How Are Prospective Students Making College Program Decisions?

November 10, 2022

This article is included in these additional categories:

Education | Industries

US educational attainment rates have risen over the past decade: the Census Bureau reports that the percentage of people ages 25 and older who have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher has climbed from 30.4% in 2011 to 37.9% in 2021. A new Hanover Research study [download page] of prospective higher education students finds that bachelor’s degrees are the most popular choice, though many are considering multiple degree types.

The survey was fielded among more than 1,000 high school sophomores and juniors, ages 16 to 19, from across the US who are at least slightly likely to enroll in an undergraduate or non-degree program at a higher education institution after completing high school. The results show that affordability is the top factor that respondents take into account when deciding which institution to apply to. This is fairly unsurprising given the amount of student loan debt that many adults are burdened with.

Prospective students are also considering getting a good job, tuition assistance, flexible course schedules, and location. On the topic of location, a majority (58%) would be unwilling to go more than 4 hours from their home to attend their preferred institution. And as for flexible course schedules, the study indicates that only 49% this year are interested in fully on-campus courses, down from 60% last year and 66% the year prior. While this remains the preferred delivery format, a large share (36%) prefer hybrid courses.

Returning to decision factors, prospective students again placed affordability (89%) at the top of the list when asked about the factors that would influence which program to choose. At least 8 in 10 respondents also cited factors including getting a good job (83%), financial aid availability (80%), tuition assistance (80%), as well as high-quality professors (80%).

This brings to mind past research, which has found that while people choose to pursue greater educational attainment for aspirational reasons, their choice of institution is based instead primarily on constraints.

Indeed, this latest survey shows that the most important objective for prospective students when considering continuing their education is to earn a high salary in the future. It is true, though, that many also cite personal fulfillment, a desire to explore their academic interests, and wanting to be a role model for their family.

In other results from the survey:

  • Art, Psychology, and Health & Exercise Science were the most-commonly cited intended majors or fields of study.
  • Only about half (52%) said they preferred to enroll full-time, though 14% were unsure.
  • About 4 in 10 feel extremely (17%) or very (21%) prepared to continue their education after high school.
  • During their program’s orientation, prospective students would most like to participate in a campus tour and social activities.
  • When researching higher education institutions, the primary sources cited for gathering information are college websites and online search engines.
  • Prospective students prefer to receive communications from higher education institutions via email and text message.

For more, download the study here.

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