Enrollment Insights Blog

2022 Niche Senior Enrollment Survey: The New Normal

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The college search has changed dramatically and more quickly than ever before. With the uncertainty of the past few years, student priorities surrounding price sensitivity and the channels where they perform their search have changed, likely permanently. The number of students enrolling in college is declining year over year, and most colleges across the country are feeling the pressure. Now more than ever, it’s important for colleges to build student-centric strategies that fit today’s students. With over 21,000 responses, Niche’s seventh annual Senior Enrollment Survey provides you with enrolling students’ feedback and insights to inform your enrollment and marketing strategies.  

New this year are insights from college-bound students’ behaviors on Niche. With half of college-bound high school students choosing Niche to discover and choose their college, student behaviors on the platform provide a unique perspective into how the college search timeline is changing, and how certain demographic groups are being disproportionately impacted.  

The Timeline is Changing

Data from both Google Search and Niche is clear- the seasonal patterns of student search and recruitment are changing. While prior classes showed a significant peak in search activity and traffic during the summer and fall of their senior year, that timeline is now starting earlier and lasting longer. Niche data shows a significant dragging out of search activity into the spring of their senior year—notably with traditionally undersupported groups starting their search even as late as January. The takeaway? Institutions need to rethink the traditional admissions cycle and be prepared to meet students where they are through the spring of their senior year. Recruiting and nurturing interest late in the cycle is key to succeeding in this new normal.

Cost and Application Barriers 

As the timeline changes, traditional application and yield models have shifted. Survey data and Niche trends show students continuing to express interest in and apply to more schools than ever. But while students are applying to more colleges than ever, cost and the length and requirements of applications mean they are eliminating colleges from their list earlier than ever. The vast majority of survey respondents, 81%, turned away from colleges they wanted to learn more about because of high sticker costs—they never waited to see how much financial aid they would receive. Now more than ever, colleges need to rethink how they are pricing themselves, relying on financial aid, and when that aid should be presented to avoid losing students early in the funnel.  

Meeting Students Where They Are

The trusted sources for college search are changing and it’s critical to meet students where they are. Google searches about standardized tests are down while more students than ever turn to Niche, social media, friends, and current students to learn what it’s really like.  High-school students are becoming less likely to engage directly with institutions and instead are doing more of their search independently online. This may be because they want engaging and relevant communication that speaks to their interests, but just 44% of respondents said that they had received personalized and relevant outreach from colleges. Understanding student concerns and desired outreach channels will help you to provide students with the right message, in the right channel, at the right time.

Between the loss of face-to-face support from their teachers and counselors and the uncertainties in the world as a whole this year’s class has had a disruption to almost their entire high school experience that has caused them to adapt in unforeseen ways. Rather than continuing to hold dear to the old structures and processes of college admissions and marketing it’s important to adapt and meet them where they are. As student search continues to change it’s important to continually optimize your recruitment efforts in this new normal.

Prior to coming to Niche in 2019 Will served 9 years at Manchester University in roles as an Admissions Counselor, Associate Director for Admissions Operations, Social Media Coordinator, and ultimately as Digital Strategist. Will surfaces tactical insights from user behavior and surveys to help higher ed build recruitment strategies. In addition to the Enrollment Insights blog, webinars, and podcast; Will is a frequent conference speaker and podcast guest. He has presented at NACAC, AACRAO-SEM, AMA Higher Ed, CASE V, EduWeb, and EMA. Will's work has been featured in Forbes, Inside Higher Ed, CNBC, CNN, the LA Times, and The New York Times among other outlets.