Front Range Community College Blog

Researching Colleges in the Digital Age

cell phone, tablet, laptop computer

It’s a digital world and today’s college-bound high school students and their parents expect to communicate with colleges they are considering through a variety of digital modes—and they rely on a number of different e-sources of information to make this major decision.

How do we know this? Thanks to Noel-Levitz’s 2014 E-Expectations Report, “The Online Preferences of College-Bound High School Seniors and Their Parents.” (You can download the full report here.) Noel-Levitz is a higher education consulting firm that works with colleges across the country.

A Quick Summary of Findings

For the 2014 report they surveyed 1,000 college-bound seniors and 500 parents and found:

  • 71 percent of seniors and 45 percent of parents have looked at college websites on their mobile devices.
  • Parents and seniors said that college websites are the most influential recruitment resource. The next most influential resource named was emails from the college.
  • More than half of students and parents are willing to receive text messages from colleges.
  • Nearly 40 percent of seniors who use Twitter (four out of ten) follow a college on Twitter.
  • Students said that web-based resources, email, text messages and social media are the best forms to learn about colleges (over phone calls, brochures and print materials), while parents were more evenly split on phone calls and print materials vs. web resources and preferred brochures and phone calls to email, texts, and social media.

Parents: Your Input DOES Influence Your Teen

Probably least surprising is that more than 75 percent of students surveyed said that their parents are the greatest influence on their college enrollment decision. Parents, you have an important job during your teen’s senior year: to help him or her make this big life decision. As you do this, keep in mind a few factors:

Your Teen’s Area of Interest

When reading up on a college, think about your teen. Does this college have the major(s) in which your teen is interested? If so, what opportunities are available to students to enrich their academic experiences? If your teen is still exploring options, does the college offer a variety of high-quality programs?

Value

College is expensive, so it’s important for parents to think about return on investment. Research tuition, financial aid (and when to apply—the sooner, the better!), and scholarships, but also make sure to look at other things that might impact your teen’s college decision, such as:

  • Free money from your state. For example, here in Colorado, the College Opportunity Fund pays a portion of Colorado residents’ tuition for their undergraduate education.
  • Your total financial aid award package. Once you begin to receive financial aid award letters from colleges, you’ll want to carefully review your award packages. To make sure you’re comparing apples to apples, review these figures: your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), unmet financial need (total cost less your aid package less your EFC), expected student contributions (from scholarships or savings), and private/state/other scholarships, grants, and loans offered. Until you go through each college’s award package carefully, you won’t get a complete picture of how much it will cost your teen to go there.

Academic Support

Does the college offer great support for freshmen? How about continued academic support as students progress through college? Check out resources such as tutoring, math labs, writing centers, student success programs, academic mentor and coaching programs, disability services, learning communities, and more.

Extracurricular Opportunities

For many students, the greatest joys of college are found in extracurricular activities and campus life. Does the college your teen is considering offer an array of opportunities to get involved, make friends, and make the most of college? When searching the college’s website, look at sporting, cultural, and other events and activities on campus—is there a lot going on? Are there clubs and organizations in areas that interest your teen? Don’t forget things like study abroad and travel programs.

The “Gut Feel”

In the end, your teen will need to make a decision on a college based on all of your careful research—and based on how it feels. Taking a campus tour is important so that your teen can get a sense of the campus overall. Research whether your teen can sit in on classes, meet other students and professors, and tour the dorms when you go visit. For many students and parents, this step is the most critical in the college search process.

Not Your Parents’ College Search Process

For parents and guidance counselors, the E-Expectations Report reveals some of what we’ve all known for years about “digital natives” and their tendencies when researching colleges. For colleges, it means an entirely different approach to outreach and marketing to prospective students than they might have taken a decade ago.

Yet, the decision making process for students is still very personal and significant. Choosing a college involves extensive research and detailed comparisons among the choices. The difference today is that students and parents have a world of research tools and resources at their fingertips.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michaele Charles is the founder of Voice Communications and writes frequently for higher education institutions, small businesses, corporate clients, and others. She also is a fledgling children’s writer. In her pre-writing life, she worked in accounting and finance.