Great Expectations: a Peek into the Mind of the College-Bound Student
An Examination of the April 2012 Noel-Levitz Research on Communication Expectations of College-Bound High School Students
College-bound junior and seniors have high expectations from colleges and universities they are investigating. These expectations form as they are wooed by counselors at admissions events, courted by web sites and admissions materials, and romanced by idyllic on-campus tours. For many students, this courtship process will happen with more than one institution.
A college bound studentand parents of the studentshould have high expectations. The student or family will pay top dollarand in many cases accept a burden of debtfor a degree that’s seen as mandatory or nearly mandatory in many fields. But what do college-bound students expect, and how do they prefer to be contacted? What admissions efforts have the biggest impact on decision making? We can’t assume that we know the answers to these questions without research.
As luck would have it, our friends at Noel-Levitz just released another research report based on surveys from nearly 1,000 college-bound students (and just over 350 parents or guardians of future students) to help us all better understand the expectations of these audiences. I spent some time reading this document, rereading it, and thinking about it. Here are my top conclusions.
All seven highly influential factors for college-bound students are strongly connected to one another.
There are seven factors (including a campus visit, the institutional web site, college search sites, and talking to counselors and students) identified as highly influentialwith an average rating of 3.5 or higher on a 5 point scale. We can look at this as good news: an institution has up to seven powerful chances to help a college-bound student make a decision. Even though the report separates these factors for purposes of comparison we can think of them as additive. For example, a live chat is a chance for positive influence but is also a chance to point a prospective to a campus visit or a helpful area of the website. One influential factor can point to the next, and all factors can point to “yes.”
All or nearly all of your efforts should support a visit to campus as a next step.
According to the data, the on-site campus visit still wins as the most influential factor for prospective students and parents. If we acknowledge that none of the decision factors exist in a vacuum, most efforts need to point to the most powerful decision maker in some way. The campus visit should have obvious calls-to-action across communications channels, and any web presence should make it as easy as possible for prospectives to schedule a visit.
You need an outstanding website.
The main college or university website is the second most influential factor for college bound students and their parents. Websites were ranked as more influential than speaking with a current student, talking to an admissions representative, and even more influential than college search sites or guidance counselors. It’s worth remembering that in addition to being nearly as influential as an on-site visit, a website offers a very high level of convenience (it can be accessed without much of a time investment) and immediacy (it can be accessed at the moment of inspiration).
Facebook loses to other sources of influence (including print!) by a pretty big margin
This was the biggest shocker to me. Facebook was the only choice identified as a middling source of influence, with an average rating of only ~2.5 on a 5 point scale.
but is still worth maintaining based on the level of ease and because curating for Facebook has other benefits.
Facebook can be set up in minutes and a moderate Facebook presence can be maintained relatively easily. In the process of combing for content, a person curating for Facebook will likely turn up stories that are appropriate for other feeds or even feature interviews.
You need a good admissions email campaign.
For juniors, seniors, and parents, email was chosen as the most comfortable method of online communication. All other methods (live chat, social media, webcast, webcam) were fairly close to one another for comfort level. It is worth noting that the convenience level of social media might beat some of the others (webcam or live chat). In other words, social media has a nearly equal level of influence to efforts such as webcam chats but social media probably represents less time and effort to maintain.
A big thumbs up to Steph Geyer for being friendly about sharing research and for her permission to blog about it. She’s a smart lady and you should listen to what she says.