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The top search terms entered by users on Hobsons' college search tool Naviance are "location" and "academics." Ninety-four percent of students pick location as one factor they are searching for, and 78 percent of students pick something related to the academics offered at the institution.
Of the 90 choices for students using the tool, those are typically at or near the top.
But some search terms are showing new strength. "Diversity," for example, is sought by 49.6 percent of all students (and 46.5 percent of minority students). That is higher than questions about student life, cost or athletics. The change comes as colleges confront racial issues and as students respond to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The numbers -- which reflect the searches of 1.5 million high school students -- show increases for students seeking campuses identified as LGBTQ inclusive, colleges with a high international student population and colleges where at least 50 percent of students are female.
Melissa Meyer, senior program director of enrollment insights at Hobsons, said students are making "values-based" decisions about where to apply to college.
And she noted that the searching for diversity was more present among all students than among minority students.
One factor that drew more attention this year than in the past may be due to the coronavirus pandemic. Of all searches, 8.1 percent (from the college Class of 2024) were looking for "online learning offered" institutions. That is up from 7.1 percent the year before and 4.1 percent five years ago.
Meyer said many students now see online education as a "must-have," not just a potentially good factor in admissions.
Of students interested in cost and paying for college, Meyer said the top area was to find colleges that meet the full need of all students.