UB op-ed: Annual E-Expectations report gives marketers heads-up on prospective students

Survey provides insight on digital trends and habits
By: | Issue: August/September, 2019
August 9, 2019

Karine Joly is the web editor behind www.collegewebeditor.com, and is the founder of higheredexperts.com.

Digital marketers, communicators and social media professionals working in higher education don’t have many opportunities to interact face to face with prospective or even current students. So keeping up with the digital habits and expectations of this ever-evolving audience is a real challenge.

While primary research in the form of interviews, focus groups or even online surveys is the best way for you to get personal with your institution’s audience, secondary research can help when you lack the time or budget.

That’s why many digital professionals look forward to the annual “E-Expectations Trend Report,” spearheaded by Stephanie Geyer of Ruffalo Noel- Levitz since 2005.

Having exclusive early access to this research data over the years has allowed me to contribute to the study design, analyze its results, and prepare dozens of visualizations to make the results easier to understand.

The most recent study was conducted online in March 2019 with 900 college-bound high school seniors, juniors and sophomores.

Here’s a summary of the report’s top highlights.

Survey says

Higher ed websites remain the digital cornerstone of the college search process.
process. They represent the marketing channel that influences prospective students the most, and they are the top destination after college sessions by admissions officers for 71% of seniors. Other findings include:

• More than 70% of prospective students will use college websites to look for information on costs and tuition, scholarship listings, academic programs and financial aid.

• The majority of juniors (56%) and sophomores (59%) prefer college web- sites that offer personalized content. If you and your web team haven’t discussed web personalization yet, it’s time.

• While they like personalization, 88% of seniors, 81% juniors and 88% of sophomores also welcome text or social messages from colleges. They’re not only more personal, but they’re also faster.

Higher ed websites remain the digital cornerstone of the college search process.

• However, 53% of juniors and 72% of sophomores haven’t received a text or social messages from schools yet. Twenty-four percent of seniors have, which indicates that colleges seem to reserve text messaging for the last stretch of the recruitment journey. It could be a big missed opportunity as 63% of juniors and 51% of sophomores think it’s appropriate for a school to text before they apply.

• Prospective students are far from blind to digital advertising: 90% of seniors, 82% of juniors and 84% of sophomores have seen a college ad. A majority of respondents have clicked on ads they’ve seen on Facebook, followed by Google search ads, YouTube ads and Instagram ads.

• More juniors (43%) have clicked on Instagram ads than Google search ads (41%), which could indicate a further shift.

• Instagram is indeed the top social media platform with 85% of juniors and 77% of sophomores using it daily. The site is also perceived as one of the best channels for college information by a majority of the members of the 2020 and 2021 classes. If your school doesn’t have a strong presence on Instagram, it’s definitely time to work on it.

• Student takeovers of a school’s social media account are among the most interesting types of social media content for 44% of seniors and sophomores and for 47% of juniors.

While prospective students don’t consider social media as influential as other channels (websites, print and email), one-third of seniors found social media useful in every stage of their admissions journey—even after they’ve been accepted. Judging by the top three topics they found the most interesting (dorm life, social life and attending classes), social media provides a great window into college life.

Karine Joly is the web editor behind collegewebeditor.com and is the founder of higheredexperts.com. Visit higheredexperts.com for more information on the “E-Expectations Trend Report.”