22.Jan.2015

Kevin Lyons
Research Supervisor

A Fresh Perspective on how High School Students View Colleges

Selection patterns that are emerging for 2015

Previously, we shared some significant differences in the online activities between high school juniors and high school seniors, as they research college and university options. Upon further investigation, we discovered an interesting pattern in the consideration set, as students move closer to graduation.

By utilizing the data mined from our 2013 Super Investigators study, we detected new trends in how prospective freshmen made their higher education selections. The sample included both college-bound high school juniors and seniors, who were asked to list the top two colleges or universities they were considering. As shown in the report below, preference for “more selective” private and flagship public institutions out-of-state has declined. On the other hand, preference for non-flagship public institutions within a student’s home state has increased.

The findings support a pattern that our research has revealed in recent years–as students get nearer to graduation, their thinking becomes more practical. For higher education marketers, this suggests a couple of action items:

  1. In-state students should be re-engaged periodically throughout high school, with messaging shifting to more practical matters during their senior year (e.g., financing, proximity to hometown).
  2. Out-of-state students should be introduced to colleges and universities early, as students are more open to leaving state at that time. Messaging for out-of-state students should also shift to practical matters in their senior year (e.g., financing, campus housing).
Preferred College or University
Juniors(N=865) Seniors(N=3915)
In-state public: non-flagship 25% 32%
Out-of-state private: more selective 24% 18%
In-state public: flagship 13% 14%
In-state private: more selective 12% 11%
Out-of-state public: non-flagship 11% 11%
Out-of-state public: flagship 10% 7%
Out-of-state private: selective/inclusive 6% 7%
In-state private: selective/inclusive 5% 6%
Source: What two colleges or universities are at the top of your consideration list?