Shifting the Search: How AI is Upending the Prospective Student Journey

The prospective student journey is a constantly changing landscape, and the rise of generative AI chatbots offers prospective students an exciting new tool to help them determine their higher education path. To determine how prospective students are using AI in their college search, OHO surveyed more than 500 prospective and current students and conducted a series of in-depth focus groups. Here's what we discovered.

AI Chatbot Familiarity


Have used AI Chatbots


Have not used AI chatbots at all


Engaged with AI daily

The ChatGPT logo

ChatGPT is the Preferred Platform

Of the survey respondents who had used AI chatbots, ChatGPT was by far the most popular tool. More than 70% of respondents had experimented with it at some point, while the next closest platform — Bing Chat — was used by just over 20% of respondents. 

What Respondents Who Use AI Are Doing With It


Receive homework help from AI


Turn to AI to brainstorm essays


Use AI in their college search

Typical Queries for College Research

"Compare X University vs. Y University"

Of the survey respondents who reported using AI chatbots in their college search, 64% used them to help compare two or more schools.

"Give me a list of all the colleges near me from top rated to lowest”

Rankings remain a significant factor when prospective students are selecting a school, and prospects are turning to AI to help them quickly determine where the schools they're considering fall in rankings. 

“What is the required GPA needed to get into X College?”

In our focus groups, we found that many of the participants asked very pointed questions to avoid combing through results provided by search engines or navigating directly to the college or university website. 

A prospective student searches for liberal arts colleges in North Carolina on a laptop

Shifting From Search Engines

When students in our focus groups found they have positive results by using chatbots, they reported transitioning from search engines to the chatbot for their first step in researching a topic.

Students discussing their future college plans

AI Framing the College Search

Focus group participants reported using AI chatbots more often at the start of their college option research to help them refine the schools they are considering.

A Net Promoter Score of 15

The AI Chatbot Experience Has Room to Improve

OHO was surprised by the relatively tepid Net Promoter Scores given for chatbots by students who use them. We suspect that the relative newness of the technology may be a cause. Students may not have had a chance yet to form a more emotional bond with their chatbots.