New research shows that college websites are the top resource students use to make enrollment choices when looking for institutions.

When it comes to recruitment, websites are key


New research shows that college websites are the top resource students use to make enrollment choices--a potential key to the enrollment crisis

Key points:

  • Students value higher-ed websites, but find navigating them frustrating
  • If institutions modernize and streamline their websites, those updates could play a part in improving the enrollment crisis
  • See related article: “Gen P” students remain unsure about college

More than nine out of 10 high school students say they use a higher education institution’s website to guide their college research process, but many find the navigation of these websites frustrating, according to the 2023 E-expectations Trends Report: Attracting, Engaging, and Enrolling High School Students, a study developed by Modern Campus and based on research conducted in partnership with Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL).

The report provides insight into what high school students expect from colleges and sheds light on how colleges and universities can attract, engage and enroll prospective students.

The bi-annual study explores the online expectations, experiences, behaviors, and priorities of high school students across the United States in the process of searching for college. With the college search process now beginning early in high school for many students, this 2023 report presents many findings by high school year, showing how student behavior changes as they approach graduation.

Despite higher-ed websites being the top used resource for finding information, navigating them and finding the right information is still something high school students find frustrating. They expect and want these websites to be easily navigable and show personalized content. And as a result, despite their wide use, students indicate concerns around how helpful the websites truly are. About one in five 10th-grade and first-generation students said they do not find higher-ed websites helpful.

Students say their top three complaints about college websites are that it’s hard to find information, they encounter confusing directions, and the websites are hard to navigate.

Additional findings include:

The report also explores how high school students plan and research for higher education, what tools they use to gather information, and what influences their journey and decisions. The study found that campus maps and virtual tours have been gaining influence in students’ decisions to enroll for a college/university.

  • 93 percent students use a college or university’s website to get information
    • 58 percent use a search engine to find a college or university website 
    • 56 percent like or expect websites to show personalized content 
  • 50 percent take a virtual tour via college websites
    • 73 percent feel likely to enroll after taking a virtual tour of a college or university
    • The number of students who feel likely to enroll after taking a virtual tour has been consistently increasing for the past three years
  • 73 percent of students’ parents/families help them with college planning

“Today’s students expect personalized digital experiences from every business they interact with—including higher education institutions,” said Peter DeVries, Modern Campus CEO.

“Understanding the factors that drive their decision-making throughout the college-planning journey—from accessing information to communicating with the institution and experiencing the campus life virtually before joining—can help colleges and universities to optimize their marketing and communication channels to meet their prospective students’ expectations.

Related: Is generative AI in college admissions a massive threat, or an opportunity?

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Laura Ascione

IT Campus Leadership

Your source for IT solutions and innovations to support campus-wide success. Weekly on Wednesday.

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