Prospective Students Take College Websites Seriously

Ruffalo Noel Levitz recently released the results of a study of high-schoolers’ use of technology to research and communicate with colleges. Over 3,000 juniors and seniors completed a survey about their habits and expectations.

It may come as no surprise that millennials report that college websites influence their college decisions more than any other medium. Eighty percent of seniors and 77% of juniors report that they find college websites influential. Print materials, magazine rankings, and college planning websites, on the other hand, all hover in the 30-40% range. You might be glad to know that 98% of respondents indicate that they trust the information they find on college websites. Almost half of responding seniors (and a slightly smaller number of juniors) admit they judge a college by its online cover, equating the quality of a school’s website with the quality of a school’s educational offerings.

No surprises here. When you’re reaching out to digital natives, websites are important. But what pieces of your website are most important? When prosepective students look at college websites, what do they look at most closely? The Ruffalo Noel Levitz survey got at that question via three questions.

First, respondents were asked, “If you were to look at a specific college site right now, what would you look for?” The top three answers were as follows:

1.     Academics (program listings, rankings, etc) – Seniors 38%, Juniors 43%

2.     Money (cost, scholarships, etc) – Seniors 30%, Juniors 24%

3.     Enrollment (admission events, application process, etc.) – Seniors 19%, Juniors 21%

In another question, respondents were shown a sample college web page with ten links and encouraged to click the link they found most interesting. At the top of the rankings were Admissions and Aid, Degree Details, and Academics. Perhaps surprisingly, Athletics brought up the rear.

Finally, respondents were asked, “Have you ever seen anything on a college or university website that demonstrates the value of graduating from that school?” About 75% said they valued job placement stats on a college website. About 60% said they valued testimonials and quotations. Almost half valued graduate school placement stats and program rankings.  They were less impressed by faculty profiles, program-specific videos, and accreditation details.

In sum, high school students depend heavily on college websites, and they are looking first for hard facts about academics, admissions, and finances.

As you plan for 2016, we'd love to talk about the plans for your institution's website and how you can better provide what prospective students are seeking on your site. Reach out to us at our Contact Us page or by phone at 888.942.6608.