Three-fourths say it's more important to take the time to get exactly what they want from their education than to finish within the traditional four years, and a quarter who have finished took extra time.
On the other hand, lots of students are racing to the finish in order to save money.
About 4 in 10 college students hope to graduate in less than four years. To get a jump start, 58 percent of students took college-credit courses in high school. And about half earned credits at a community college before moving on to a more expensive bachelor's degree program.
That's what Falma Habbaba is doing. Once she's finished two years at Cuyamaca College, she plans to transfer to nearby San Diego State University. Half of the college students surveyed, including Habbaba, hope to continue their educations beyond a four-year degree. In her case, it's law school that beckons.
Habbaba, 18, has been relying on grants and a part-time job as a restaurant hostess to pay her way, and she worries about finding enough money to finish her schooling. But she's optimistic that she'll achieve career happiness. So are 94 percent of the college students surveyed.
For half of college students, money was a big factor in choosing what career to pursue. But more than one-fourth say that didn't enter into their thinking at all.
"If you do what you love, you'll be all right in life," Habbaba said.
The AP-Viacom telephone survey of 1,104 adults ages 18-24 was conducted Feb. 18-March 6 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Stanford University's participation in this project was made possible by a grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson, AP Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.