Shopping for Colleges Online

New survey suggests that prospective students rely on the Web but still want printed materials and even human interaction.
July 29, 2005

It will come as no shock that high school students spend a lot of time online. But a new survey of juniors suggests that they have mixed feelings about using colleges' Web sites to pick places to apply.

For instance, 56 percent of those surveyed said that they prefer looking at a college Web site to reading a brochure that comes in the mail. But while only 44 percent of all juniors prefer viewbooks to Web sites, that number rises 49 percent for students with A averages.

The data are from a survey of 1,000 juniors in the United States -- from all geographic regions, economic groups and academic achievement levels. The study will be officially released tomorrow at a conference in Washington on recruiting and retention issues, sponsored by Noel-Levitz, which consults with colleges on those issues. The poll was sponsored by Noel-Levitz, James Tower (a company that advises colleges on communications with applicants), and the National Research Center for College and University Admissions.

Feelings about viewbooks were not the only area where the survey found differences depending on academic achievement. While only 49 percent of all students in the survey were online daily, 55 percent of A students were.

And students with better grades were more likely to put an emphasis on the content of college Web sites, as opposed to their bells and whistles. Of A students, 66 percent said that content was more important than technology and animation. Of students with C or lower averages, 51 percent placed technology and animation ahead of content.

When high school students are on colleges' Web sites, their interests appear to be practical. By far the top function they reported using (72 percent of respondents) was sending an inquiry form with a question. Asked what they would like to do on a college Web site, the top answers were using a financial aid calculator (90 percent), using a tuition calculator to determine total costs (88 percent) and completing an application (86 percent).

While 74 percent of the students in the survey said that they used the Web to consider potential colleges, they also want more than a virtual tour. Of all students, 44 percent had already visited at least one campus, and 46 percent said that they planned to do so.

Students were also receptive to getting phone calls from colleges -- under certain conditions. Seventy percent said that they would be willing to receive a call at home.

But of the 67 percent who have their own cell phones, 58 percent said that they didn't want colleges calling on those lines. Clearly those lines have more important purposes.


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