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Methodology and Demographics
There were 6,348 completed and qualified responses collected between March 11, 2022 and April 17, 2022. This year the survey was open 2 months earlier than last year after feedback that results would be more useful in the spring than the summer. The survey was sent to registered graduate program searching users on Niche and posted to the site during this period. Gender offered more options than the Council of Graduate Schools benchmarking, but comparisons are offered where available:
- Female – 62% (CGS 58%)
- Male – 29% (CGS 42%)
- Gender Nonbinary – 2%
- Other – 1%
- Chose not to respond – 7%
Our respondents also were more diverse than present in the CGS benchmarking as well. Again, there were more race and ethnicity options provided in our survey, using recommendations detailed by the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center “Everyone Deserves to Be Seen” policy brief, among other resources.
- African American or Black – 22% (CGS 12%)
- American Indian or Alaska Native – 1% (CGS <1%)
- Bangladeshi – 1%
- Chinese – 2%
- Filipino – 1%
- Indian – 7%
- Korean – 1%
- Nepalese – 1%
- Pakistani – 1%
- Vietnamese – 1%
- Other Asian ethnicities – 2% (CGS Asian 8%)
- Caucasian or White – 31% (CGS 59%)
- Hispanic or Latinx – 10% (CGS 12%)
- Middle Eastern or North African – 3%
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander – <1% (CGS <1%)
- Multiracial – 7% (CGS 3%)
- I do not know – 4% (CGS 5%)
- Chose not to respond – 7%
Most of the prospective students who responded were not first-generation college students. There were 30% who were the first in their family to attend college, 36% with a 2 or 4-year degree in the family, and 26% with a Master’s or a doctoral or professional degree earned by their parents.
Breakdown of responses by broad field of study:
- Healthcare (Other than nursing or medical doctor) – 15%
- Social Sciences – 11%
- Education – 11%
- Other – 10%
- Business (non MBA) – 9%
- Engineering – 7%
- Computer Science – 6%
- MBA – 5%
- Natural Sciences – 5%
- Nursing – 4%
- Medical Doctor – 4%
- Law – 4%
- Fine or Performing Arts – 3%
- Data Science – 2%
- Psychology – 2%
- Social Work – 1%
- Architecture – 1%
- Speech Pathology – 1%
There were quite a few respondents who are considering career changes. For 13% of searchers, this will not be their first graduate degree. Of those pursuing a second degree, 42% are pursuing a degree in a different field. That was most prominent for those seeking a doctoral degree with 38% pursuing a second degree.
Graduate Recruitment Insights
These insights and trends are applicable to all searchers, but we have identified some outliers by program and have pulled out only those areas where there are significant differences below.
Search, Application, and Enrollment Process Insights
One-quarter of respondents have been searching for less than 6 months and another 33% have been searching for less than a year. The process can be quite long however, 25% have been searching for 1-2 years and 16% for more than 2 years. One-third of certificate searchers have been searching for less than 6 months and overall their search appears to be shorter.
One-third of searchers started their search after graduating, 21% during their final year of undergraduate, 30% while enrolled but before their final year, and 16% before enrolling in undergraduate programs. The process looked different depending upon the degree type; 42% of professional degree searchers started either before enrolling in undergraduate programs or during their first two years, much more than the 30% of all searchers. The opposite was true for Master’s degree-seeking students, 39% started their search after graduating and 23% started searching during their final year of undergraduate.
The search for graduate programs started broadly, 90% of students used search engines to discover and research programs, and 77% used grad school search sites. As for other discovery sources, 66% reported that they discovered new programs through their family, 53% used Career Services, 46% attended events on campus, and 37% used on-campus or virtual recruiting fairs.
Digital ads for building awareness of programs influenced almost half of the students, emphasizing the medium’s strong use for awareness building as well as remarketing to those who already have an awareness of an institution or program. Digital ads are more effective than on-campus events or fairs, longtime staples of outreach. A significant outlier, 69% of students looking for a certificate program discovered new programs through digital ads. The majority—57%—of grad searchers discovered new programs on social media, which was still less than the 74% of undergraduate searchers who reportedly do. LinkedIn usage is much more prevalent among grad searchers, though, with 31% using the platform and making it the most used platform.
The COVID Effect on Grad Program Searches
The majority of searchers reported that COVID has made their academic preparation and their ability to afford a graduate degree more challenging. The majority of searchers also said that they have fewer concerns that there will be career opportunities after graduation due to COVID, perhaps due to a large number of job openings right now. There is a sign of hesitation among certificate program searchers, however—51% are less confident in their decision to pursue a graduate program due to COVID. Additionally and perhaps the cause of that hesitancy, 73% of certificate searchers said that academic preparation has been more challenging due to COVID.
