CollegeXpress User Survey Insights 2018, Part 3: Feedback From Students on Recruitment Strategies

Carnegie Higher Ed Sep 24, 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.

With the 2018–2019 school year underway, it’s time to turn our attention to recruiting the Class of 2019. In our final installment of our CollegeXpress User Survey Insights, we asked 2018 high school seniors what feedback they would give colleges, as they were fresh off the college search and the prime targets over the last year for marketing and recruitment collateral.

The question we asked was simple: If you could give colleges a piece of advice about recruiting students, what would you tell them? What would have made the process better for you? Exactly 1,106 (64% of the entire survey pool) students provided genuine and thoughtful feedback—an absolute gold mine of advice. Here are the top five overarching areas from our users that we’re sure will change how you attack your marketing plan this year (in more ways than you may think!).

Note: Feedback submitted by students has not been edited and was directly lifted from our survey.

5. Website related (6.88% of responses)

The data we noted in our college search blog of this series showed how much research is done online to make college decisions. Within this area, responses from students fell in one of three categories: schools they were interested in did not have modern websites, information was not updated as often as it should be, and 83% said they wished school sites had better navigation and organization.

If your site is not optimized and ready for students who are searching for more information, you are insulting your own target audience. If you expect this generation to stay interested in your school from sophomore year to senior year to application to enrollment, you need to be prepared for them to be on your website looking for more information. If they can’t find it or don’t think your site is up to their standards, get ready for them to bounce off and move on to the next school.

Student feedback: College websites need better navigation and organization

  • Put money into your website, make it bold and simple….your website is where we make our first impression!
  • The first thing that I would say as advice to colleges for recruiting students, is to have an easily navigable website. There were some schools that my peers and I didn’t apply to strictly because it wasn’t worth the technological or organizational struggle.
  • If the school websites are more organized, it makes it easier for students to see the good things about your school.  Also, easier access to prices would be very helpful.
  • Make websites as clear and straight forward as possible for incoming freshman that are applying
  • I would like to be able to find information a little quicker. I don’t want to dig through the whole school website and never find what I need.
  • The most important part of the school website should be ease of finding information. Common concerns (housing meal plans, degree programs, the cost of all these, etc.) should be easily found and have dedicated pages with a decent amount of information.

Student feedback: Maintain a modern website and keep information updated

  • Continuously keep websites updated especially dorm room pictures.
  • The process would have been easier for me if their website was more up to date.
  • Some websites were a bit outdated and could use a little updating.
  • I would tell them to update their statistics from previous years so students can see if they are the right fit for the school.
  • Make the websites more modernized.


4. More honesty and transparency in the admission process (7.24% of responses)

Comments in this category related to making sure students are receiving the most accurate information about your school. Students sharing feedback in this area noted that they felt schools weren’t sharing all information available or were only providing information just to make a school look good, not what is actually true.

Top areas that students felt they weren’t being told accurate information about: cost/financial aid, admission/application process, not being realistic to the student about offering admission, majors, and expectations the school will have of the student.

Student feedback: Share accurate information about cost and financial aid

  • Colleges should be more upfront about the tuition and more specifics, like, the costing of living, food, transportation, etc. This would help the students better  understand the living situation at their chosen college.
  • Be very upfront about the financial assisstence given to the student. College is expensive and many students select a college based on how much they are willing to offer them. It is better to make it readily available to see the rewards and financial aid of a student.
  • Be real about financial aid, costs, and scholarship opportunities. You need to make sure students know what they’re in for, and you have to make sure EVERY possible scholarship opportunity is made available to them.
  • More of a direct answer when it comes to financials, they tend to make it look like you’ll pay less than what you actually are
  • Tell the price it will cost for the student in question to go. It’s hard when the student themselves will be the one paying for their education with no other aid and they see prices that they know for a fact they can’t afford.
  • Give more straightforward information about financial aid and merit aid. If it’s not going to happen for that student, just tell them or try to work something out.

