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More Incoming College Freshmen Aspire to Graduate School, Survey Finds

As students begin their college careers, many anticipate it will take longer than four years complete their degree and an increasing proportion plan to go on to graduate school.

The findings were part of a survey administered to nearly 153,000 first-time, full-time students last fall as part of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program Freshman Survey.  It is conducted annually by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California Los Angeles's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and includes students at 227 four-year universities with varying levels of selectivity.

Forty-two percent of freshmen at the least selective universities said there was "some" or a "very good chance" they will need extra time to earn a degree. The survey showed 36 percent of respondents at moderately selective schools anticipated spending more than four years pursuing their undergraduate degrees and 30 percent had the same expectations at the most selective public institutions.

The respondents thought they would need additional time due to choosing a double major, pursuing a cooperative education experience, or because they needed to take remedial courses before enrolling in college-level courses.

Indeed, 59 percent of freshman earn a bachelor's degree within six years, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.

More freshmen are entering college with aspirations to attend graduate school. In 2014, nearly 44 percent students said they plan to earn a master's degree, compared to 28 percent in 1974, the survey showed. The share of students who want to pursue a doctorate or professional degree jumped from 21 percent to 33 percent in the same period.

The trend was more pronounced for women and first-generation college-goers. While 15 percent of women in 1974 expressed desires to earn graduate or professional degrees, that figure is 36 percent today. Just 44 percent of first-generation college students expected to pursure their education past a bachelor's degree 40 years ago, but 77 percent plan to now, according to the 2014 survey.

A hopeful note to high school seniors waiting to hear about college admission decisions: The UCLA survey found 73 percent of students were accepted to their first-choice college. 

Still, when asked if they were concerned about their ability to pay for college, about 55 percent of freshman had "some" concern while 12 percent had "major" worries that they would have enough funds to complete a degree.

This might explain why 55 percent of students actually were enrolled in their first-choice college, 27 percent in their second choice, and 11 percent were attending their third-choice school.

The latest results from the annual UCLA study were released Feb. 5. Other findings included news of plummeting emotional health among college freshmen.


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