What do High School Students Expect when Connecting Online with Colleges? New E-Expectations Report Discusses their Attitudes Toward College Web Sites and Social Media

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A new national study finds that high school students have a growing eagerness to reach out to prospective colleges online across a wide variety of platforms—not only through campus Web sites and e-mail, but Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, live chats, and video. The report was unveiled July 24 at the Noel-Levitz National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention in Chicago. See the report at http://bit.ly/Mjubdv.

"The growing importance of the Web in the college search process shows the value of content on Web sites,” said Stephanie Geyer, an associate vice president at Noel-Levitz.

A new national study finds that high school students have a growing eagerness to reach out to prospective colleges online across a wide variety of platforms—not only through campus Web sites and e-mail, but Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, live chats, and video.

The study, E-Expectations 2012 Report: The Online Expectations of College-Bound Juniors and Seniors, surveyed 2,000 American students. It is the latest in the ongoing E-Expectations research series from the higher education firms Noel-Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, and NRCCUA (National Research Center for College & University Admissions). The report was unveiled July 24 at the National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention in Chicago, and will also be discussed at the eRecruitment Web Forum, produced by CollegeWeekLive and Noel-Levitz on August 16.

The findings illustrate how important the Web site experience is to the college search process for today’s high school students—and how that experience carries over to their feelings about an institution. Half of students said the Web played an extremely important or significant role in their evaluation of a campus, and nearly 90 percent said college Web sites had some role in their evaluation of a campus.

The growing importance of the Web in the evaluation process appears to have increased the potential of a negative Web experience to impact a student’s evaluation of a campus, even for schools at the top of a student’s list. When students have difficulty finding information on the Web site of a campus they are highly interested in attending, 47 percent said that the negative Web experience would diminish their opinion of the school. That number rose to 65 percent for campuses they had some interest in attending, and 70 percent for campuses recommended by someone—with one in five students saying a negative experience would severely harm their opinion in these latter two cases.

What makes a Web experience a positive one? Keeping Web site navigation simple and focused on delivering important content. Three out of four students valued easy navigation over “cool” design, and the same number felt words were more important than photos on college Web sites.

“The growing importance of the Web in the college search process shows the value of content on Web sites,” said Stephanie Geyer, an associate vice president at Noel-Levitz who oversaw the study. “User interface design and SEO strategies are essential to make key information easy to find and digest. The results of the E-Expectations study also show the benefits of making sure campuses have fresh content, so they can engage students again on return visits.”

The report also highlights “E-Opportunities” where campuses have an opening to expand their online connections with students, comparing students’ expectations to online practices from the 2012 E-Recruiting Practices at Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions report released by Noel-Levitz. For instance, seven out of ten students expressed interest in participating in live online chats with campuses, yet fewer than 40 percent of four-year institutions and just 7 percent of two-year colleges reported using live chats. Likewise, while 60 percent of students were interested in receiving text messages from schools, the majority of campuses do not use text messaging in their recruitment efforts.

“The data from our study suggests that it is time for higher education marketers to begin to experiment with text messages within their communication flows to prospective students, if they haven’t done so already,” noted Geyer. “With 60 percent of our sample indicating they would be interested in receiving text messages from admissions staff, we think the door is open to begin adding this layer to the overall recruitment marketing communications plan.”

Students are also viewing campuses sites on mobile devices in increasingly large numbers. More than 50 percent said they had viewed a campus Web site on a mobile device. Twenty percent of students who used mobile devices also reported using a tablet device (iPad or Android-based tablet).

Social networking for college recruitment also gained steam since the 2011 E-Expectations study, showing more activity and willingness to connect with campuses via Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking means. Forty-six percent reported visiting a college’s Facebook page, up from 27 percent in the 2011 study, and 69 percent of those students “liked” a college’s page. Twitter use also jumped to 27 percent, up from 9 percent in the 2011 study.

While information on cost and financial aid was the second most important Web content for students after academics, students had exceptional difficulty locating net cost calculators—the federally mandated applications designed to help students calculate the cost to attend college. Only 23 percent of students had used a net cost calculator, and of those who did not, 74 percent said they could not find the calculators on college Web sites.

About the E-Expectations sponsors
Noel-Levitz is a recognized leader in higher education consulting and research. For nearly 40 years, they have partnered with more than 2,700 campuses to optimize enrollment management and student success through experienced consultation, advanced analytic tools, and campus assessments.

OmniUpdate is the leading Web content management system (CMS) provider for higher education. Their enterprise Web CMS, OU Campus™, empowers institutions to effectively manage and enhance their Web presence and take advantage of the latest Web and mobile technologies.

CollegeWeekLive is the leading channel for live conversations with prospective students. Colleges reach high schools they do not travel to, engage students in an online environment they prefer, and improve results at every stage of the enrollment process.

NRCCUA (National Research Center for College & University Admissions) conducts the nation’s largest educational planning survey among high school students. This valuable program facilitates a key link between the individual educational goals and preferences of students and the vast offerings of colleges and universities.

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