Parents Matter More

EAB survey finds that they are more important in the admissions process than in the past, especially for white and Asian students. Being test optional matters the most for Black and Hispanic students.

June 6, 2022
Parental influence has increased. Bar chart showing the percentage of students who said their parents or guardians influenced their college decision.

Parents matter more than in the past in the college admissions process, according to a survey by EAB, being released today, of 4,848 high school seniors who graduated in 2021.

Of those students, 48 percent ranked “parental influence” as one of their top five sources of information on the admissions process. That figure compares to 34 percent in 2019 and 37 percent in 2020.

But a report by EAB indicated that not all parents are relied on in the same way.

“Lower-income students are less likely to rely on parental support than higher-income students, as are Black or Hispanic students compared to Asian or white students,” the report said.

Only 30 percent of first-generation students saw parents as one of the top five sources of information, compared to 53 percent of those who were not first generation.

By race, the answers also were different: 52 percent of white students ranked their parents among the top five sources of information, and 50 percent of Asian students did so, while only 44 percent of Black students and 38 percent of Hispanic students agreed.

“Parents/families have always had significant influence on college choice and this was heightened—in my opinion—by all of the at-home time that students had with family members during COVID,” said Madeleine Rhyneer, vice president of consulting services and dean of enrollment management at EAB. She said it has long been her practice “to engage parents and make them allies in the college admission process.”

She added, “When students say, ‘We’re going to college,’ they aren’t kidding, as this is very much a family decision.”

As a result, “providing timely, helpful information to both prospects and family members is smart,” she said. “My lived experience is that every parent wants the best for their sons and daughters, and it’s our job to help them understand what they are choosing and what are the expected outcomes if they enroll at a particular university.”

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So how is this done when some parents are more involved than others?

“Making information available in multiple ways on multiple platforms, including perhaps multiple languages, is a good way to bring parents into the process,” Rhyneer said. “I’m a fan of small bites of just-in-time information that is easily assimilated by parents and students being bombarded with marketing of all kinds. And you can never have too much empathy for the challenges students and families are facing in their journey to college.”

The Sources of Information

In terms of where parents fit in over all, consider these figures from the survey.

What sources of information did you rely on most to make your enrollment decision? Top 10 sources from a list of 31; survey respondents could pick up to five.

The report issued by EAB says, “Our analysis indicates that Gen Z prefers to research on their own schedule, meaning that it’s critical for institutions to have a strong web presence. It’s also worth noting that self-service digital sources are an excellent way to influence students’ #2 go-to source: their parents and family.”

Test-Optional Admissions

Another factor EAB surveyed students on was test-optional admissions policies. While many colleges had them before the pandemic, test optional became the norm during the pandemic.

The question asked of high school seniors was whether they had applied to any colleges that were test optional. Seventy percent of students said, “Yes, but it was not the reason I applied.” Fifteen percent said, “Yes and it was the reason I applied.”

While only 15 percent of students said their application decisions were influenced by applying to a test-optional college, EAB considered it “a significant portion of students.”

And this was reinforced by the answer when race and ethnicity were added.

Only 12 percent of white students answered yes, but 15 percent of Asian students, 21 percent of Hispanic students and 24 percent of Black students did so.

“Our research indicates that testing policy is an important factor for a significant share of prospects,” the EAB report said.

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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