Friday Five: What digital-savvy students want (and don’t want)

When it comes to influencing the college choices of prospective  students, social media is at the bottom of the list, while a school's website carries the most influence.
When it comes to influencing the college choices of prospective students, social media is at the bottom of the list, while a school’s website carries the most influence.

This bar chart should tell you everything you need to know about the influence of social media on today’s college students. It comes from a recent report by G/O Digital called “The Digital Search for Education.” Social media may be popular among the college crowd, but when it comes to influencing their decisions to apply to a certain college or university, social scores low. An institution’s website, though, holds the most sway over a prospective student.

The G/O Digital story holds a wealth of data about what today’s digitally connected prospective students want — and what they don’t want. Based on surveys conducted in January and February 2016 of more than 1,500 adults age 18 or over who are full-time or part-time students in graduate, four-year or two-year programs. Among the other findings:

1. Career opportunities rule

The majority of students surveyed say they enrolled either to improve their career opportunities (37 percent) or earn more money (20 percent). “This signifies that students seeking a college or career school are doing so in a purposeful manner,” the report says.

2. Search leads the way

Online search is the most-used method for finding out about a college. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed said they used a search engine to gather information about a college or degree programs. This suggests that “Having a strong search presence based in quality content is key for schools to appear in those crucial searches,” the report notes. “Students turn to search engines for answers, and schools that show up with the most relevant information are most likely to be clicked on by prospective students.”

3. Programs, cost and location matter

The G/O Digital study found that the three most important factors for prospective students when deciding where to go to college are 1.) programs offered (37 percent), 2.) cost (17 percent) and 3.) physical location (14 percent).

4. Campus visits can seal the deal

Students’ search for their school of choice may begin online, but the most important factor when it comes to picking a school is a campus visit. Thirty-one percent of the students surveyed  said an on-campus visit sealed the deal.

5. For websites, good information on academic programs is a must

Students don’t visit our websites to read our latest news or to look at our pretty pictures or to read about our strategic plans. They come to learn about the academic programs we offer. Fifty-six percent of students surveyed in this study said their primary purpose for visiting a .edu site is to get information about academic programs. On the opposite end, 33 percent said a lack of information about academic programs was a major turnoff, followed by difficulty navigating the site (32 percent).

Bonus takeaway: Social media does play a role

For all you social media managers out there, don’t despair. Social media does play a role in the school selection process, the survey found. The social media presence does affect how students perceive the school and can make a different in whether a student chooses to follow an institution’s social media presence. So don’t abandon Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter just yet. Just keep the information relevant to the students you’re trying to attract.

Related: As Michael Stoner points out in his comment below, he and Gil Rogers of Chegg are conducting some similar research — focusing on teenagers and their use of college websites — and they invite your input as well. “We want to know how much you know about what teens value on the websites you design, build, and manage,” he writes. “We’re asking higher ed marketers, admission officers, and website managers to share their insights.” I look forward to learning about their findings and seeing what sort of gap analysis may result.

Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

5 thoughts on “Friday Five: What digital-savvy students want (and don’t want)”

  1. Couldn’t agree more that making academic program content and data easily accessible, searchable and navigationally web friendly is worth it but making it happen is challenging.

    1. We are of the same mind there, John. I think what some will find surprising is how little influence social media has for students when they are searching for a college.

  2. Thanks for calling this report out. I thought the findings were very interesting myself: and I appreciate the fact that you emphasize that the respondents are “adults age 18 or over.” The findings about social media echo what Chegg has learned from teens (and that Gil Rogers and I wrote about in “Demystifying Admissions” last year). We’re following that research up in 2016 with a deep dive into how teens use .edu websites in college search/choice. As far as I can tell, this kind of study was last done about five years ago, before smartphones and social media were so significant in teen life (and the consciousness of highered marketers). We’ll release our white paper in the fall. More details here:

    1. Michael — Glad you caught that demographic factor. The 18-and-over age group doesn’t necessarily capture the prospective student mindset. I look forward to the new work you and Chegg will be sharing soon. Thanks also for sharing your post.

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