Student feedback: Share accurate information about your institution

  • Transparency is the most important thing. I visited colleges to realize that many made empty promises in their marketing campaigns, which was frustrating.
  • To give me real statistics and information not just sugar coating the view of the school
  • Don’t try to sell us all the good points and downplay the bad, tell it like it is. I appreciate honesty about mistakes way better than thinking the school is perfect, but finding out later that I don’t like certain aspects I didn’t know about.
  • Be as personable and honest as possible. You’re recruiting people that are about to make a very important decision and not telling the whole truth or not offering up information that might influence their decision is dishonest and can result in their unhappiness later at school. Don’t be selfish.
  • Be as personable and individual as possible. Students care more about authenticity than ranks and stats at the end of the day.

Student feedback: Be more realistic about offering admission to students

  • Be more honest about a student’s chances at your university
  • Do not send mail to students telling them you want them at your school if you are not going to accept them. It creates a false sense of hope and then crushes them.
  • I think that organizing a quick pre-qualification process would be appreciated because its heartbreaking to think that you have the possibility to go to your dream college just to feel disheartened to receive a letter stating that you were not accepted because the level of competition was high this year. I think a more realistic approach as to a really possibility makes it a better experience.

3. More personalization in higher education marketing (10.23% of responses)

This aligns exactly with marketing best practices. However, if your school isn’t taking advantage of personalizing communications or providing more one-on-one attention, you’re missing out on important connections with prospects.

Personalization is also more than using “[firstname]” in a subject line on an email or in the body of content. This generation is smarter than that, and they expect more than that. Take what you know about a prospect (think location, major choice, GPA, interests, etc.) and use those pieces of information to tailor your communications. This still allows for mass emails to be sent, but the content in them will be so much more targeted that you’ll see CTRs in emails and engagement trend upward overall.

Student feedback: More personalization in college/university marketing

  • Emails get tiring and not many students even read them; mail gets overwhelming and all small envelopes look the same; actually personalize the material you send and include what a freshman would need to know; I loved receiving the optional courses and different tracks a school had to offer
  • Recruitment is not one-size-fits all.  If you have taken time to learn about me and have customize your recruitment according, it shows a lot and I am way more interested.
  • Personalization goes a long way — handwritten notes, phone calls, friendly faces at campus visits, campus events for prospective students. The personal connection I made with my admissions counselor when she visited my school was my first and best impression of the college she represented.
  • The more personal it is, the better. I wasn’t considering [school name] until I got a handwritten note about my essay in my acceptance letter, and now it is one of my top schools.
  • If a College wrote me a hand written letter giving me any reason to go to their college, I’d heavily look into that College. It shows that they care, so I should too.
  • Make the emails feel more personable to the student. I got very tired of hearing the same email from every school, but schools who were creative yet personal and real stood out to me
  • Reach out to students in a way tailored to the students’ actual interest/area of study. Getting a bunch of emails about xxx college’s STEM research prowess is not at all relevant to my search and sometimes set a bad image in my mind about the school itself, as though they didn’t care about the humanities.
  • Make it more personal. I felt like a number to most.
  • Say something specific to that person that you enjoyed in their application or send them something correlating with their major.


The other side of this category is students wanting more personalized attention from faculty and staff who could provide individual support to them. Twenty-nine percent of survey comments expressed a wish to have more personal connections through communications with faculty and staff.

Student feedback: More personal connections with college/university faculty and staff

  • I would tell them to try to make each and every student feel like they are going to have a home at the college they are visiting, to make each student feel wanted and supported at the college/ university. That way, the student will be a lot more interested in attending the college/university.
  • Please put a name to a face
  • Building a personal connection to perspective students make individuals more excited about your school.
  • Don’t be so distant; the bigger your college’s name is, the more intimidated students will be about approaching you with concerns
  • Personal calls/texts/emails were so important in creating a dialogue and making friends. The school staff & coach who did this best earned my college commitment.
  • Personal connections with staff and students were the most meaningful to me and my family.
  • Personal contact was important, making me feel like a was a person, not a number, showing that they really read my application.
  • To get the chance to know the students on a more personal level.
  • To try to make connections with potential students. I think my college-choosing process was fine, a little stressful, but fine, so I don´t think I would change anything about it.
  • Try to get to know students more personally, past their grades, to better cater to their preferences.
  • Try to make the recruitment experience as personal as possible. A call from a person rather than a prerecorded message makes a potential student feel recognized and important.
  • Get to know the students on a different level, understand there interests and create relationships. Make them comfortable, do not treat them like they are just another person you want to attend your institution.
  • Try to connect with the student on a personal level, by means of understanding what their aspirations are moving forward and how you could guide them in reaching their goal.

