Online Expectations of Prospective College Students

Noel-Levitz just published more research on the current state of online expectations of prospective students and parents. We already covered a summary of best practices in recruitment and marketing trends here, but wanted to update a new blog to dive deeper into the digital aspects of the recruitment experience.

As a social technology company, we are acutely tuned to the realities and misperceptions of digital marketing in the higher ed. space. With so much hype and fan-far about new tools and new ways to reach students, our goal is to debunk the myths and give you real insight into what today’s student is looking for in a digital experience.

The Web is Not Dead

The website is still the primary information hub when students are looking at your institution. One of our team members was recently talking to a college marketing professional who wasn’t concerned about updating their website because all the students were on social media now. Yes, young people spend more and more time on social networking sites, but that doesn’t mean it is a one stop shop for all their information needs. When it comes to their college search process students the top three things they are looking for in your website is:

  1. Academic program info
  2. Enrollment and admissions information
  3. Cost and financial aid info

Going Social Now.. or are we?

It turns out that only 1/3 students search for schools on a social networking sites, however 3/4 of students think schools should have a presence on social networks. Facebook is by far the leader in social mediums however Youtube and Twitter were also mentioned as important channels. The report showed that students were interested in watching videos (primarily via your website) but these could be hosted on Youtube as well. What you may find surprising is that only 9% of students reported using Twitter, and there’s no data show how many of those students actually use it to connect with schools.

We were waiting anxiously for the result of the statistic we are most interested in regards to our product. However, this year they only repeated the result last year that 76% of students say they think schools should have their own private network. Let’s recap the main takeaways from the social research. Facebook is students #1 choice for social networking (by far). 3/4 of students want a private social network to learn about college. I don’t mean to plug our own Schools App here, but we’re glad to see industry research is pointing in our direction.  If you want to learn more you can sign up for our webinar.

Is Mobile the Future?

This will be an area of interest increasingly in the years to come, but what does today look like? 82% of students own a cellphone, however only 14% of these students have browsed a college website while using the device. 90% of students said the site provided a good user-experience.  Of great interest, lower-income students were most likely to access school information via their mobile phone – should this be a message to those schools who serve our upwardly mobile youth?

On the SMS front, 81% of students send and receive text messages, however most students currently don’t want to use texting with admissions. This a great example of how simple statistics of technology pervasiveness fail to consider the cultural context of these new digital behaviors. In other words, just because a student is doing X doesn’t mean they want you doing X with them. You’ve probably heard go where the students are, but I’d like to add more importantly only if they want you with them and with certain behavioral styles that are comfortable.

E-mail is Dead, Blogging is Here to Stay!

Not so fast. If you believed that title you may have been spending too much time in the blogosphere. According to the research, 3/4 of students and parents report never using blogs to learn about a prospective school. If you are spending considerable amounts of time and resources on your student blog, you may want to reconsider it’s priority.

On the other hand, if you’ve been buying the “e-mail is dead line” keep in mind 86% of students reported use e-mail and 93% of those students give colleges an e-mail they check once a week. We understand that e-mail is becoming less relevant in light of tools like Facebook, however this is still a major communication channel you must be using efficiently.  Many of our clients have expressed the trouble of reaching students via e-mail, but this is a whole blog post in and of itself we’ll be covering next month.

The Main Takeaway

There will always be new tools and technologies to evaluated, prioritized, tested, but  you must be careful of mis-leading statistics and broad statements like “e-mail is dead” that may not be grounded in reality. Sure social and mobile are becoming increasingly important tools, but are you connecting in a way that creates an enjoyable student experience?

Do these findings ring true with your experience or is there another side of the story we’re missing?

  • Jay Steele

    Excellent article. Thanks for posting it. I have several
    items I would like to comment on but I am going to limit it to one for now.

    Pitting emails up against blogs is not a valid argument. They are two
    completely different mediums. It is like trying to compare a phone call to a
    Super Bowl ad. From the research that I have conducted, I would argue that one
    of the primary reasons why “3/4 of students and parents report never using
    blogs to learn about a prospective school” is because most schools do a
    lousy job of creating content on blogs, they are not SEO optimized, they are
    not aggregated very well, and the content is heavily weighted towards what the
    institutions want to say rather than what the reader wants to see (i.e. – no
    user or keyword research). Finally, email is not becoming less relevant because
    of Facebook, rather the one-to-many environment of Facebook and the one-to-one
    form of synchronous (chat) and asynchronous (text/message) interaction
    available has caused email to become more focused on the one-to-one purpose
    that it is ideally suited for.

    None of this is to take away from the other excellent points you made in your blog post. It is more about clearing up issues that are a result of low levels of digital fluency that is still rather pervasive, especially within higher ed institutions.

  • mpstaton


    You’re a ninja!   Thanks for your thoughts.  You’re absolutely right.  

    People often tend to compare apples to oranges and look at communications channels like it’s a zero-sum game.  But it’s not!  It’s the appropriate content for the appropriate audience with the appropriate channel.  And that math will evolve rapidly over time.  



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