CollegeXpress User Survey Insights 2018, Part 2: The College Search

Carnegie Higher Ed Jul 10, 2018 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

As part of our CollegeXpress user survey of Class of 2018 high school graduates, we asked questions relating to their college search and what influenced their decisions. To see the demographics and survey information, you can find our first blog post on the influence of CollegeXpress here.

Every college search starts somewhere. Whether it’s a family legacy, hearing about a school in passing, or through diligent research, the one thing schools can count on is the seed being planted at some point in time. The question is, though, will your school be there in those moments and speak to what students are looking for in order to build their interest? Read on for insights into where a student’s interest in a school starts, plus the factors that influence their decisions along the way.

Where did you first hear about your top-choice school?

Data showed there is a wide range of influence when it comes to students learning about schools they end up being most interested in. While interpersonal relationships reign supreme, this set of students is making decisions digitally, which means there are strong opportunities to capture their attention through paid search and SEO (your school’s website and online searches), followed by integrated digital campaigns that lead students back to your school for more research and, hopefully, that coveted application.

The data also illustrates the impact that friends and family members can have when introducing a school to a prospective student. Whether it’s a family member who is an alumnus or friend who is currently attending, it’s important that who you are as a school can be communicated through these ambassadors. The more friends and family can speak to the positives of what your school can offer, in addition to the culture and their experience, the more likely a prospect will follow through in other avenues to learn more about what you can offer them. While outside marketing is crucial to the puzzle, it’s also important to look at your current student and alumni bases to make sure they can all speak to your school and your school’s brand in a similar, captivating way.

More survey statistics

  • The top three most highly correlated with all areas of learning about a school are online search, friends/family, and school website.
  • Of the group of students who listed school website as one of the places they first heard about their top-choice school, 56% of that isolated group also researched the school through an online search engine and heard about it from friends/family.
  • Of the group of students who selected social media as a platform where they first heard about their top-choice school, 53% of that isolated group used the school’s website, 66% heard about it from friends/family, and 55% did an online search as well.
  • Of the group of students who listed that they always wanted to go the school (i.e., family tradition), 53% of that isolated group also heard about the school from their friends/family.

How important were the following factors in your college search?

For this question, we listed an array of factors that could influence a prospective student’s search. Almost all given factors were of importance to our survey takers; however, three stood out clearly: campus visits, being the right fit, and financial aid/cost.

What this means

It’s important to gear marketing collateral and communication toward factors students are gravitating to more. Information should be readily available and sent to students regarding financial aid and cost, providing an ample amount of campus visit dates, and speaking to what makes your school unique to allow students to figure out if the school could be a good fit for them. If a school fits from the beginning and a student feels they were given the correct information from the start, it’s a win-win from enrollment to graduation.

Did you rely on any social media platforms as part of your college search and decision-making process? If so, which ones?

Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook took the top spots for platforms used in our survey takers’ college search and decision-making. It’s no surprise to see reliance on Instagram and YouTube, as they both specifically offer immersive experiences for prospects to learn more about your school on an informal platform. Plain and simple: this generation loves visual content.

Interestingly, Snapchat landed in the fifth spot among our survey takers despite being a major up-and-coming social platform for this audience. Snapchat is just getting started, though, and should not be discounted. There’s so much potential for it in the higher education marketing space in the coming years—especially as it continues to roll out even better features (lenses, geofilters, promoted stories, story ads, etc.) that will enhance advertising and reach for schools. If it’s not on your radar or part of your upcoming marketing plan, it should be.

How to use social media as part of your strategy

Looking at the factors students care about the most (good fit, campus visits, cost/financial aid), social media can absolutely be leveraged to speak to each of those points. That said, putting a focus on Instagram and/or YouTube would be ideal, as they’re the platforms your audience is most likely on and you’ll have a much bigger reach. We’ve touched on both these platforms in past blogs, one discussing Instagram stories and the other video marketing. The beauty of social media is that there are organic and paid opportunities to take advantage of in addition to the fact that all this audience of prospective students is looking for is honesty and authenticity, which should make posting and engaging with students all that much easier.

More survey statistics:

  • 42% of survey takers used social media in their decision-making process.
  • Social media use led to a higher number of college applications.
  • YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are all intertwined when it comes to usage (one would normally not be listed as used without at least one of the remaining two).

Capitalizing on the data

This survey is broad, but it highlights a few important things schools should be aware of to capitalize on this generation’s college search. Specifically, with the factors of what goes into a student’s decision-making, there’s no better data to have than to understand your “buyer’s” goals and values. Building an integrated strategy around those will give you the advantage every time. It’s important to note that in the grand scheme of things, the goal is the same: schools want to recruit the right students and those students want the right school. And that’s why when your marketing is done correctly and authentically, magic happens.

We also asked our survey takers what advice they’d give colleges and universities about the recruitment process. In Part 3, we’ll dissect all of their responses and break down the top categories of feedback. Stay tuned!

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