college websites

Survey: Students seek academic info on school websites

Higher-ed websites should offer information about majors and return on educational investment

When searching higher-ed websites, students tend to be more interested in information about academic majors and minors than a school’s ranking or cost, according to a new survey from best practice research company EAB.

According to the survey of nearly 5,000 students, 70 percent say finding information about majors and minors is their top priority when searching websites. Nineteen percent most want information about a school’s ranking or reputation, 45 percent say they want information about costs, and 24 percent are interested in financial aid.

In terms of digital advertising, students found general information (50 percent) and information about majors and minors (41 percent) most helpful.

“Over the past two years, there was a 3.6 percentage point increase in how important this academic program information was to prospective students,” writes EAB principal and consultant Anika Olsen in a blog analyzing the survey. “Results show 70 percent of respondents said they went to college websites to find information about majors and minors.”

The survey indicates a growing interest in how different degrees and academic paths will serve students in the workforce.

“There’s no doubt that rank and cost are important to students and families, but these survey results suggest that students are also focused on value and whether their degree will enable them to succeed in their chosen profession,” says EAB principal Dana Strait. “The survey findings affirm what our research team has been hearing from the hundreds of enrollment leaders we speak with: Students are evaluating what we call ‘return on education’ or ROE. And ROE has a lot to do with their field of study, not just the school they select or the price they pay.”

At Virginia Tech, administrators realized the website for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences was geared more toward internal audiences and excluded external stakeholders such as prospective students and parents. The school overhauled the website and added alumni stories, rankings, and information about student research and experiential-learning opportunities.

After updating its website and without making substantive program changes, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences saw a 35 percent increase in applications during the two cycles that included the website launch.

“Since the Great Recession, students have become more practical and career-focused when choosing schools. And our research suggests that this trend is likely to continue,” Strait adds. “Still, many schools don’t provide prospective students with enough information on the experiences, opportunities, and outcomes students will have in individual programs. Doing so is especially important for the humanities, where career outcomes are less clear.”

Social media also plays an important role as students seek information about academic programs. Forty-one percent of students say information about majors and minors was the most useful social media content. That’s higher than the number of students who want schools to share information about college costs (31 percent) or financial aid (26 percent) on social channels.

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Laura Ascione

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