3 Big Ideas Higher Eds Must Know About Their Prospects

August 19, 2014

We’ve just completed some independent website user research with high school sophomores to understand how they research and create a short list of colleges. Over the past five years, we’ve spoken with hundreds of high school students, but it’s been a while since we interviewed high school sophomores at the very start of the college selection process. There were a number of actionable data points from the user research, but three big ideas emerged.

1. Sophomores are web savvy, but not website savvy

While sophomores may know the ins and outs of social media, they aren’t as strong at understanding how to research and extract information from a website. We observed longer paths and longer times to find typical content such as a specific degree program. The sophomores simply were not fluent with the structure of a university website.

2. Sophomores are undecided dreamers

We typically see high school juniors and seniors motivated to find out about the experience of college when using a website. The sophomores were more interested in exploring options about what was possible for them. They explored a wide range of possible majors and their interview narratives focused more on the person they want to become. Their exploration was more open-ended and more focused on what’s possible.

3. Sophomores engage with video and virtual tours

We found these sophomores were not jaded about the college admissions process, yet. They were much more willing to explore, and showed more interest in videos and virtual tours. They commented: “This is good”, “I like that they have this,” and “I would watch this [virtual tour].”

Typically, we see “experienced” junior and senior prospects skip over this interactive content. We speculate that junior and senior prospects tune out virtual tours because they are just not different enough across the colleges. One caveat, we do see prospects willing to dig into video content after they have been accepted and are attempting to make a decision.

How the user research was conducted

We conduct one-on-one user interviews observing, recording and analyzing students using websites. The participants are given general tasks, but are allowed to explore the site in their own way. The videos are analyzed by our research team and consolidated into findings, and for client work recommendations.

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