In January 2023, Qualtrics and College Pulse conducted a student experience survey involving 2,700+ current college students in the United States. The report, which reveals student perceptions in key areas of the student experience, is based on responses from community college, 4-year undergraduate and graduate students.
The 2023 Student Experience Trends Report helps educators – including admissions, IT and marketing staff – to gain a better understanding of the higher education journey for today’s students. In this article, we’ll communicate some of their key findings and dive a little deeper into the admissions and onboarding results.
1. One in three students say their high school education made them feel very or extremely prepared for undergraduate-level coursework.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, students who went to public high schools feel less prepared than their private high school-educated peers.
2. Half of students say it was easy to navigate the college application process, and even fewer (32%) said they felt like their institution knew them during the process.
When students feel like their institution knows them during the admissions process, they are also more likely to say that their institution is a good fit and less likely to consider transfer.
3. 61% of students agree that their institution provides opportunities for feedback but fewer agree that it understands what is important to them, and uses their feedback to inform decision making (42% and 48%, respectively).
Clearly, there is an opportunity for student feedback to inform institutional decision-making – a practice that is linked to higher levels of student satisfaction.
4. One in three students have experienced discrimination at their institution. Students of color and students who identify as a gender other than male / female experience discrimination at even higher rates.
Overall, 64% of students feel like they belong at their institution; this percentage is higher (87% vs 32%) among students who feel connected to their peers.
5. Although 77% of students say their institution offers mental health resources, 18% don't know if their institution does.
There is also work to be done when it comes to mental health resources; over half of students identify at least one problem with what is available.
6. 68% of students agree that their current education is preparing them for the job they want after graduation.
Career preparation is a key priority, and those who feel like their education is preparing them for the job they want are more likely to deem their study worth the cost.
Honing in on the admissions aspect of the survey, Qualtrics and College Pulse discovered that just half of students found it easy to navigate the application process. Furthermore, only 32% felt that their institution ‘knew them’ during the process.
There are numerous advantages to higher education institutions getting to know their students, and communicating this knowledge through personalized messaging and notifications. Firstly, students who feel like their institution knows them are more likely to find the application process easy to navigate (69% vs 44%).
The benefits extend beyond the application and enrollment stages too. Students who feel like their institution knows them are more likely to say it is a good fit (83% vs 57%), and are less likely to have considered a transfer (25% vs 34%).
To maintain or indeed boost student application and retention rates, universities must provide a personalized experience throughout the student lifecycle – from the moment the prospective student interacts with the brand through to graduation, and beyond.
We have written extensively on how to create a student-centric application experience.
The first step is to spend time getting to understand the needs of your students by engaging in surveys, conducting research and creating personas. Once you have gained an understanding, you can begin to craft personalized workflows and an easy-to-navigate application experience.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of students who took part in the survey said they interacted with at least one person connected to the institution (such as a student, employee, or alumnus), and visited campus for a virtual or in-person tour before enrolling.
Both students who took a tour and those who interacted with someone were more likely to say that their institution knew them, compared with those who visited campus without taking a tour and those who didn’t visit campus at all prior to enrollment.
Virtual and in-person events, including campus tours, information sessions and Q&As, can strengthen your connection with students and help them to feel more ‘known’.
Virtual events can be a more accessible way for students to meet people affiliated with your institution and ask questions because geographical barriers are removed. Students can save time and money on travel, making it a viable option for international students.
However, never underestimate the value of on-campus events, which have become popular again following the lockdowns. In-person events can encourage more organic interactions, and give applicants a realistic impression of what life is like on campus.
When it comes to why students choose an institution, cost, proximity to home, overall academic reputation and future job opportunities all rank highly in the decision making process. In terms of individual profiles, Qualtrics and College Pulse found that:
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Do these findings align with your own research into the admissions process and, more specifically, what motivates your student personas? Understanding the key drivers for each group of applicants can help you to deliver targeted and personalized campaigns.
For instance, you could focus on producing content on specific programs when marketing to graduate students, such as case studies with current students, Q&A sessions with faculty staff and information about career progression after graduating.
Similarly, based on these findings you could evaluate how well you are promoting your institution’s financial aid packages to first generation students. Is this information easy to access on your website? Do you run virtual information sessions on financial aid?
Although 80% of students attended an orientation session (virtually or in-person), just 23% of students said they felt ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ prepared to start their program after the session.
Successful orientation programs provide students with a positive and informative introduction to the university environment, and could include the following:
Ultimately, the student admissions and onboarding processes should leave students feeling informed, connected and confident about studying at your academic institution.
Establishing a positive relationship with students at the application stage, as the 2023 Student Experience Trends Report demonstrates, will help ensure success throughout the entire student lifecycle, from the moment an individual makes an inquiry.