Is Friction Affecting Your Prospective Students’ Digital College Application Experience?

Carnegie Higher Ed Apr 20, 2020 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

Did you know that 51% of education consumers think the college application process is too time-consuming? How streamlined is yours?

Even before the recent coronavirus outbreak, students reported that the college application process was lengthy. With increased time online and a focus on digital interactions with prospective students, now is the time to look at your own application process.

Though it’s always been important to provide students with a digital experience that eliminates interruption and frustration, it’s even more vital now. Since most students only consider two to three schools prior to applying—and currently only have virtual tour options to experience campus life—it is essential for every interaction a prospect has with your institution to be clear, concise, relevant, accessible, and positive.

In the age of instant gratification, institutions must ensure that they are delivering friction-less student experiences at every touchpoint of the journey, from awareness all the way to student life.

Reducing friction in the awareness stage

Competition in the higher education industry is greater than ever before, and institutions are feeling the pressure to make a positive impact during the first step in the student college search journey.

Facebook’s recent research shows that overall application or enrollment duration only lasts about 70 days, which is why it’s so important to stand out and make a strong initial impression. Utilizing awareness tactics to get in front of students even before their research process starts will allow institutions to make their way into the consideration window.

Students want accessible information that is presented to them in a clear and concise manner. In today’s world, any pain points that prevent a prospect from learning more about an institution’s offerings can greatly impact their motivation to move further down the funnel.

Some examples of pain points through the awareness stage include:

  • Non-mobile-friendly websites and slow-to-load websites
    • This world is mobile-first. It’s far more likely that a student interacts with your institution through mobile over desktop, so having a mobile-friendly, fast-loading website is essential for success.
  • General landing pages vs. program-specific landing pages
    • Sure, an institution offers Business as a major, but are there concentration options? Each landing page should be tailored to your target audience and what they’re looking for. Students often bounce from a website when they find it hard to navigate with little to no relevant information.

Institutions that fail to optimize the prospective students’ journey are more likely to lose the trust needed to gain them as a future student.

Another pain point that often affects the application process is when institutions ask for personal information too soon. In a recent study by Facebook, only 17% of potential students said they submitted personal information after encountering a digital advertisement for the first time, and 42% of consumers want online resources that do not require personal information upfront. Carnegie Dartlet recently tested performance of form fields and found that forms with fewer fields resulted in a higher completion rate and lower cost per result. Collecting personal information should only be done when it’s relevant to the stage in a prospective student’s journey. 

Reducing friction in the application and enrollment stage

Considering Gen Z-ers are known to have an average attention span of just eight seconds, navigating to multiple pages could potentially cause a prospect to lose interest and leave your site.

Lengthy, non-mobile-friendly forms. Multiple forms. Submission failures. Slow loading pages. All of these pain points can negatively impact the student experience, even after an enrollment decision has been made. Students can still abandon a form that requires too many steps and is taking up too much of their time, causing frustration.

In addition to the application process itself, ensuring that application requirements and deadlines are prominent on your website is something to keep in mind as well. Lack of requirements and visible deadline dates can result in receiving unqualified applicants or not receiving qualified applicants simply because they were too late in applying.

When friction occurs due to slow-loading websites, lengthy applications, or submission failures, students can easily become discouraged and uninterested. This type of experience leaves a negative impression of an institution and can cause abandonment to the application or enrollment process. 

Adapting this same strategic thinking, landing pages should always have a call to action and important offerings visible so they’re easy for the user to notice.

Reducing friction in the student life stage

The student is enrolled—yay! But as an institution, your work is not done. 

Even after coursework has begun, students expect to feel a strong sense of connection to not only their institution but to their professors and fellow classmates as well. Institutions that give students the opportunity to build relationships will inspire them to further their education and potentially become alumni support in the future. Even upon graduation, students want accessibility to internship and career opportunities, and they want to be able to easily reach out to alumni, student groups, and more.

Creating a positive, supportive relationship with current students will also likely build a good reputation for future students and instill trust in those interested in applying to your school. Many graduates yearn for a lifelong relationship with their college or university that helped them start their career, so ensuring the relationship remains a positive one is also important.

Communication with enrolled students is just as important as communication with prospective students, especially during a crisis. As we’re all adapting to the pandemic situation at hand, make sure you’re offering your enrolled students different ways to build a connection to your college

Good first impressions lead to meaningful connections

As a higher education institution in the digital world, you have a huge opportunity to build positive connections with students at every stage, from awareness to application/enrollment to the student life experience—but there’s also the risk of creating a negative experience. As customer expectations and competition rises, friction needs to be eliminated. When expectations are not met, students move on and look elsewhere. 

“By removing friction from the student experience and building meaningful connections with the right people at the right time, schools can maximize their opportunities to reach new people and create mutually beneficial relationships from the prospect stages to the classroom and beyond,” says Jennifer Garrett, Head of Industry, Education at Facebook.


Want to learn more about the ins and outs of paid advertising for higher education? Check out these 3 Digital Marketing Tips specific to higher ed or explore our blog. And if you need help setting up your website for success and learning how to avoid friction, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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