58% of prospects use online reviews to choose a college

Social media is a key recruiting tool, but students still value email communication and on-campus visits

The majority of prospective students are using online tools to learn about and choose colleges, according to a new survey by G/O Digital

The survey included more than 1,520 U.S. adults enrolled in classes either full- or part-time. Researchers sought to determine how prospective students interact with institutions before enrolling and how those interactions influence students' decisions to communicate with and attend an institution.

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Respondents indicated that a strong digital reputation is important to them. Around 58% of students reported that online reviews were very important to their college selection process, and 20% of students said that online ratings and reviews were the most influential digital channels in their school choice.

According to the report, the most popular digital channel influencing a student's decision is a school's website. Fifty-six percent of students said they used colleges' websites primarily to find information about programs that interested them. However, poorly designed websites were a major deterrent to students; about a third said difficult website navigation completely turned them off from an institution. 

More than 50% of students use search engines when researching schools, but they're selective when clicking: 43% of students said the results that contain relevant information are most likely to attract their attention.

Many students also say they're using social media to explore college options. About 32% of students follow institutions on social media during their decision-making process. Facebook reigned supreme, with 62% of students saying they're most likely to follow schools on that platform. LinkedIn came in second with 13% of students. But no matter the social network, 52% of students agree that the most important topic for colleges to post about is programs of interest to students. 

Even though students are seeking out social channels to learn more about colleges, the respondents overwhelmingly favored communication via email with schools. Seventy-five percent of respondents preferred to be contacted by an institution through email over social media, phone calls, or text messages.

While digital communications are crucial in attracting students, they cannot completely replace in-person recruitment efforts. Thirty-one percent of students cited on-campus visits as their primary deciding factor in college choice (Bethke, eCampus News, 4/29). 

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