Survey reveals social choosing habits of graduating high school students; gives advice to colleges and universities

students-choose-collegeGone are the days when students chose their postsecondary education institution based off of U.S. News & World Report publications. In this mobile-enabled culture, today’s students are redefining how colleges and universities should market their offerings by using diverse online resources and social media word-of-mouth.

The 2014 Social Admissions Report, a survey of college-bound high school students, is designed to identify trends in digital, social and mobile tools represented in a student’s college search and enrollment process.

“Year after year new tools are created to help us organize, share and collaborate online,” said Uversity—a platform for social networking and higher education. “Inevitably when these tools hit the mainstream the debate begins as to the impact of these networks on the college search and recruitment process. Through thousands of student surveys and national focus groups, the Zinch, Chegg and Uversity teams have collaborated to complete the third installment of The Social Admissions Report.”

The report aims to discuss trends in student use of social media and other digital tools throughout their college search and admissions process; how students perceive their online identity relative to online expression engines; and how the latest digital trends, such as mobile, impact a student’s impression of an institution.

Survey invitations were emailed to Zinch and College Prowler high school students, includes data from 2012-13, and the 1,800 surveys completed include students that graduated in 2012-13 (40 percent) and students that will graduate in 2014-15 (60 percent).

Notable findings of the report include five ways students are redefining their college and university selection process, as well as key actions postsecondary institutions should take to help their student recruitment process:

(Next page: 5 ways students are choosing colleges and universities)

1. Online resources

Of the sites listed in the survey, students said that CollegeView, College Confidential, and U.S. News & World Report were the resources least used to review college information online. Instead, Zinch, colleges’ own websites, College Prowler, and Scholarships.com were the most heavily accessed online resources.

The report notes that these online content-aggregating sites are often “the first and last stop” on a student’s college search.

2. Scholarships

According to the report, the most requested content from online sites was scholarship information, which is perhaps not that shocking, considering the nation’s crisis with student loan debt.

General campus information like tuition and majors are also hot topics.

3. Rising social media sites

Though Facebook is still the most widely-used social media platform for helping students research their potential colleges, the platform is on the decline (85 percent accessed Facebook for information in 2013, compared to 88 percent in 2012).

Instead, prospective students are beginning to use platforms such as Instagram (26 percent increase since 2012) and Twitter (15 percent increase since 2012) to better help them select their college or university.

Perhaps most revelatory, nearly two-thirds (67 percent) of students use social media to research colleges, and nearly 75 percent find it influential.

Also, the percent of students who like or follow a considered college on social media increased by 23 points from 2012-13.

4. Online conversations

67 percent of students say social media conversation influences their decision on where to enroll, and Facebook still ranks first among social media sites visited for their conversations. However, Twitter is in close second: 31 percent of students search for specific hashtags related to their college search.

5. Groups for admitted students

A recent feature of many college and university social networks, groups for admitted students, is considered a positive for students, with 63 percent of survey respondents saying they would likely join this group, and almost all students surveyed who had already joined an acceptance group say the experience was rewarding.

(Next page: 4 takeaways for colleges and universities)

Takeaways:

1. Focus on website experience, not apps

According to the report, though 97 percent of students have visited a school’s website on a mobile browser, nearly 67 percent said the experience was “just OK” or “challenging.”

And nearly 75 percent of students said they would not download an app for a school they were researching.

“Mobile is not the future. Mobile is now,” states the report. “Nearly all students access websites via a smartphone or tablet and responsive design will be key. It shouldn’t matter what type of device a student is using—the experience should be easy, seamless, and consistent.”

Also, the report explains that though a mobile app may be appropriate for the already-established campus community, installing an app is too much commitment for prospective students.

2. Partner with online resources

Partnering with (or at least monitoring) online resource sites, like Zinch, is “paramount to connecting with interested students.” Students use these sites while they are actively researching and interested in college information.

3. Have a social media presence and make sure the information provided is relevant

Nearly 75 percent of students think colleges should have a presence on social media to reach students; yet, only 4 in 10 students find the information posted on a school’s social media site relevant. For more information on what students find least relevant, read the report.

Topics students found most relevant include campus events, student life for lower classmen, majors offered, and the dating scene.

“Own your school’s hashtag,” emphasizes the report. “Over 30 percent of students have searched for hashtags related to their college search.”

4. Make sure your current students and admissions counselors are online

“Students and counselors are most important for interaction on social media,” says the report. Specifically, currently enrolled students (not alumni), other admitted students, and admissions counselors, are the people students say are important to interact with on social media.

For more tips on how to engage admitted students, check out Uversity’s webinar, “Maximizing Enrollment with Social Media,” on March 18th.


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