What Students Want in a College Search

By Matt Hammer
  • Education
  • 03.12.18
  • 3 Min Read

With a fiercely competitive climate and continued university reliance on tuition dollars, it’s more important than ever for institutions to understand what students (and their parents) look for during the college search process.

Over the past two decades, the higher education landscape has changed drastically, forcing administrators and educators to address new challenges in university funding, academic programming and student recruitment.

Funding has become a more acute issue for both public and private institutions in recent years, affecting recruitment efforts and programming development. Many institutions have countered funding issues by upping student recruitment goals. Unfortunately, more than half of institutions fell short of their goals.

Our team at L&S is helping higher education institutions navigate these new waters by focusing on a few core areas.



The focus on college recruitment has shifted from Millennials to Generation Z (born in 1995 or later). The differences between the generations and what they value are well documented, but are especially glaring when it comes to expectations of higher education.

In a study by Northeastern University, 81% of Gen Z respondents agreed that a college education was important to a successful career. The same study found that 72% of students want customizable degree programs, 79% believe programs should integrate internships or professional experiences, and 85% said that colleges need to offer practical skills, such as financial planning.

It’s clear that Gen Z students understand the value of going to college, but will seek out institutions that offer the education and training that will address their specific needs.



“What will an education get me?”

Students want to know they will not only have a good college experience, but they will find success after they graduate. Students and parents increasingly expect colleges and universities to be a partner in helping them to map out a successful career path. A recent Gallup-Purdue study found a gap between student expectations and college offerings in career placement, with only one in six college graduates saying their campus career counseling was helpful.

Increased concern about post-college success has spurred colleges and universities of all types to rethink career services and examine their role in student career planning. Examples of new efforts include first-year engagement programs, career mentoring and more emphasis on providing career guidance for at-risk populations.



Unsurprisingly, tuition cost remains a concern, and the burden of paying for college is becoming an even more influential factor in the decision-making process. The annual CIRP Freshman Survey found that tuition cost and access to financial aid were both in the top four reasons that students selected an institution.

The price of college has nearly doubled in the last 20 years, increasing faster than any consumer good or service during that time period. The cost of college and resources to help foot the tuition bill have becoming increasingly important to students and parents. This makes sense when considering Gen Z students, who have been shown to be more practical and financially realistic than their Millennial counterparts.

This concern is compounded by the fact that their Gen X parents are less able to financially contribute. Less than half of Gen Z’s parents have saved for their kids’ education. So, even though cost has always been a consideration, students are thinking more about the post-college financial burden than in the past.

Though the college landscape is changing quickly, universities have the opportunity to adapt and find considerable success – if they’re willing to stretch the traditional model for attracting students.

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