“What we see in the survey underscores other research we’ve seen and what our own students tell us,” said Rachelle Hernandez, University of Minnesota Twin Cities associate vice provost for Enrollment Management. “We’re constantly looking at research, what students say is important to them, what spaces they’re in and what their preferences are.”
1.E-mail for Personal Correspondence
More than half of first-generation, low-income, African American and Hispanic/Latino students found personal letters helpful in choosing a school. This was 14 percent higher than their non-first-generation, high-income and Caucasian counterparts. Females also found personal letters slightly more helpful than males.
E-mails were also reported as the most helpful resources for college search. While this communication method was most popular across all demographics and ages, it is even more effective early on, with e-mails rated nearly 10 percent higher by rising high school juniors than rising seniors.
“So many colleges and universities don’t have the advantage of well-known sports teams or long-term public personas,” said Royall. “Many regional schools struggle to position themselves in the minds of really great students. The student search is so critical, and getting a personal letter or e-mail to a student and his or her parents can make all the difference. We believe that parental communication is critical as well”
2.Include Program Info Via the Website, Easily
Most students identified a school’s website as highly helpful informational resources for their college search. Information about majors and minors was rated by students as the most vital information they seek on a school’s website, with information about costs and other general information about the institution also ranking highly. The report notes that it is also important that school websites function intuitively and are well-organized, so than students can find the information they are seeking within a few clicks.
“Students first and foremost want to know if a college offers academic programs they’re interested in,” said Royall. “Schools should ensure that if a student goes to their website, that they can access that information. You don’t want a communication gap that will eliminate great institutions on a superficial misunderstanding.”
“First and foremost, our website is prospective student-facing, showing what it’s like to be on campus” echoed Hernandez. “We make it easy to navigate our programs…by making them searchable by subject and showcasing student opportunities. We want to make sure that when a student goes on our website they don’t just discover, but easily discover all the opportunities that are a good fit for their interests and passions.”
First-generation and Hispanic/Latino students were also more likely to search websites for information about college costs and financial aid than their counterparts; therefore, it is imperative that this information be as transparent and easily accessible as possible on school websites, says the report.
Also, students identified using numerous third-party websites to gather information, but institutions should be careful that their information is accurate on such websites, emphasizes the report. Collegeboard.org was by far the most used, as well as the most trusted.
3.Include Their Support Network
“One of the key things with first-generation students is their support network of parents, siblings and counselors,” said Hernandez. “So we include programs for both the student and their support network to make sure that all parties are receiving the same information…and to show how we support students and how we’re focused on the student in enrollment, retention and graduation. It’s not only about how we are recruiting students, but what kind of experience they are having when they get there.”
4.Consider the Timeline
According to the report, under-represented groups are more likely to start their college search earlier in high school. This is especially true of African American students, who were 9 percent more likely than Caucasian students to say they began looking at college options before their freshman year of high school. Hispanic/Latino students and first-generation students were also 3 percent more likely than Caucasian or non-first-generation students to begin their search early. Females were almost 10 percent more likely than males to begin their college search in their freshman year or earlier.
However, under-represented groups, in general, do not physically visit college campuses until later in their search process. First-generation students were 8 percent less likely to report visiting a college campus before their junior or senior year of high school than their counterparts. Also, Hispanic/Latino students were 5 percent less likely, with African American students 4 percent less likely, to visit a campus in their freshman or sophomore year of high school than Caucasian students.
5. Send Out a Campus Visit Invitation
Campus visits continue to be the ultimate recruitment tool. Increasing the number of students visiting an institution may be as simple as inviting them to campus, as 61 percent reported they would visit a school because they were invited to a special program there, or to visit a school official or student they know who invited them there.
Campus visits were rated especially helpful by rising seniors. The main reasons students visited were because a school was one of their top choices, because it was close by to them, and again, because they were invited or it was recommended to them.
“It’s important to show what campus looks and feels like: here’s who we are and who you’ll be taking classes with and from,” said Hernandez. “But it’s not show and tell, it’s an experience. We do a lot of focused and customized visits. We have targeted community events for admitted African American or Asian and Pacific Islander or Latino or American Indian students. They want to meet other students like them, so these are visit options. We want to make sure that however a student wants to visit us, they can.”
The report reveals that rising seniors who have not yet seriously begun their search are more likely to consider personal one-on-one experiences such as campus visits, high school counselor sessions, college fairs, and friends already in college as more helpful compared to rising juniors.
(Next page: Students’ technology preferences)