The Ultimate Cheat Sheet: What High Schoolers Want to Know About Your College!

Raquel BermejoAssociate Vice President, Market Research and PlanningJune 20, 2024

Navigating the college planning process is like solving a crazy-hard puzzle blindfolded while eating a bowl of spaghetti…Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but it can feel overwhelming! With a gazillion factors to consider and colleges to research, where do they even start? We know that 72 percent of all high school students think college planning is hard, so how can you help students find you? How can you show them an easier path?”

Imagine if you could be a fly on the wall in the minds of prospective students. What would they be thinking? What would they want to know about your college?

We decided to find out! We teamed up with our friends at Halda and surveyed over 2,000 high school students to get the scoop on what they want to know about colleges. Here’s what we learned:

Program fit: The top priority

Unsurprisingly, 95 percent of students want to know about your academic programs and majors. College is all about pursuing your passion, right? Spotlight those programs, share juicy details about the curriculum, and highlight awesome opportunities for hands-on learning like internships and research.

Affordability: It’s all about the Benjamins

In a tie for first place, 95 percent of students are all about financial aid and scholarships. But here’s the thing: it’s not just about whether aid exists—94 percent of students want the details on how to qualify. Make your financial aid webpage a breeze with clear eligibility criteria, deadlines, and handy net price calculators. Transparency is your friend for helping students get a handle on the true cost of attendance!

The bottom line: Is it worth it?

Higher education is a big decision, and students have questions. Of course, 94 percent want to know the bottom line of costs. But beneath that, they’re wondering: is this investment worth it? Will I graduate with a valuable degree and a clear path forward? For the 60 percent doubting the overall value of college, make the case for your institution. Show prospective students exactly how your college delivers a strong return on investment through successful alumni outcomes and a proven track record.

Safety first

With all the concerns about campus safety these days, it’s a no-brainer that 89 percent of students want the lowdown on how you keep them safe. Share data on crime stats, security, and support for mental health and well-being. Being upfront and proactive can put prospective students and their families at ease.

The campus vibe

Housing and food—the essentials of college life! Eighty-nine percent of students want to know about their residential options, and 86 percent are curious about the dining scene. Give them a taste of what it’s like to live and dine on your campus. Show off those sleek residence halls and the diverse eats on offer.

Share the lowdown on getting in

The clock is ticking! With 72 percent of students finding college applications challenging, there’s a huge need for simplified, crystal-clear guidance. A mind-boggling 89 percent are craving the scoop on admission requirements. You can help them get ahead of the game by stepping in with actionable advice now.

Location, location, location

The setting matters, folks! Eighty-seven percent of students want to know about the surrounding town and the cool local spots. Highlight how your location brings the college experience to life, from internships with local businesses to cultural attractions on your doorstep.

Academic cred

Lastly, 86 perceny of students want to know if your academics have street cred. Share the good news on accreditation, faculty credentials, and what happens after graduation (hello, job placement rates and grad school acceptance!). You can seal the deal with prospective students by painting a picture of success after college.

What are the takeaways for institutions like yours?

Be as transparent as a best friend

From financial aid to campus safety, students crave transparency and honesty. Make it a breeze for them to find what they need to know. We know, we know, higher ed websites are infamously convoluted, but new AI-powered interaction tools can deliver personalized answers in seconds. Not only does this make it possible for students to find information, but it also makes it possible for information to find them.

Showcase your awesomeness

Whether it’s a rockstar academic program or a campus community that’s off the charts, highlight what makes you YOU.

Let students do the talking

Prospective students want to hear from those in the know—current students and recent alumni. Leverage student testimonials and social media takeovers to give them the real deal on college life.

Explore the full report and learn how you can better engage students during the search process

Download the 2024 High School Student College Planning Report to read all the findings. And find out how you can engage and covert more students at every stage with RNL Student Search to Enrollment and Intelligent Web Engagement Powered by Halda.

Read the latest research on how high school students research colleges

2024 High School Student College Planning Report

Explore a wealth of findings in the 2024 High School Student College Planning Report. RNL and Halda surveyed more than 2,200 high school students about their communication preferences, priorities, and expectations about the college search process. See all the research in our free 32-page report.

Read Now

About the Author

Dr. Raquel Bermejo

Dr. Raquel Bermejo analyzes existing search, inquiry, and conversion data in addition to conducting original research with college-seeking students and parents to understand trends and student behaviors. Her research informs and enhances the services the...

Read more about Raquel's experience and expertise

Reach Raquel by e-mail at Raquel.Bermejo@RuffaloNL.com.

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