Stephanie Geyer, Associate Vice President for e-strategy and Web development at Noel-Levitz, released their latest E-expectations survey of 1,005 college-bound high school seniors in 2009 at the OmniUpdate Users Conference this morning. This is their fourth year doing this research study in conjunction with James Tower and the National Research Center for College and University Admissions. This survey is done by professional telephone counselors.

This presentation was jam packed with great insights and nuggets that I found enlightening, and some rather surprising. 


  • 250 from each of the four geographic regions in the U.S.
  • 50/50 male/female
  • 53% caucasian, 16% African-American/Black, 10% Hispanic/Latino, 9% multiple ethnicities, 4% Asian, 3% Indian/Native American, 3% declined, 1% other
  • Grades: A – 39%, B – 48%, C – 12%
  • Family income: 25% less than $50k, 23% between $50-75k, 11% between $75-100k, 7% between %100-$125k, 4% more than $125k, 29% don’t know/refused
  • 77% connect via DSL or cable, 11% phone modem, 3% handheld device.

When asked if the current economic crisis caused them to reconsider the schools they were applying to or may attend, 64% said no. 

62% said their parents/family are helping them with research and/or paperwork. Of that group, 21% say they help them look at Web sites and go on campus visits with them.

Content is king! Prospects are taking time to read details about cost and processes. 

content is king


50% said colleges and universities should use young, edgy and bold designs for their sites. 43% said schools should take a more traditional approach with their site design. When I tweeted this tid-bit, @KarlynM said it would be interesting to find out these students definition of body and edgy. 

Navigation and information architecture is so important. 85% report the links should take me right to the answers to their questions, where 15% said they don’t pay much attention to the link choices and head straight for the search box or site index. Either way – making information easily findable and searchable is key.

41% found your school via Google or another search site by typing in your school’s name. 38% use services like Zinch, MyCollegeOptions or College Board to match them to your school. Only 13% referred to a printed document with your URL on it. May be time to re-think handouts, such as postcards, just to advertise specific Web sites.

They want to do fun stuff. 42% say they want to find more to do on a college site than just click and read. 

What do they want to do most? I’m most shocked by “RSS feeds with admissions info and campus activities,” and where it fares in the list! They actually know what RSS feeds are? I’ve gotten the impression from other articles and survey results I’ve read that most don’t know, that RSS is just the plumbing behind the scenes. They may be using it, but they aren’t aware of it. Maybe they are, now?

what they want to do


Social Networking

And, the ever-popular Facebook vs. MySpace debate. 50% listed being on Facebook and 52% said MySpace. For the Facebook group, 56% were A students, 47% B students, 41% C students. Northeast, midwest and south all more likely to be on Facebook than MySpace. For the MySpace group, 65% black, 70% latino vs. 44% white and 43% Asian. 47% were B students, 58% were C students, and 44% were A students. Only 2% reported not participating in social networking. When asked if colleges and universities should create a presence within social networks/communities to promote their programs, 70% said yes! In addition, 75% said schools should create their own private communities, like Cafe New Paltz, that are password protected and for invited students only. 51% said they wouldn’t mind school representatives contacting them directly via a social network.

What content will make a different to them on a social network? They’re most interested in discussions about courses and academics (3.74, mean 1-5), student activities and extracurricular options (3.65), and insight into the school’s culture and diversity (3.37). They’re interested in communication with current students and faculty (3.10), communication with prospective students (3.01), profiles of current students and faculty (2.88), and posting profiles as a student who may attend (2.88).


Very few reported text messaging as a method they’d prefer for admissions transactions such as answers to questions or  acceptance notices. For all transactions, their preferred method was online over in person, phone, mail or text.

87% are willing to give their e-mail address to a school to communicate with them. 45% of them do it at the inquiry stage, 28% when they’re ready to apply to the school, 15% after they’ve been accepted, and 9% after they make their final decision.


  • Economic issues mean that Web sites will have to work harder in lieu of visits to ensure prospects see value and compelling details.
  • Parents and families are inextricably linked and we should be talking directly to them — and often!
  • The experience prospects have on our site matters in their decision whether to probe further into your programs and offerings, and how they’d fit on our campus.
  • We need to focus more on content. Content, content, content. Make it readable, printable, referenceable, searchable. 
  • Focus on your navigation. Test it with college-bound students. Don’t use internal lingo. 
  • Focus on your design. Take a leap. Go bold.
  • Find your place on social networks. Be social. Be helpful. Find the right fit for your campus with the various tools out there. Re-read the demographics above – different sites work for different institutions, depending on their typical student base.


Kevin Prentiss · March 31, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Thanks for sharing this!

I’m also amazed by the RSS stat. If they get the RSS, where do they read it? My assumption has always been schools will have to teach RSS readers – students won’t find them on their own.

Perhaps I’m wrong. That would be great. Students actually using RSS would make many things easier : )

Joe Gaylor · March 31, 2009 at 2:10 pm

You are AWESOME!!!! Thanks so much

Jess · March 31, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Great post and information, Rachel!

I’m happy for the RSS feed result – I think its the most important piece of a site these days. So multifaceted.

Also happy for the negative text feedback. I assumed this, but its nice to see some evidence. I think students would prefer to use this for information only purposes, not decisions and ‘business’.

I’m concerned that the Hispanic population surveyed was only 10% with that being the fastest growing demographic. I wonder how that fares with the census data for 2009 high school seniors?

Excellent information. But then again, we expect no less. 🙂

Colin Fast · March 31, 2009 at 2:58 pm

I’m a bit confused by the demographic info on Facebook vs. Myspace users.

“For the Facebook group, 56% were A students, 47% B students, 41% C students.”

Doesn’t that add up to 144%? The numbers in the next few lines are even more confusing. I’m sure it all makes sense, but might require a bit more clarification.

Rachel Reuben · March 31, 2009 at 3:19 pm

@Kevin I talked to Stephanie about this over lunch and she’s going to use the RSS question in her upcoming qualitative research with some of her clients to see if she can probe further, because she was also surprised with the results here. We’re, perhaps unfairly, assuming they may not know what RSS is, but want to know the information about admissions info and student activities, regardless of the format.

@Joe I’m just here to share. You’re the awesome one for reading and putting up with my volume of tweets, especially this morning. 🙂

@Jess It wasn’t negative feedback about using text messaging, per say, just was selected as the least popular option of the options presented. I know Stephanie is going to be reading this, so hopefully she can follow up on your demographics question/concern.

Rachel Reuben · April 5, 2009 at 9:07 pm

@Colin Good points…. I’ll have to ping Stephanie, as those numbers came directly from the PDF she gave me, and I didn’t even realize what you point out.

uheaa · April 28, 2009 at 10:14 am


Thank you for this information!

Thomas Marks · July 23, 2009 at 3:30 pm

This is a very interesting and useful survey, especially when coupled with the research methods.

However, as with anything – you should be using this information as just one tool in your overall decision making toolbox, mainly because we are all aware how often users say one thing and do another…

technologiez · August 1, 2010 at 8:19 pm

The online cost calculator data paradox is interesting. Come next year, every school is required to have one. I wonder if one of the big barriers to use so far is that many schools don’t have them on their site.

Summary of the new 2009 E-expectations summary for higher … | · March 31, 2009 at 4:36 pm

[…] post: Summary of the new 2009 E-expectations summary for higher … Powered by Stumble! for […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *