2022 Niche Survey of College-Searching Parents

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Key Results

  • The later that the college search started, the more likely that parents were to report that they primarily did the college search for their child rather than their child leading it or working together.
  • The resources that parents most reported using were online content from colleges (94%), Niche (90%), and campus visits (88%).
  • 73% of parents felt that a college’s brand or name recognition was important. Only 3% said that it was not at all important.
  • Only 43% of parents said that they received information from colleges that were tailored to them as parents.

The Big Picture

Parents are very important in the college search, however they’re often ignored or only copied on what students receive. The majority of parents either received nothing from colleges during the enrollment process or content that didn’t speak to them as parents. They’re an important influencer in students’ college search and deserve their own customized and segmented nurture campaigns. They care about many of the same things as students, just in different ways and with a slightly different vernacular. 

Like their students, parents primarily did their college research online. Their preferred channels were online content directly from colleges followed closely by Niche for reviews and comparisons. Social media played a much smaller role, perhaps indicating a higher value in trusted sources of information. All online content can be admissions content, connect the dots from press releases and alumni pieces to help build those pathways for readers to share and advocate as well as learn more about why their children, or future children, should attend your college. Who you are, at your core brand, matters a great deal and has an impact on the parents of your future students.

Methodology

In our third annual Niche Survey of College-Searching Parents we received 377 completed responses from parents who searched for a college last year and whose child enrolled in the fall of 2022. Due to the lower response, there will be limited segmentation and results will only be shared where significant. This survey was posted to Niche and emailed to registered parents between August 26 and October 2. Free-response questions were first analyzed with an n-gram and then representative quotes were pulled based on the most frequent themes. If a respondent identified as Asian or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, we provided additional options to gain further insight into their ethnic identity. We provided these options as they are suggested by the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center’s “Everyone Deserves to Be Seen” policy brief, among other resources. In the results below, any Asian ethnic group that represented at least 0.5% is shown while others are grouped as Asian – Other. 

Parental Involvement in College Search

Key Results

Parent involvement, while important throughout the search, expands as time goes on. Parents who reported the college search started in the fall of senior year, and especially spring and summer after, were much more involved and likely to lead the search or do it for their child. Working with parents and building relationships then becomes even more important for late entries into your inquiry pool. Like their children, they preferred online content in their search. Having landing pages directed to parents and sharing parent reviews and proof points can help earn their trust and advocacy.

91% of parents have a student who started college as a first-time enroller, 2% re-enrolled after time off, and 7% were transferring colleges. 

First-time college students were the least likely to take the lead in their college search, according to their parents. 

Parents of re-enrolling students were the most likely to say that they did the search for them with 29% reporting this was the case. 

The majority of parents started their search before the end of their child’s junior year with 48% starting during junior year and 14% sophomore year or earlier. 16% started the summer before their child’s senior year, 12% during the fall, 5% during the spring, and 6% after graduation.

The later that a parent reported the college search started, the more likely they were to report that they primarily did the college search.

Just 55% of parents whose child is a first-time student this fall reported that a school or college counselor supported in the search. Another 23% were unsure about how supportive they were and 21% said that the counseling staff was understaffed and unable to help.

How supportive did you feel your child’s school counselor was in their search?

“Minimally involved. Student went to visit with the counselor about her list of choices and got feedback that all were good options. Not much other assistance than that”

“They were understaffed, but did the best they could and were able to meet our needs.”

“My child has to find time between classes and sometimes they are not readily available.”

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The resources that parents most reported using were online content from colleges (94%), Niche (90%), and campus visits (88%). The least used were social media (55%) and online forums or groups (36%).

Of parents who used them, the most helpful resources for college search were campus visits (97%), Niche (94%), online content from colleges (93%), admissions staff (91%), and college staff other than admissions (90%). The least helpful to them were social media (78%) and print or email from colleges (73%).

Peers can have an influence on considerations and perceptions. We found that parents of currently enrolled students that parents know and online reviews from parents had the strongest influence. Other college-searching parents had a much smaller influence and surprisingly the least influential were parent ambassadors from a college.

73% of parents felt that a college’s brand or name recognition was important. Only 3% said that it was not at all important.

How do you measure the value of a college?

“Reviews, test scores, graduation rates (not in that order).”

“Employment post-graduation both in months and dollars.”

“Financial aid given, costs, minority programs, graduation rates, facilities, and diversity of students and staff.”

How to Communicate With College-Searching Parents and What They Want to Hear About

Key Results

Communication with parents that recognize that they are parents and speak to them as such stands out. Most institutions are sending a copy of what is sent to the students as a parent communication flow, yet most parents said that they don’t want that. Providing voices and experiences that can address their concerns and needs positions your office and institution as a partner.

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Parents reported the most influential communication channels as video chats, email, and viewbooks and the least influential as text messages and postcards.

Only 43% of parents said that they received information that was tailored to them as parents.

Parents most wanted to hear about financial aid, academics, and upcoming deadlines and events. The majority of parents were not interested in hearing about student life or just receiving a copy of everything sent to their students.

Rankings were significantly more important to parents than students with 83% saying that they’re important while two-thirds of students felt that they were. 

When measuring the quality or value of a college parents rated the graduation rate and acceptance rate as the top metrics they looked at. Job placement was the third most important followed by retention as the least important to them.

Compared to parents whose child started college in 2021 this year’s parents placed more emphasis on acceptance rates and less on job placement rates when measuring the quality or value of a college.

39% of parents reported attending a parent-only event hosted by a college. Of those who did, 77% would attend again.

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Only 55% of parents reported using social media for researching colleges and of those only 78% found it helpful, the second least.

The most used social media for college search among parents were Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. However, the most helpful to them were Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and Facebook. Snapchat was both the least used and rated as the least helpful, followed by TikTok in both categories.

Parental College Preferences and How They Compare to Their Children

Key Results

Counter to the stereotype of the parent wanting their child to stay home there wasn’t a strong preference for that reported. Less than a quarter of parents preferred their child to attend a college in-state and only 8% wanted students to stay within an hour of home. Communicating with parents and convincing them that the distance will be valuable and that their child will be safe on campus are still critical for recruits coming from a greater distance still, however. Parents certainly don’t have the same perspective of campus environment and community that their parents will, but many of their preferences aligned with their students’ still. Diversity has been the number one community feature that students wanted for the last two cycles, but it was much less important to parents. The stories and emphasis still matter, but not to the same degree as their children.

Similar to students, mid-sized colleges were the most appealing to parents with only about half saying they were interested in their child enrolling at either a small or large college.

Parents were more open to 2-year colleges than their children and were also more open to 4-year private colleges.

64% of parents said that they didn’t have any preference whether or not their child enrolled in or out-of-state. Slightly more who did have a preference preferred them to stay in-state.

55% of parents had no preference about how close to home their child stayed. For those who preferred their child to stay in-state, 80% had a preference and a third of those wanted them to stay within an hour of home.

Far fewer parents ruled out colleges because of their total published cost than students, 57% of parents did compared to 81% of students who enrolled this fall. 

Parents confirmed what students reported in the 2022 Niche Senior Enrollment Survey; for all the stress and concern about college costs they were still more likely to choose a more expensive college in the end. Only one quarter enrolled at the less expensive option but 34% chose a more expensive college.

Only one campus community feature was more of a priority to parents than their children: they were more likely to say that campuses prioritizing athletics were appealing. Diversity and intercultural services were much less important to parents than to their children.

Scholarship availability was the most important thing to students; however, it was far less important to parents. Only a strong alumni network was less important to parents.

Campus feature importance nearly mirrored student preferences.

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Will Patch

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.
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