Student feedback: More one-on-one personal attention with college/university faculty and staff

  • Personal 1 on 1 is VERY convincing and much more valuable than a canned email/text.
  • I would suggest one-on-one interviews more interactive activities between prospective students
  • I would tell them to schedule more meetings face to face for future students, because I know that when I apply to [insert school name], I wasn’t sure what to do afterwards. So scheduling time for questions would be great.
  • If we could schedule a meeting for a one-on-one conversation about any questions the student and/or family had.
  • The process would have been better if there were more people to talk to if you have questions, and if there was more information on the websites.

Student feedback: Reach out to prospects during the admission process

  • Reach out to students and make them feel like they are individually wanted at your school. I received letters and handwritten cards from students at my first choice college that told about the great experiences they had there.
  • Reach out. Make the student feel like they have a place they belong. Make sure they know things they need to know about dates and processes. Ect. Luckily my admissions councilors were amazing and reached out very often

2. Prospects want more information (15.93% of responses)

On the heels of honesty/transparency, this group of students was thirsty for more information. The biggest takeaway from this set of feedback? Stories, not stats. Prospects know they can find your student-faculty ratio. They know they’ll find the list of majors you offer. And they know they’ll see carefully curated images of students walking on your campus looking happy and loving life. Prospects don’t want that information. They want to hear more from current students and their time at your school, what they love, what they hate (yes, they want to know this information too), what the culture is like, etc. Every school is the same when it comes to stats. Be different and step out of the box. Authenticity will win every time with this generation.

Student feedback: Share more information from current students

  • The process would have been easier if there was a website through which I could talk to current students of the schools I’m considering.
  • Allow open time for high school students to ask college students what classes they take and what their favorite part of school is without the pressure of college admin
  • Include more student testimonials from current students, I want to know how their experience is through their own words.
  • I enjoy reading current students’ experiences. I can relate better and hear from someone who is getting the experience I might want to get as well.
  • To market themselves better. A lot of colleges rely on statistics, and they are important, but student testimonials would really help their image, otherwise they look like they’re trying too hard.
  • Don’t tell them stats, give them stories.

Student feedback: Share more information about campus culture and student life

  • Give students an idea of the schools culture. I chose what school I will attend based on the people I met who will also be freshman when I am, so the culture really made me choose that school. Emphasize the activities lots of students enjoy, whether greek life is big, ect.
  • Give the students more information on what they can expect while taking classes, while waiting in between classes, for commuters, and for residents.
  • Talk about the programs you offer yes, but don’t forget to advertise campus life and. community as well. After all, students will be (often) uprooting from their homes to come to your school.
  • I always enjoyed being able to see what student life is really like and getting an idea of what life at the college is about- beyond the brochures and canned speeches that sound the same no matter where you go.

Student feedback: Share more information about your institution

  • I wish that they would tell specific information rather than broad information that it is the same as other colleges.
  • I would say to tell them more about the benefits of the University and about all of the things the college has that students would love.
  • Tell them about the good AND bad of the college. That’s what makes it most appealing to me, when I know what I’m getting into. Tell us all the little details.

Student feedback: Share more information about financial aid and scholarships

  • Give more financial information about the school. If I had more financial information I feel I would have been more prepared.
  • I would tell them that money is the biggest factor, so provide as much financial information as possible.


1. Better communication with prospects (26.97%)

Communication is a broad category, but it’s at the top of the list of feedback from our survey. This category encompasses students’ feelings on direct mail; phone calls; emails; making sure communication is clear, concise, personable, and helpful; and having a better communication channel overall between prospects and your institution.

Fifteen percent within this communication set mentioned they would’ve liked to deal with college/university staff who were more helpful and approachable. Many students felt the communication from this end was lacking and, in turn, made them not interested in pursuing the school. One of the great takeaways of this area of response is that students want to be helped throughout the process.

