Report: Prospective College Students are “Super Investigators”

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by Ronald Roach

Undergraduate admissions

Report finds students seeking a number of sources to aid in selecting a school.

Primarily concerned about the reputation and the affordability of likely college choices, today’s college-minded high school student utilizes a wide array of information sources, including mobile websites that are accessed by smartphones, email and old-fashioned printed college catalogs to research schools, a just-released survey research report says.

In The Super Investigator: Understanding Today’s ‘Always On’ Prospective Student, the Lipman Hearne marketing and communications firm and the college search website Cappex.com document the survey results of more than 11,000 high school juniors and seniors and college students interested in transferring as to how they “are consuming and responding to ever-changing college marketing channels.”

“Gone are the days when researching a college consisted of poring over guidebooks,

such as the 1,591-page edition of Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges. … A different world confronts admissions officers today,” writes Lipman Hearne chairman Tom Abrahamson in The Super Investigator.

The leading five school characteristics survey respondents attributed as most important when considering a “good fit institution” are: 1) scholarship and financial aid packages; 2) potential academic major has a strong reputation; 3) affordable tuition and fees; 4) institution has strong academic reputation; and 5) institution helps graduates get good jobs. Other key findings from the survey are that 55 percent of college-bound students are researching colleges every day and that 45 percent use a mobile device to visit college websites.

Among the 55 percent said to be researching colleges daily, the report found that they “conduct much of their college research online and engage socially — through discussions with friends, counselors and parents — to hone their college search.”

“Direct mail and email are still important, but online vehicles have emerged as standard college search sources,” according to the report.

Nearly all respondents (86 percent) reported receiving an email from a college. Also, nearly 40 percent of respondents set up a dedicated email account for their college decision-making process. Of those who did, 71 percent checked their accounts daily.

“The report clearly points out that online information sources have emerged. … Today’s student may start their search with Google or a college search site, and then they move on from there,” Lipman Hearne senior vice president Mark Nelson says. “I think the other piece is that even with online channels and the importance that those channels play, traditional vehicles [are] still important. So, viewbooks and direct mail are still critical ways for communicating with prospective students. In fact, they all really work together.”

“You can’t ignore the things you’ve been doing historically,” Nelson notes.

The report identifies that nearly a quarter of the respondents are considered to be “stealth applicants.” The term refers to students who research colleges and even visit campuses, but opt not to reveal themselves until they put in their application. “Stealth applicants apply to colleges under the radar of admissions teams. Their behavior is important because their unexpected applications can complicate schools’ admissions planning and projections,” Abrahamson says.

Nelson says that with online information sources being so prevalent, the study points out the need to make sure that schools are optimizing their websites for mobile devices. “We found that 45 percent of students visit a college website on their phone or tablet. We know from other studies that minority students are more likely to be accessing the web from their phones. For schools trying to reach minority students or develop a more diverse prospect pool, it’s even more critical that they use responsive design or otherwise ensure that their websites are mobile-enabled,” he explains.

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