to colleges, and 30 percent (3,195) were parents of college applicants. The 15-question survey ran in The Princeton Review book, The Best 376 Colleges: 2012 Edition (Random House, August 2011), Iand online.

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