Surveys of inbound students and their parents are helpful because they identify how an institution’s target audience made its decisions. It helps college recruitment and college enrollment.

What matters most in college selection–and how to respond accordingly

Surveys of inbound students and their parents are helpful because they identify how an institution’s target audience made its decisions

Key points:

Two recent surveys of 5,800 college-bound students and their parents (1,100) shed light on their unique approaches to the college selection process. The surveys highlighted the growing importance of social media and websites in recruitment, why campus visits are so important, and how money impacts the selection process.

Below are the key findings about college selection, along with prescriptive guidance on how schools can improve recruitment and retention.

Survey data says: Emails remain students’ preferred method of communication, but many students (41 percent) said they won’t open an email from an institution that they’ve never heard of.

What this means for schools: Institutions need ways to get on students’ radars, and they need to keep emails from being tossed directly into the trash. One of the ways they can do this is through targeted social media campaigns. Most teens who responded to the survey reported spending at least one hour a day on social media, with well over half of respondents (61 percent) reporting spending three or more hours per day on various platforms. Targeted social media campaigns can drive interest in an institution, create brand recognition opportunities, and encourage students to open a personalized email.

Survey data says: When parents were asked how they sought specific information about a school, 84 percent said they visited a school’s website. Approximately 75 percent of students said the same.

What this means for schools: Many college websites are unintentionally difficult to navigate. Schools need to think about their websites as their front door. Whenever possible, schools should establish focus groups (comprising students and parents) with the goal to find key information located on their website, such as the date of the next open house or parent’s weekend, or what types of student-run publications are on campus. If institutions want students and parents to set foot on their campus, they need to ensure those individuals can navigate the website and easily find important information.

Survey data says: Eighty-four percent of students visit the school they will ultimately attend. Thirty percent of parents knew the institution was the right fit for their child when they first visited the school.

What this means for schools: This underscores the importance of first impressions. Even during the pandemic, parents and students visited the schools they thought they might want to attend despite not having access to the interior of dining halls and dorms. While students and their parents may be able to find answers to questions on the school’s website, they intuitively feel whether the school is a good fit by setting foot on campus. When structuring campus visits—from the admissions presentations to the student-led tours—every ambassador for the school should focus on what makes their institution unique and compelling in addition to highlighting the traditional bases, such as sports teams, campus life, and academics.

Survey data says: Close to one-third of parents reported that if money were not a factor, they would have encouraged their child to look at a different school than where they ended up. Student survey data echoes this response.

What this means for schools: For the colleges that have accepted those students, retention may be an issue. These students and their parents had their hearts set on other dreams and may view the students’ current college as a fallback plan. For administrators at these institutions, having effective first-year student experiences, creating comprehensive orientation programs, maintaining community-building activities, and investing in traditions can go a long way toward convincing a student they made the right choice.

Surveys of inbound students and their parents are helpful because they identify how an institution’s target audience made its decisions. Data like this provides institutions with relevant information that they can apply to enrollment and retention initiatives.

Both parent and student college selection surveys can be accessed here.

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