Current Application and Enrollment Considerations
So far, 70% of respondents said that they have started applying to programs. Professional program searchers are submitting the highest average number of applications with 6, doctoral searchers are submitting 4, and Master’s or certificate searchers are submitting 3. Showing continued hesitancy, 62% of respondents say they will definitely enroll and 24% said they will likely enroll, barring significant challenges arising. Only 57% of certificate searchers say that they will definitely enroll and almost a quarter say that they will need significant support in order to enroll.
Just 28% of searchers have already taken a graduate entrance exam in preparation for applying. Only 12% of searchers say that they would not apply to programs that required graduate entrance exams and 30% said that they might not.
The majority of respondents plan to keep their current jobs or start a new one rather than being full-time students. More than 80% of searchers plan to work while enrolled and yet 75% of searchers plan to enroll in a program full-time. Half of respondents say that they plan to move when they enroll and 18% have not decided yet if they will. Searchers are not only looking locally to continue their education.
Communicating With Grad Searchers
Like their undergrad peers, email is the preferred form of communication with 75% of respondents who said that they want email from programs. Just 25% wanted phone calls, 25% wanted texts, 15% wanted to receive mail, and only 9% wanted video calls. Overall, 21% did not want to be contacted at all and only want to reach out and request answers.
In terms of frequency, 26% of searchers said that weekly outreach is fine during recruitment, 22% want to be contacted a few times per month, 18% monthly, and 14% less than once per month. There was some variation by the degree type; 43% of those searching for a certificate program want weekly communications and only 17% of professional program searchers want weekly outreach.
Content to Focus on for Grad Searchers
Program reputation and awareness are more important than the university’s. There are 37% of searchers who said that the reputation of a program is more important than the university as a whole and only 4% said that the university’s reputation is more important than a specific program. Most students were neutral and did not consider the reputation of either the program or the university as significantly more important than the other.
The majority of searchers felt that they must hear about financial aid (62%), application requirements (57%), and application deadlines (53%). When also considering those who said that they would like to hear about a topic but not that it was something they must hear about to consider a program, career opportunities edged out application deadlines as the third most important topic. Sending outreach with faculty news was the least important outreach a program can do; almost a quarter of students said it either isn’t important to them or they do not want to hear about it at all. Doctoral program searchers are less interested in student life as a factor in their decisions, however searchers interested in a graduate certificate program are much more likely to be interested in student life. Financial aid is most important to graduate certificate searchers with 74% responding that it’s very important and it was least important to professional program searchers.
Beyond program-specific outreach, 73% of respondents wanted to hear about campus more broadly; even 43% of those only considering online programs still did and only one-third said that they are not interested in hearing about campus. Over 80% of those considering fully online programs wanted to hear about campus and only 2% said that they are not interested. There are 70% of searchers who wanted to hear about the community or town the campus is located in. It’s much less important for those looking for fully online programs, only 37% were interested in it.
Addressing concerns is as important, if not more so, than simply answering questions and providing relevant information. The only concern that the majority of searchers expressed was that of being able to afford their degree with 84% saying that they were concerned. The next most frequent was choosing the right degree with 45% concerned. Professional program searchers were the most concerned overall. The majority were unsure if they would be academically prepared and they were the most concerned about meeting admission requirements and being socially or emotionally prepared for graduate school. They were the most confident that they would find a job after graduation, however.
Preferred Program Characteristics
In-person classes are still highly desirable—80% of searchers are considering on-campus-only programs, 70% are considering hybrid enrollment, and 62% are considering online-only programs. Of those considering an online program, half want it to be offered by an institution with a physical presence and only 22% prefer it to come from a fully online institution. Online programs through fully online institutions were least appealing to doctoral-level searchers and most accepted by those looking for a graduate certificate.
Price and financial aid are no longer the most important factor for grad searchers. Career outcomes were the most important factor with 72% reporting that they are very important and 22% saying that they are important. Financial aid was second most important with 70% and 23% respectively and program price was third with 69% and 23% respectively. All other factors trailed considerably in importance. The ability to take sessions off, student life, and the ability to transfer credits in were the least important factors for searchers.
The size of a program cohort mattered, 72% of searchers placed a priority on the size of a program’s cohort. Only 12% wanted a program with less than 10 students in a cohort, 53% wanted a cohort with 10-50 students, and just 7% wanted a cohort of over 50 students. Professional program searchers were more interested in larger cohorts and only half were interested in cohorts of less than 50 students.
Searchers preferred collaborative programs 2:1 over individualistic programs, either competitive or noncompetitive. Doctoral and professional program searchers were the most interested in collaborative programs with 70% saying they preferred that. In an outlier group, 29% of certificate program searchers preferred a program that is competitive and individualistic.
