Enrollment Insights Blog

Niche 2020 Survey of Parents of Students Searching for Colleges

These results are from the high school class of 2020. If you’re looking for the most up-to-date survey results, find them here.

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Family sending their child to college

This fall, Niche surveyed parents to learn about their school search experience over the past 12 months. The survey was open from October 15 – November 15 and posted to Niche, sent to registered parents, and shared in the Niche Parents Facebook group. Results were segmented into preschool searches, K-8 searches, high school searches, and college searches. For college searches, we received 1,012 responses from parents whose child started at a college last fall.

The Big Takeaways:

  • 91% of parents say that they were involved with their child’s college search. 4% of them primarily did the search.
  • Parents considered the safety and reputation of a college as the most important factors.
  • Only about half of parents feel that their students’ learning experience with remote or hybrid learning are effective, but 87% of those with students in-person do.
  • More than 80% of parents are comfortable with the safety precautions being taken by their child’s college.

Parental involvement in the college search

Parents play an important role in the college search, even though it is often the student who makes the final decision. While only 4% of parents said that they primarily did the college search for their child, only 9% said that they were not involved in the process. With so many parents involved, enrollment managers should see opportunities in planning for parent communication campaigns and parent ambassadors who can reach out to other parents and act as “influencers” and promoters for your institution. 

The majority of parents said that their child started their college search more than a year before they planned to enroll, with 14% starting more than two years in advance. This fits common timelines for starting recruitment, but what about the later students? There were 13% of parents who said that their child didn’t start looking for colleges until six months or less before they would enroll, with more than a third of those saying they didn’t start until three months before. With enrollments tight, institutions should have strong plans for bringing in new inquiries and prospects even after they have graduated high school. 

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Just as we saw with PK-12 parents, safety is the top consideration for parents right now – only 1% say that it is somewhat unimportant. The reputation of the college and the college’s website were the next two most important factors when considering colleges with their child. While the idea is still new, we see campus visits greatly outpacing virtual tours and events in importance. More than twice as many parents felt that a campus visit was very important, and three times as many said that a virtual tour or event was not at all important. 


Cost is consistently the top concern for students, and two-thirds of parents rated the net price calculator as an important tool when considering colleges. After financial aid, only 2% of parents said that there was no cost associated with college. Almost half reported that the cost was less than $20,000 per year, but 14% also reported that it was over $40,000 after any financial aid. Almost three-quarters of parents reported that they would be helping to pay for college, and they reported primarily paying with income and savings (55%) or loans (47%). Only 18% reported using a 529 plan, a savings plan designed to help pay for educational expenses. Early outreach from colleges could help increase the adoption of these programs and reduce stress for students and families. There are programs that help students and families start 529 plans as early as first grade, such as Promise Indiana.

Impact of COVID-19

Almost three-quarters of parents reported that they are comfortable with their child living in a residence hall during the pandemic. Over 80% also reported that they were comfortable with the safety precautions that the colleges were taking, a vote of confidence for leadership that has seen such a stressful year. Just over half felt that remote or hybrid approaches to classes were effective, however. Overall, parents appear to feel that college campuses are safe places for their children to be.

Read more Niche survey results and data dives.

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.