Female students with high SATs and ACTs said nearly all of their top attributes when looking for a college related to academics. Meanwhile, male students with lower SAT scores said “appealing campus traditions” and Division I athletics were attributes they desired.

Lipman Hearne, a leading national marketing and communications firm serving higher education organizations, partnered with college search website Cappex.com to survey its users. Cappex users make up 25 percent of the U.S. college-bound population.

The majority of students had enrolled at their first choice (58 percent). Among these students, reputation and a “sense of community” were more likely to be important factors. For students not enrolling at their top choice, financial aid was more frequently cited as a decision driver.

“In this time of tight budgets and increased pressure on institutions to better understand students, this is a valuable tool,” says John Pyle, Ed.D., vice president for enrollment, marketing and strategic initiatives, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. “The research gives enrollment managers and marketers a launching off point for further exploration as to why groups are influenced.”

“Where a student chooses to attend college is highly personal, and many cultural norms play out in the process. The key for higher ed enrollment management and marketing professionals is to  know how to customize messages about their institution  to specific student segments and choose the best channels for reaching them in a way that appeals to each grouping, while telling a consistent and appealing brand story,” says Tom Abrahamson, chairman, Lipman Hearne.

Because respondents to this survey were college freshmen who had settled into their chosen college, it differs from most studies that examine factors in college choice prior to enrollment.  Thus, it gathered reflections on their overall experience in choosing a college after they crossed the finish line. For example, the study asked these new freshmen how accurate colleges’ assertions were in their marketing communications.

Among the many areas measured in the multivariate model were preference for institution of enrollment, initial awareness and preference (when college search began), number of deposits submitted and distance of enrollment institution from home. In the end, the model was driven, in large part, by initial awareness and preference. Compared to the national statistics, the survey respondents were more likely to enroll at residential-dominated, research and private institutions and less likely to enroll at commuter, associations-granting and public institutions.

Based on the study, among the 84 information sources included in the survey, admissions-generated content (e.g., admissions packet, admissions web page, admissions letter) provided the most persuasive information about a topic of keen interest to the student. Simulated experiences, such as taking an online class, touring the campus and reading a course description, were among second-tier information sources.

Information from a press release was used in this report


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