4 Personas For the Class of 2022

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Niche 2021 Spring Junior Survey Personas

Based on the responses from over 7,000 students in the Class of 2022 we found four personas that came through. Here are who they are, what they are looking for in their college search, and how you can speak to them differently to meet their needs. Use these to test in your communication flows and show empathy to student needs.

The Optimist

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Who they are:

The Optimists are the most likely to attend a private high school and come from households earning over $50,000 per year, indicating a clear socioeconomic divide for students feeling optimistic about their future. Optimists are the least likely to come from households earning less than $25,000 per year or attend a public high school in an urban area. They are less likely to report being Asian and the most likely to be White. You’re statistically less likely to find Optimists in Middle Atlantic, Pacific, or West South Central states. The Optimists are most likely to start their college search during their junior year and 97% say that they are actively researching colleges now, second only to the Preppers.

What they are looking for:

Optimists feel comfortable getting away from home, they see things improving and might be feeling confined after the past year. Only 5% want to stay within 30 minutes of home, and with 36% interested in attending a college more than 2 hours from home they are the most interested in going further away. Only 56% are eliminating colleges based on the published cost, significantly less than average. This opens up more opportunities for recruiting students for colleges that face this challenge. Optimists are also confident. They report higher confidence in their college search than the average student, especially that they will fit in and make friends in college. These students are the most likely to consider private 4-year colleges and the least likely to consider 2-year institutions.

Communicating with them:

Optimists are looking forward to college and are the most interested in attending college virtual events — 78% are interested or very interested. They are more interested than their peers in hearing about athletics and academics and are the most likely to prefer visiting campus to research colleges. 

  • “We get an overwhelming amount of emails and mail a week – for something to be meaningful, it has to simplify further actions that a potential student can take. Otherwise, it will join the ranks of other discarded generalized emails and letters.”
  • “The basic cookie-cutter emails and mails are okay, but the best communication is posters, t-shirts, stickers in the mail. There have been schools that I wasn’t considering at all until I got a poster and hung it on my wall and looking at it, I started to see myself at that school.”

The Prepped

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Who they are:

Prepped students feel ready for the next step, in spite of the challenges the past year has brought about. They are statistically most likely to attend rural public high schools and live in West North Central states and are least often found in urban areas. They are the most likely to be male students who are either Black, Asian, or Multiracial. Prepped are the most likely to start their college search early; 17% started freshman year or earlier and 29% in their sophomore year. For comparison, only 10% of their peers started their college search freshman year or earlier and 23% during their sophomore year. 

What they are looking for:

Our Prepped are the students who were least likely to report ruling out colleges based on the published cost, making them the most open to opportunities. They were the most confident group of students as well, reporting statistically significantly higher confidence in all seven areas; ability to afford college, ability to choose a major they will enjoy and find a job with, ability to make the right choice of college, that they will be academically prepared for college, that they will be socially and emotionally prepared for college, that they will be safe at college, and that they will fit in and make friends. Prepped are most interested in rural and small-town campuses with large student bodies, an unusual combination as most students who wanted rural and small-town campuses were looking for smaller colleges. They are, interestingly, less likely to consider public 4-year colleges and significantly less likely to consider private 4-year institutions than their peers. They are not more likely to consider 2-year colleges, they are just more concise in what they want.

Communicating with them:

The Prepped students are very interested in attending college virtual events, one-third say they are very interested and another 43% are interested. They differed the most from their peers in terms of what they want to hear about and how they prefer to do their research. They were the most likely to reach out to admissions counselors and only apply to colleges they already know. They’re the least interested in arts. In fact, these are the only students who say that athletics are more important than arts. They express less interest in academics, current students, events, and general campus life. 

  • “More information about the quality of education or the importance of career interest.”
  • “Make the information useful. Statistics, application info, focus on the things that will matter come November or January.”

The Stressed

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Who they are:

The Stressed students are the most likely to be female and attend a public high school. They are least likely to be found in rural areas and identify as Black or Multiracial. There was no income quintile more likely to be associated with Stressed students than any other, the stress crosses all financial boundaries. Stressed students are most likely to be found in the Northeast and least likely to live in the South or Internationally. These students are the least likely to start their college searches early and 11% report that they are only in the awareness phase and have not started actively researching their options yet.

What they are looking for:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Stressed students reported low confidence in their college search. They were the least likely to be confident that they would be able to choose a major that they enjoy and can find a job with, the least likely to feel confident in their ability to make the right choice of college, the least likely to say they’ll be academically prepared for college, and the least likely to be confident that they can fit in and make friends. They were also statistically less likely to be confident that they would be socially or emotionally prepared for college. The Stressed students are more likely to want to enroll at urban campuses than their peers, but otherwise have similar preferences. Stressed students are the most likely to consider for-profit institutions, both 2-year and 4-year.

Communicating with them:

A chief priority to help Stressed students in their college search and decision making, and ultimately to help them thrive in college, would be to address their confidence concerns head-on. These students are the most interested in seeing current students, and are less concerned about the quality of photos and videos. These students should be shown student stories and user-generated content that they can connect with. They are more likely to care that they see students like them in your outreach.

  • “We honestly do not read all the mail, and it is somewhat a waste of paper. Emails can sometimes look like spam, but concise, weekly emails are good for information.” 
  • “I find that I am more likely to pursue opportunities that my counselor shares with me.”

The Concerned

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Who they are:

Students who reported that attending college now feels riskier after the pandemic are most likely to come from households earning less than $80,000 and identify as Hispanic or Latinx. They are the least likely to be White. Concerned students are most often found in urban high schools and the least likely to attend private high schools. These students are the least likely to be actively researching colleges right now, and those that are actively researching were the least likely to start before their junior year as well. 

What they are looking for:

Concerned students are the least likely to plan to submit standardized test scores when they apply. This group will be more interested in test-optional and test-blind policies. They are the only students statistically more likely to rule out colleges based on the published cost, 70% said that they would and half say they would not consider a college with a published cost over $30,000 per year. Like the stressed students, they have very little confidence in their college search. They are the least confident that they will be safe at college or that they are prepared academically or socially. These students are likely to need the most support and guidance as they make their decisions and transition to college. They are approaching college with skepticism of value and their ability to succeed. They are more interested in small and mid-sized campuses and are less likely to consider rural colleges. The biggest preference difference is that Concerned students are three times more likely to want to enroll fully online. They are also significantly more likely, by nearly 50%, to consider 2-year colleges and are the least likely to consider for-profit or public 4-year colleges in their search.

Communicating with them:

Concerned students are less interested in virtual events than their peers, but are also the only group that is more interested in researching colleges by attending virtual than by visiting a campus. These students are interesting because they show the highest split between arts and athletics interests. Only 29% want to see athletics information but 43% want to see arts content. 

  • “If I have the opportunity to actually talk to people enrolled in the college or that work at the college, it makes communication a lot better.”
  • “The college center where you can research colleges on computers, get help with college essays, and look and attend a visit from college representatives has not been accessible to me. This is a huge disadvantage.”
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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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