Prospective Students More Interested in Details About Individual Majors Than a College’s Cost, Rank, Reputation
WASHINGTON, DC – College freshmen said they were more interested in information about specific majors and minors than details about a school’s cost, rank, or admission rate when they were searching college websites, according to a survey of almost 5,000 students recently released by EAB, a best practice research company.
Seventy percent of respondents said they were primarily looking for information about majors and minors on college websites, while only 19 percent of students said they most wanted to see a school’s ranking or reputation—a 50-plus percentage-point difference. In comparison, 45 percent of respondents were most interested in information about college costs, and only 24 percent of respondents were most interested in financial aid.
The number of students seeking information about majors and minors on college websites has increased 3.6 percentage points in the two years since EAB last conducted the survey. During the same period, the percentage of students seeking financial information, including college costs, scholarships, and financial aid, remained relatively constant, and the percentage of students searching for a school’s ranking or reputation decreased by 1.5 percentage points.
“There’s no doubt that rank and cost are important to students and families, but these survey results suggest that students are also focused on value and whether their degree will enable them to succeed in their chosen profession,” says EAB Principal Dana Strait. “The survey findings affirm what our research team has been hearing from the hundreds of enrollment leaders we speak with: students are evaluating what we call ‘return on education’ or ROE. And ROE has a lot to do with their field of study, not just the school they select or the price they pay.”
Students also seek information about academic programs on social media: 41 percent of students said information about majors and minors was the most useful social media content. That is higher than the number of students who wanted schools to share information about college costs (31 percent) or financial aid (26 percent) on social channels.
“Since the Great Recession, students have become more practical and career-focused when choosing schools. And our research suggests that this trend is likely to continue,” Strait says. “Still, many schools don’t provide prospective students with enough information on the experiences, opportunities, and outcomes students will have in individual programs. Doing so is especially important for the humanities, where career outcomes are less clear.”
Administrators at Virginia Tech, for example, realized that the website for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences catered to the needs of internal audiences without giving proper consideration to key external stakeholders, such as prospective students and parents. The school overhauled the website and added alumni stories, rankings, and information about student research and experiential learning opportunities. The investment was worth the effort: Without substantive program changes, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences saw a 35 percent increase in applications over the two cycles that included the website launch.
EAB’s analysis and results are based on a survey conducted in late 2017 of 4,761 college freshmen enrolled at more than 900 four-year colleges and universities, as well as ongoing best practice research. The large and diverse national sample is representative of both public and private institutions in the United States.
For more information on the survey findings, sample, and methodology, visit the EAB Enrollment Blog. EAB’s qualitative research on the increasing importance of career outcomes in college choice is summarized in an Expert Perspective: “How Are ROE Concerns Impacting Students’ Enrollment Decisions?”
Through best practices research and decades of experience from our colleagues in Enrollment Services, EAB provides data-driven undergraduate and graduate solutions that target qualified prospective students; build relationships throughout the search, application, and yield process; and optimize financial aid. For more information, please visit www.eab.com