Recruiting Underrepresented Students for 2023

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Using results from 41,911 students who are currently enrolled first-year college students or current high school seniors we analyzed survey responses to find where underrepresented students differed in their college search from their peers who identify as Caucasian or White or identify as an Asian ethnic group. Overall, 42% of respondents identified as being from an underrepresented group. Only significantly different results are being highlighted and discussed, but full results can be found in both surveys linked above. 

Demographics of Underrepresented Students

Students from underrepresented groups were almost twice as likely to report being from low-income households and first-generation families.

The urbanicity of the high school was a strong predictor of whether or not the student would be from an underrepresented group —61% of urban high school students indicated that they were, 41% of suburban students indicated that they were, and 31% of rural students indicated that they were.

No type of high school was more likely to be attended by underrepresented students, but only 24% of home-schooled students were.

Barriers and Challenges Faced By Underrepresented Students

The biggest barrier to their college search was an inability to visit colleges. Underrepresented students were much more likely to say that they were unable to visit any colleges. They were, however less likely to say that they did not feel a need to visit. For the Class of 2023, they were 50% more likely to report that they have not yet visited because of a lack of resources (time, money, or transportation) and that they did not know how to schedule a visit. 

Underrepresented students were much more likely to say that application deadlines were too early for them to make a decision. 

Barriers in the application process prevented 60% of underrepresented students from applying to a college that they wanted to. Applications that were too confusing and required too many additional materials were more common for them than their peers. 

They were more likely to report standardized testing as a burden even while being less likely to take or submit an exam. Only 71% of underrepresented students reported taking a standardized test compared to 81% of their peers and 39% reported submitting the score with most of their applications compared to 55% of their peers. 

What it Means To You

 We’ll cover it later in the recruitment section, but finding alternative ways to provide the experience of a visit without having to get to campus will help support underrepresented minorities. Visits are important, but if they lack resources there should be engaging virtual options or visits that earn then recurring financial rewards to help encourage the investment. Simplifying and streamlining the application process—whether through Direct Admissions, reworking your application, or both—will remove barriers for students and help improve application completions and ultimately enrollment. Part of streamlining that process is making standardized tests optional or not required at all if you are one of the colleges still considering them for admission or financial aid.

Differing Preferences and Priorities for Underrepresented Students

One-third of underrepresented students considered a 2-year college as part of their search, much more than the 22% of their peers. They were significantly less interested in considering a private 4-year college, however.

Small colleges, those with an enrollment of fewer than 5,000 students, were more appealing to underrepresented students. 

Urban campuses were more appealing; but suburban, small-town, and rural campuses were all significantly less appealing to students.

Alumni networks were much more important to underrepresented students than their peers, perhaps even more so when connecting students with underrepresented alumni in that network.

Safety was more important with three-quarters of underrepresented students saying that it was very important versus two-thirds of their peers.

What it Means To You

Colleges outside of urban centers will have a harder time recruiting underrepresented minorities as the majority said that they would not consider colleges in small towns or rural areas. There would need to be some significant differentiators and incentives to entice them to choose those campuses over urban and even suburban campuses. Highlighting the safety of the campus and the surrounding area as well as how your alumni network will help prepare students for career success will both mean more to underrepresented students in your marketing. Colleges outside of cities cannot continue sounding the same as everyone else, there needs to be clear brand differentiation and incentives as to why it’s the right choice.

Recruiting Underrepresented Students

The college search started later for underrepresented students with more starting in their senior year and twice as many starting in the spring of their senior year specifically.

Underrepresented students were much more likely to report having a school or college counselor and were more likely to say that their counselor was influential in their search with the majority identifying them as a key influencer in their decision and in helping them decide which colleges to consider. 

Emails are much more likely to earn the consideration of underrepresented students in the recruiting process, they were the highest-rated medium for earning consideration. Among their peers, email ranked sixth. Friends and family, the first and third most important to their peers, were considerably less important to underrepresented students. Friends and family were also identified as being less influential in their enrollment decisions as well; as were current students at a college and faculty. Admissions staff were more influential as were online reviews of a college.

Online resources were more impactful to underrepresented students. Virtual tours and events were more important to underrepresented students than their peers as was Niche. Campus visits were the only resource rated as less important to them.

While their parents are less influential overall, they are more likely to want their parents to receive financial aid information and information about academic programs that they’re interested in. 

What it Means To You

Recruiting and generating new inquiries throughout the senior year will help find new underrepresented students who are starting later. Building relationships with school counselors will not only help generate recruiting pipelines for years to come, but results indicate that it will help you better recruit underrepresented students. Emails that nurture and engage with relevant information are also more effective for recruiting them than their peers and can help to engage parents in the process. If you want to make sure to find and engage underrepresented students it’s critical to be present online where they are already researching. Virtual tours and events and having a fully built-out Niche Profile will mean more to them and can help engage them when they’re unable to visit campus.

How Niche Can Support Recruiting Underrepresented Students

Niche users are more diverse than the general population- making it easy to engage students with any level of interest and recognition with your institution. Students who often go overlooked and underresourced find Niche as a way to level that field and gain wider exposure to what could be their perfect fit.


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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