What Matters to Prospective Students

By Frank HealyJanuary 11, 2016

Fostering student success in college and after graduation has never been more important than in today’s higher education climate. The prospective student base is much broader and more diverse than ever before and, as a result, many colleges are reevaluating their offerings and curriculum to meet a variety of student needs. Identifying the characteristics that matter most to incoming students when selecting a college can help improve lead quality and student achievements.

The following five areas are important to today’s various prospective students, including the fast-growing adult learner segment.

Degree Programs
There are numerous options when it comes to choosing the right college and degree program, and prospective students are conducting extensive research on a number of institutions to find one that meets their specific needs and lifestyle. The adult learner population, defined as adults ages 25 to 40, tends to have different schooling needs than the traditional student, ages 18 to 24. For example, adult learners are often concerned with matters such as the balance between school, work and family responsibilities, as well as class schedule flexibility and cost. Schools offering variety of professional certifications, short-term certificate programs, and online degrees combine the diversity of a unique learning experience with the convenience of being able to study anywhere and at any time, factors that are especially appealing to adult learners. Eager to provide students with these benefits, colleges and universities have been continually adding more online programs in different fields every year.

Institution Reputation
As referenced above, students are doing their research before selecting a school. Incoming students are looking to credible resources, such as college rankings and scorecards from both government and media sources, to research institutions and their reputations. Statistics such as admissions rates, student-to-teacher ratios, graduation rates and job-placement rates all play a crucial role in the decision making process. Students are also making sure that schools are appropriately accredited and that any existing credits from another institution will transfer with ease. Schools should tailor website content to provide relevant information that students are looking for in order to make informed decisions.

Student Engagement
Student engagement is linked to a wide array of outcomes and many students are looking for institutions that provide new experiences, fostering success and community ties. Academic and social support programs help students progress and better utilize their peer network, and school-sponsored activities and organizations strengthen their sense of belonging. Connecting students with internships, externships, and mentorships help enrich their learning experience while providing valuable connections for their professional careers. Alumni events are also important for maintaining a strong network. Institutions must continue to adapt to meet the needs of students, including finding new and creative ways to add value to the student experience.

School Amenities
For institutions that have physical campus locations, school amenities play a critical role in a student’s decision-making process. Prospective students are often looking for amenities such as career services centers, computer labs and tech support, libraries, and tutoring centers. Access to advanced teaching and learning tools, as well as career-related technologies that will be used in the workforce are also essential factors in student success. To cater to the increase in adult learners, some schools even offer on-site childcare services. Schools without a physical presence can also increase their value by offering online services for students, such as tutoring and career services resources.

Students look for degree programs and learning environments that will best prepare them for the job market. It is up to higher education institutions to combat the current lack of “readiness” that many students are facing, and provide the skills and real-world experience needed to be successful in the workforce. Many schools have started working with employers directly to get an idea of the skill sets and traits that they are searching for in candidates, and as a result, adding or removing courses based on job market demand.

As higher education continues to evolve, it is important for schools and marketers to keep an eye on how students’ needs are changing as well. The ability to adapt to market demands will make schools more marketable and appealing to potential students, and improve the post-secondary education landscape by placing emphasis on student outcomes. 

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