Students Rank the Most Important Resources For Their College Search & Decision-Making Process

Estimated read time – 5 minutes

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There are a lot of resources for students to use while researching, applying to, and ultimately enrolling in a college. As part of the survey we asked students how important various resources were while deciding where to apply, and what factors most influenced their decision to enroll.    

Application Stage Resources

In our survey, respondents found student reviews, college rankings and net price calculators to be the most important factors when considering where to apply. Surprisingly, their high school counselors and friends or family were the two least valued resources. When it comes to deciding where to apply, students valued anonymous reviews almost twice as much as their friends and family. Unexpectedly, college rankings held more sway than the thoughts of their counselor, who presumably could provide more individualized input.

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The result that 41% of students found college representatives to be very or extremely important should act as a call to invest in the hiring and training of college staff. It’s also important to listen to students when they find the net price calculator as an important tool when deciding where to apply. In light of the majority of students ruling out colleges based solely on their total cost, institutions should focus on making sure that their net price calculator is easily found and accurate. With a well designed net price calculator on a landing page you can also use it as an inquiry tool and to help students self select with up front cost expectations. 

Reviews by other students are important to college applicants, clearly. Most institutions don’t have a plan to solicit reviews, use social listening, and act on concerns and issues uncovered in reviews. Here are some tips to make use of the millions of reviews on Niche (and other review sites).

  • Make student ambassadors and alumni aware that they can review your institution. This is the easiest way to build more reviews, and these groups are likely to leave more positive reviews. Be sure they know that it’s anonymous, so they can voice legitimate concerns.
  • If you have a parent council send the review link out to them as well!
  • Use the aggregated results in the Academics, Students, Campus Life, and After College sections as a starting point for listening to students. For example, compare how students rate your residence halls compared to your peers in the Campus Life page. In the example below,  two schools are each other’s top crossover interest. If you’re the school on the right, you should leverage your residence halls as an advantage, while also realizing that there’s still opportunity to improve.
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  • Regularly set aside some time to read the reviews and student polls to understand what students have issues with and want to see improved. We all love the five-star reviews, but as Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Some of your negative reviews will be disgruntled individuals, but reading enough of them will uncover themes that can be acted upon at your institution. Are a lot of them mentioning difficulty scheduling classes? Take a hard look at your process. These are the types of actions that can move the needle to improve student happiness and improve yield and retention.
  • Pull quotes from reviews as proof points for your marketing materials. Students and families want to hear more from those who are going through the experience they’re about to embark on, so let’s improve those communication flows and give them what they want.

Enrollment Decisions – What Was Important

We also asked what mattered most when it came time for students to decide where to enroll. There was little separation when looking only at what they placed any importance in, but four items stood out when looking at what was reported as very or extremely important. Students were most swayed by how well their chosen institution would prepare them for a career; that it had the major they wanted; would be a place they would feel happy; and finally, the cost. The two least important factors, each being rated at less than 50% feeling it was very or extremely important, were outreach from the admissions office and how close the institution was to home. 

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Make time to pull your team together and review your communication flow for accepted students. Are you highlighting the ways in which you are preparing students for careers through each major? How are you sharing student stories to highlight their experience, ideally with user generated content and not with just smiling students in photos that look like stock photos? Are your financial aid packages easy to understand? These will all help satisfy student needs when they choose where to enroll.

There are a few resources on Niche that can be used as a starting point to help students while they are deciding where to enroll.

  • The After College section of an institution’s profile provides a lot of data about graduate earnings and job placement to help support your career readiness messaging.
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  • The new program spotlight feature on profiles can help showcase new majors or opportunities that would better attract students.
  • Whether you are using automated communication flows or one-to-one outreach, be sure to include career outcomes personalized to what students are considering. Telling an art major all about your medical school placement rates will not be a productive or meaningful message. Yes, they can major in art and still attend medical school, or other health profession programs, but it will likely be more meaningful if you showcase student and alumni shows and careers.

This is the first of 8 segmented analyses pulled from the 2019 Niche College Applicant Survey of Student Confidence and Concerns. You will find much more information in the full report about issues faced by students, what students look for in a school, student satisfaction, and student confidence among other things.

Segmented Analyses

Will Patch

Will Patch is the Enrollment Marketing Leader at Niche and helps clients with their enrollment strategies and digital outreach. He also shares insights and research on the Enrollment Insights blog and through webinars and a monthly newsletter. Prior to coming to Niche in the summer of 2019, he served Manchester University for 9 years in roles including Digital Strategist, Social Media Coordinator, and Associate Director for Admissions Operations. Outside of Niche, Will also coordinates the #EMChat community on Twitter, with weekly chats Thursdays at 9:00 PM Eastern.
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