By Mark Kantrowitz
College Decision Day (also known more formally as the National Candidates Reply Date) has arrived, and high school seniors nationwide must decide which offer of college admissions they will accept.
A new report sheds some light on the factors that influence college choice.
Cappex.com, a free web site that connects students with colleges and scholarships, analyzed college search behavior by class year and geographic location. More than one million students use Cappex to search for colleges each year. Cappex found some interesting patterns in how students’ college considerations change over the four years of high school.
During the freshman year in high school, name recognition seems to drive the list of the most popular schools. All of the Ivy League colleges except for Dartmouth are among the top 20 most popular colleges nationwide for high school freshmen.
As students approach the senior year in high school, the most selective institutions drop in popularity, perhaps because students become more realistic about their chances of admission.
Students also seem to prefer colleges that are closer to home when they reach the senior year in high school. The percentage of the top 20 colleges nationally that are in-state shifted from about a third (34 percent) as high school freshmen to almost half (47 percent) as high school seniors.
Public colleges become more prevalent than private non-profit colleges in the senior year. This trend appears not just in national college preference data, but also in regional data. Nationwide, Harvard University dropped from second to fifth and Yale University from fourth to sixteenth, while Princeton University no longer appears in the top 20.
The influence of college rankings on college preferences decreases in the junior and senior years in high school. For example, the number of top ten most popular colleges that also appear in the U.S. News & World Report national university rankings decreases by four or five from the freshman year to the senior year in high school.
Geography also seems to play a role. California enrolls about 13 percent of the nation’s college-going population, so it is not surprising that several of the top twenty colleges for high school seniors would be located in California. But, at seven colleges in the top 20, California is over-represented, perhaps due to a combination of quality and affordability. New York, Texas, Massachusetts and North Carolina are also over-represented, but not to the same extent as California.
The top 20 lists by region were also heavily influenced by location. For example, high school seniors in the far west (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) overwhelmingly preferred California colleges and universities, with just four of the top 20 colleges from outside California and only two colleges from outside the region. Similarly, students in other regions prefer colleges from within the region for 17 or 18 of the top 20 colleges. The main exception is the Plains states, where only 13 of the top 20 are from the region. The colleges that are from outside the region tend to be colleges with a national reputation, such as Harvard University, Stanford University and New York University.
This chart shows the top college preference for high school seniors by state:
|State||Most Popular College|
|Alaska||University of Alaska Anchorage|
|Arizona||Arizona State University – Tempe|
|Arkansas||University of Arkansas|
|Colorado||University of Colorado Boulder|
|Connecticut||University of Connecticut|
|Delaware||University of Delaware|
|District of Columbia||University of Maryland – College Park|
|Florida||University of Central Florida|
|Georgia||University of Georgia|
|Hawaii||University of Hawaii at Manoa|
|Idaho||Boise State University|
|Illinois||University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign|
|Indiana||Indiana University – Bloomington|
|Iowa||University of Iowa|
|Kansas||Kansas State University|
|Kentucky||University of Kentucky|
|Louisiana||Louisiana State University|
|Maine||University of Maine|
|Maryland||University of Maryland – College Park|
|Massachusetts||University of Massachusetts – Amherst|
|Michigan||University of Michigan – Ann Arbor|
|Minnesota||University of Minnesota – Twin Cities|
|Mississippi||Mississippi State University|
|Missouri||University of Missouri|
|Montana||Montana State University|
|Nebraska||University of Nebraska – Lincoln|
|Nevada||University of Nevada – Las Vegas|
|New Hampshire||University of New Hampshire|
|New Jersey||Rutgers University – New Brunswick|
|New Mexico||University of New Mexico|
|New York||New York University|
|North Carolina||North Carolina State University|
|North Dakota||North Dakota State University|
|Ohio||Ohio State University|
|Oklahoma||University of Oklahoma – Norman|
|Oregon||Oregon State University|
|Pennsylvania||Penn State University|
|Rhode Island||University of Rhode Island|
|South Carolina||University of South Carolina – Columbia|
|South Dakota||South Dakota State University|
|Tennessee||The University of Tennessee – Knoxville|
|Texas||University of Texas at Austin|
|Utah||University of Utah|
|Vermont||University of Vermont|
|Virginia||University of Virginia|
|Washington||University of Washington – Seattle|
|West Virginia||West Virginia University|
|Wisconsin||University of Wisconsin-Madison|
|Wyoming||University of Wyoming|