Student feedback: College/university faculty and staff need to be more personable and approachable

  • Make the student feel important as welcome. For me the hardest part was wanting to be treated like an adult while I was still being viewed as a child.
  • Personal touch is everything. Feeling like more than a number put my top school far above the rest.
  • I would tell them to try to make each and every student feel like they are going to have a home at the college they are visiting, to make each student feel wanted and supported at the college/ university. That way, the student will be a lot more interested in attending the college/university.
  • Personal connections with staff and students were the most meaningful to me and my family.

Student feedback: Be helpful, connected, and accommodating to prospects

  • Always be in contact with them. Help them out through the process. Have them connect with someone who can advise and help them. Don’t throw emails in their face telling them to do this, call them and help them through their process.
  • If a student emails you with questions please try to answer promptly. Otherwise the student feels like they are not cared about by the College which gives the college a negative bias for them. It highly impacts their decision.

Student feedback: Show students you want them to attend and apply to your institution

  • Show that you really want these students.  Be honored to have them apply/be accepted, not the other way around
  • Make them feel like you want them to come to your school and help them through the process.
  • I would tell them to try to make each and every student feel like they are going to have a home at the college they are visiting, to make each student feel wanted and supported at the college/ university. That way, the student will be a lot more interested in attending the college/university.

Student feedback: Have faster responses to questions and concerns

  • Timely responses in emails reflects well on the schools and is very helpful to a stresses and nervous student.
  • To reply more quickly to emails, as well as to create strong relationships with every applying student.

Student feedback: Be more clear and concise with your communication to prospects

  • Be very clear with the information you provide. I received many calls and emails that were vague and confusing.
  • Just make everything easy to read, find, and understand.
  • One of the areas that was really telling and brought up several times was students wanting schools to be more “authentic” and different in how they market themselves and communicate. This group of students can’t be fooled with shiny stats and special pictures—they want the real story about your school and what their life is going to be like if they choose you.

Student feedback: Be different in how you market your institution

  • Instead of sending mail or “giving 5 tips to prepare them for college” like every other college does you should do something different, something that stands out and keeps the environment in mind.
  • More specific details in marketing–I get it, you have a 12:1 student-faculty ratio. So does dozens of other schools. Tell me what’s unique about your school/department.
  • Stop using the same catch lines as every other college. Make original statements that standout. More contact and information about what matters to me personally in choosing the right school


Twenty percent of this communication group had strong feelings and advice about emailing practices. It’s important to remember that as a student starts their college search journey, your school is just one of countless in their inbox. Take a look at what you’re sending and how you’re communicating with these prospects. These comments offer incredible insight into the mind of these prospects and how they’re reacting to what you’re sending. Most of the time, it’s a delete-and-forget-about-it situation. What can you do to be the school that doesn’t get deleted?

Student feedback: The state of emails in higher education

  • Don’t oversaturate students with advertisements on the mail. I ended up trashing piles of college ads and aplications sent to me over mail. The top schools I actually aplied to reached out once if not not at all over email/mail. Mystery creates curiosity. Much more rewarding to research than to be layed out with a plethora of statistics and information
  • To make every email count; sending 20 emails in a row kind of pushed me away from a college instead of making it seem more attractive.
  • Less general mass emails and more personalized information.
  • Don’t send out too much mail; send out the most important information, such as what types of learning (experiential, simulation) the program the student is interested in offers.
  • Don’t send as many emails, if I’m interested in the school then I will contact them back
  • I would ask them to send less mail. I got so many letters and emails that I stopped looking at them because I was recieving four or five a day at the peak and it took me a long time how to figure out how to unsubscribe. It frustrated me greatly and I never read them because there were too many.
  • Take it easy on the e-mails. Sometimes I just sit down and mass delete college e-mails because I know that the majority of them do not apply to me.
  • Don’t send them bulk e-mails. send them personalized e-mails.

When you put all this together, you couldn’t have any better feedback. This is your target audience, and they are actually telling you what to do better to make them respond to your marketing efforts. Of course there might be areas you wish you could fix, but due to money, staffing, bandwidth of employees, etc., not everything is always possible. If there is anything we learned from sifting through this data, it’s that students just want you to try: try to communicate a bit better, try to give them information they’re looking for, try to reach out when you can to let them know you’re there. We promise it will go a long way and have a tremendous ripple effect as the years go on.

If you have questions about optimizing your website, telling your story, or communicating better with students, let us know. We’re here to help!  

Never miss an update.