Motivations for Pursuing a Graduate Program
The majority of searchers are doing so for career advancement (79%) or personal growth (74%). Unsurprisingly, nearly half of doctoral program searchers are doing so for research interest. Searchers who are most motivated by career advancement are primarily looking for Master’s degree programs. Graduate certificate searchers were almost twice as likely to say that they are doing so because of a loss of their job. Additionally, graduate certificate searchers were significantly more likely to say that they are doing so because it’s a benefit of their job. There are 69% of professional program searchers doing so because it’s a requirement of their preferred career, which makes sense given the single point of entry for those careers and the associated licensure.
Graduate Recruitment Events
There was still interest in online information sessions and events; 59% of searchers were interested in attending a virtual event and only 10% said that they were not at all interested. Virtual events were the most appealing to graduate certificate searchers with 68% responding that they’re interested. They were even slightly more appealing than in-person events; 57% of searchers said that they would be interested in attending an in-person event.
Graduate program events should be longer than undergraduate events based on respondent preferences. There were 37% of searchers who reported that events under 30 minutes were ideal while 33% preferred 30-45 minutes, 23% preferred 45-60 minutes, and 7% wanted events to be more than an hour. As we move up in program length from certificates to professional programs the ideal event length increased. In terms of when to hold events, 63% of respondents prefer events to be on weekends, and weekend mornings are the most preferred time with 26% preferring that time slot. Only 24% preferred weekend afternoons and 17% preferred weekday evenings.
Paying for Graduate Programs
When asked how they plan to pay for graduate school, 69% of searchers said that they plan to pay for their program with scholarships—whether that is realistic or not is worth early conversations. There were 52% of respondents who plan to take on loans to pay for part or all of their education, 38% plan to pay out of pocket for their program, company tuition benefits are being used by 14% of searchers, and only 9% of searchers said that they have not yet considered how they will pay for their program.
Respondents looking for graduate certificates are the most likely to be using company tuition assistance to pay for it with 21% saying that they plan to. The majority of Master’s and professional program searchers say that they plan to take on loans for their program.
With so many searchers planning to use scholarships, it’s no surprise that 75% of respondents said that they used online sites to search for scholarships or other aid for their graduate program. The majority used Niche (51%); but Fastweb (16%), College Xpress (14%), and Scholarship America (12%) were the next most common sites used.
Program of Interest Specific Differences
- Online programs were not being seriously considered by architecture searchers, either for lack of opportunities or lack of desire.
- No respondents said that the university’s reputation was more important than the program’s. The program’s reputation is much more important here.
- Nearly half of architecture searchers are doing so because it is offered as a benefit at work. Streamlining the benefits process can help earn students.
- Affordability was even more of a concern for those searching for architecture programs, 94% expressed concern.
- Online programs offered by fully online institutions were most accepted by business program searchers where 26% would consider them.
- Business program searchers are more likely to be motivated to do so because of job loss, more than 10% said that was a factor.
- Like their MBA-searching peers, business program searchers are more likely to be doing so because they are changing careers.
- Computer science students were the most likely to report using Career Services in their search.
- 61% of prospective computer science students said that they learned about a program through a digital ad.
- LinkedIn usage is much more prevalent among those looking for a computer science program where almost half of the respondents said they discovered new programs on the platform.
- Hybrid programs are more appealing to searchers looking for computer science programs with 75% considering hybrid programs.
- Online programs offered by fully online institutions were more accepted; 25% say they would consider them.
- Computer science programs are an outlier with more searchers saying that price is “very important” than financial aid.
- 11% of computer science program searchers are doing so because of job loss, which makes them the second-highest group.
- Computer science searchers are the most interested in attending virtual events with 75% saying that they want to.
- Phone calls are most appealing to those searching for computer science programs with 36% interested
- 45% of computer science searchers want weekly communications from admissions offices.
- Half of the potential data science program students didn’t start their search until after graduation.
- Data science students had one of the longest search cycles with 31% researching programs for more than a year and a half.
- Data science students were among the most likely to report using Career Services in their search.
- LinkedIn usage is much more prevalent among data science program searchers where almost half of the respondents said they discovered new programs on the platform.
- Data science program searchers are the most likely group to say that they’re doing so because of a job loss—13% said that was a factor.
- Respondents interested in data science were the most likely to say that they were looking for programs because they plan to change careers, 39% did so.
- 45% of education program students started searching after graduating.
- 21% of education degree searchers are pursuing a second graduate degree; 75% of those pursuing a doctoral degree already have an advanced degree.
- Searchers pursuing education programs are the most likely to plan to work full-time while enrolled.
- Education program searchers are the most interested in part-time programs with 29% saying that they plan to enroll part-time.
- Online programs were most appealing to education searchers—80% are considering them.
- Online programs offered by fully online institutions were most likely to be accepted by education program searchers with 27% saying that they are more likely to.
- Career outcomes are less important to education searchers, 66% said that they were very important compared to 72% of their peers.
- Small cohorts (<10 students) were most appealing to education program searchers with 18% saying that was their preference.
