The Challenge of Colleges in Marketing to Future Students

Business, Lifestyle
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At a time when the sheer number of colleges is at an all-time high, and the number of high school seniors continues to drop, how (and when) colleges market to students has become increasingly important. To better understand the timing behind students’ college and university selection processes, the market research team at Zion & Zion, a top-ranked, full-service, national marketing agency recently conducted a new study. The full report is available here.

The findings of the report have numerous implications for managing and marketing colleges:

  • Colleges typically start marketing to prospects when they’re juniors in high school. However, at a time when colleges are fighting to stem declining enrollment, our data shows that’s probably not soon enough—38% of students begin evaluating colleges as early as middle school.
  • At every grade level except high school, students pursuing a 4-year university or college began looking at colleges earlier than those who eventually attended a 2-year community or junior college.
  • Females started looking at colleges much earlier than males, and in a way that suggests that they may be more serious about where they’ll attend college. By the time they are seniors, most females have already completed their college research.
  • The overwhelming majority of students (72%) didn’t make their final decision about what college(s) to apply to until they were seniors in high school. But 1% decide when they’re in middle school, and 8% already know by the time they are freshmen and sophomores in high school.

This study, conducted by the Zion & Zion market research team, was based on a nationwide survey of 1,201 current college students. Authors of the study are Fred Petrovsky, MFA; Aric Zion, MS; and Thomas Hollman, MBA, PhD.

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