2015 Students E-Expectations Ruffalo Noel-Levitz Report: Top insights for #highered & #hesm

July 1st, 2015 Karine Joly 51 Comments

The results of the brand new Ruffalo Noel-Levitz report on the E-expectations of college bound seniors and juniors (n=3,052) will be officially released next Wednesday in Boston.

But, I managed this year again to get a preview of these results – before anybody else – courtesy of Stephanie Geyer from RNL who will present the results next week and at several conferences this summer.

What this means is that YOU get a chance to know about the E-Expectations Survey results before everybody :-)

E-Expectations of 3,052 college-bound seniors and juniors

This research always provides very interesting insights on the preferences of college-bound high school students when it comes to the college admission process and marketing channels that click with prospective students.

This year, the results are based on an online survey (it was done on the phone before) conducted in May 2015 (in March last year) with a sample of 3052 high school seniors (50%) and juniors (50%).

This online survey was distributed via email to a representative list of college-bound students provided by the National Research Center for College and University Admissions (NRCCUA). Participation in this online survey was incentivized via a drawing of 10 Amazon gift certificates of $100 each.

As a result, the data is fresh and relevant to any institution recruiting prospective college-aged students in the US.

I’ve spent a few hours, over the past week, reviewing and analyzing the results of this survey and I’ve identified the following top insights for you.

Insight #1: Your website plays a major role in crafting perceptions about your school

  • 78% (69% in 2014) of seniors says that the website made a difference in their perceptions of a given school.
  • 80% also said schools websites influenced or highly influenced their interest in specific colleges or universities – which was the case of print publications for only 32% of them.

E-expectations 2015 Summary 1

  • 48% go as far as agreeing with the statement that “schools with better websites probably offer higher quality educational experiences.”

    As digital marketing and communication channels have become more and more important over the past decade in higher education, this data point in the survey clearly shows that a large minority (48%) of college-bound students judges a school by its website (like a book by its cover, I guess :-).

  • The website is also the go-to place when prospective students have questions related to their college search: 57% of seniors and 70% of juniors will look for an answer on the website first – before emailing (14.4%) or calling (13%) the admissions office.
  • 98% of seniors and 97% of juniors have also identified websites as a reliable source of information on schools against respectively 77% and 83% for college planning sites.

Insight #2: Social Media is now a 2nd channel of choice for college information

  • 60% (53% in 2014) of seniors and 48% of juniors says that the social media accounts of schools are a source of reliable information.

E-expectations 2015 Summary 2

  • As you can see above, when it comes to social media platforms used at least once a week by seniors and juniors, the top 5 social media sites are:
    1. YouTube (74%)
    2. Facebook (70%)
    3. Snapchat (54%)
    4. Instagram (53%)
    5. Twitter (46%)

E-expectations 2015 Summary 3

  • As I always tell your colleagues who take my 8-week online course on social media marketing for higher ed professionals, it is important to focus on your audience needs and preferences: it’s not because they use a social media platform with their friends that they want to hear from you on it :-).
  • In this case, the rankings are different when prospective students are asked about the best social media sites for college research. The top 3 channels used by more than a quarter of prospective students are:
    1. Facebook (54%)
    2. YouTube (31%)
    3. Twitter (27%)
  • Instagram (19%) is not far, but given the efforts put invested in the platform by many institutions over the past few years, I found this result a bit surprising and underwhelming.
  • SnapChat (4%), the new “hot” platform for higher ed marketers and admissions professionals, is probably something to watch over the coming year. Usage for college research is very low, but adoption by schools is still at the early adopter stage. So, I’d say it’s tough for prospective students to use it for college information when there isn’t much action there.
  • LinkedIn (3%) is definitely another story – and a big counter-performance – as the platform has made (and failed at?) a big push toward high school students over the past year by launching several products targeted to them

Insight #3: it’s time to be strategic on how your school can use videos & live streaming with prospective students

  • Who doesn’t love online videos? Not prospective students when you know that YouTube is one of the social media platforms they use the most regularly and 31% found it useful for their college research – as we’ve seen above.
  • 41% have watched a video on a college website. 36% have viewed a YouTube channel page and 9% subscribed to it while 29% viewed a video on social media accounts.
  • 39% of prospective students also considered program videos as a great way to demonstrate value on a school website — not one of the top options (that would be job placement stats for 73% and testimonials for 60%), but still a noticeable one.
  • Only 15% of seniors have attended a webcast held by a college or university, but 52% of seniors and 70% of juniors said they might do so in the future.

E-expectations 2015 Summary 5.

  • As you can see above, 2015 juniors (our upcoming high school seniors for this admissions cycle) have expressed interest for a wide range of topics presented in videos or online meetings. In my book, this indicates a real preference for videos or live streaming and an opportunity for schools to offer content in a medium prospective students prefer.

Insight #4: if you are not texting them, what are you waiting for?

  • Only 28.5% of seniors have received text messages from schools this year while 73% (up from 53% last year) will be willing to allow them.
  • About 70% of juniors are also open to the idea of receiving texts from schools.
  • So, there is definitely a missed opportunity with texting for colleges to connect in real-time with these prospective students who don’t go anywhere without their smartphones.

Insight #5: there is a real opportunity for remarketing in digital advertising to reach prospective students

  • More than a third (34%) of seniors and 43% of juniors have clicked on a digital ad from a college.
  • 80% of those who did clicked on a google search ad and 44% on a facebook ad.

E-expectations 2015 Summary 6

  • As you can see above, a bigger part of prospective students clicked on an ad from a school they were already considering.
  • There is an opportunity to use remarketing techniques on Facebook and Google to serve ads specifically to visitors who have already visited your website or shared (voluntarily, not because they were on the email list you bought) their email address with you.
  • Obviously, the best strategy is still to rank high in search engine organic results for your targeted keywords (the name of your school, programs names etc.) As you probably know, this can only be achieved via a comprehensive SEO strategy (the top reason why more and more of your colleagues earn their professional certificate in SEO for higher ed and web writing for higher ed

51 Responses

  1. Thank you, Karine. We appreciate your partnership in sharing this information. Great analysis!

  2. […] CollegeWebEditor.com preview of Ruffalo Noel-Levitz‘s soon-to-be-released annual E-Expectations report was one of the […]

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