- Only half of the education program searchers are interested in attending a virtual event, the lowest of any program type.
- Engineering searchers had one of the longest search cycles with 31% researching programs for more than a year and a half.
- 65% of engineering program searchers report using Career Services to discover new programs.
- Almost half of engineering searchers discovered new grad programs through LinkedIn.
- Only half of the respondents searching for an engineering program said that they will consider an online program.
- Engineering searchers are the most confident that they can afford graduate school, but 78% still expressed concern.
- 72% of engineering program searchers want to attend virtual events to learn about programs
- 42% of engineering searchers want weekly communications
- Only 48% of respondents looking for a fine or performing arts program would consider enrolling in an online program.
- Career outcomes are less important to fine or performing arts searchers, only 65% said that they were very important compared to 72% of their peers..
- No respondents said that the university’s reputation was more important than the program’s.
- Small cohorts (<10 students) are appealing to fine or performing arts program searchers with 16% saying they are appealing.
- Fine or performing arts searchers shared a trait with MBA searchers—45% were concerned about finding a job that uses their majors; the highest groups.
- Healthcare programs are an outlier with more searchers saying that price is very important than financial aid.
- Less than 10% of searchers find a small cohort appealing.
- 49% of healthcare program searchers were concerned about being academically prepared for grad school
- Only 5% of searchers interested in law programs find a small cohort appealing, the lowest of any option and one of only three that indicated a greater interest in cohorts over 50 (10%).
- 34% of those looking for a law program are doing so because they plan to change careers.
- 48% of MBA searchers started their search after graduating, they were one of the least likely to search before starting their undergraduate degree or early in their education.
- MBA programs are an outlier with more searchers saying that price is very important than financial aid.
- Only 7% of searchers interested in MBA programs find a small cohort appealing, the lowest of any option and one of only three that indicated a greater interest in cohorts over 50 (9%).
- MBA searchers were the most likely group to be motivated by career advancement opportunities.
- With 37% saying it was a factor, MBA searchers are the second most likely group to say they are motivated by a planned career change.
- Fine or performing arts searchers shared a trait with MBA searchers—45% were concerned about finding a job that uses their majors; the highest groups.
- Half of the students pursuing medical school started their search either before enrolling in undergraduate programs or during their first two years.
- Medical school searchers were the least likely to say that the program’s reputation was more important than the university’s, they were the most likely to say that they’re equally important though.
- Medical school searchers were the most likely to say that they wanted a cohort of over 50 students (20%) and only 6% say that they want a small cohort of 10 or fewer students.
- Students searching for medical schools report submitting an average of 8 applications already, twice as many as their peers looking at other programs.
- 54% of searchers looking for a medical school were concerned about being academically prepared, the highest of any respondent group.
- Online programs were not being seriously considered by natural sciences searchers. There are likely very few offerings for online degrees.
- Natural sciences program searchers are the most confident that they can afford graduate school, but 78% still expressed concern.
- Online programs are very appealing to nursing program searchers; 80% are interested in enrolling fully online and 78% are interested in hybrid programs.
- Nursing programs are an outlier with more searchers saying that price is very important than financial aid.
- 26% of nursing searchers do not want to be contacted unless they initiate the conversation
- Hybrid programs are more appealing to psychology program searchers with 75% considering hybrid programs.
- Online programs are more appealing to psychology program searchers with 73% considering hybrid programs.
- Only 4% of social science program searchers are interested in cohorts of more than 50 students.
- Social work students were the least likely to start researching programs before starting their undergraduate degree and the most likely to start their search during the senior year of their undergraduate program.
- Two-thirds of social work students have been searching for less than a year.
- Online programs are more appealing to social work program searchers with 77% considering fully online programs.
- 25% of social work searchers said that they would not apply to programs that required graduate entrance exams
- Social work programs are an outlier with more searchers saying that price is very important than financial aid.
- Only 9% of searchers interested in social work programs find a small cohort appealing.
- Social work searchers are the most selective in submitting applications, they are averaging only 2 applications.
- 34% of social work searchers were interested in receiving texts from programs
- Only 44% of speech pathology searchers are considering an online program, compared to 62% of their peers.
- 29% of speech pathology searchers said that they would not apply to programs that required graduate entrance exams
- Speech pathology programs are an outlier with more searchers saying that price is very important than financial aid.
- Career outcomes are even more important to speech pathology searchers, 91% said that they were very important
- No searchers looking for speech pathology programs said that the university’s reputation was more important than the program’s.
- There was an even split in cohort size preferences; 6% said that small or large cohorts were preferable while 79% wanted a cohort between 10 and 50 students.
- 29% of speech pathology program searchers do not want to be contacted unless they initiate the conversation
- Only 9% of speech pathology searchers want weekly communications and 25% want no communication at all from admissions counselors.