Why do your prospective students pick the institutions or programs they do?
If you ask this question to any member of the post-secondary or high school education sphere, you’ll get a variety of answers: because of our star faculty members; our leading programs; our stellar campus community; or the infamous campus hot dog stand. Yet the answer is hardly as simple as any of these.
As we’ve mapped the factors in the decision-making process over the years, we’ve noticed which ones tend to be always at the top of students’ minds: reputation; the opinion of friends, families, and employers; career opportunities; and nurturing qualities such as accessibility. When we checked in with our first-year students to ask about why they chose their current school, we saw these factors highlighted again by their answers.
The reputation of an institution or program is routinely one of the top factors for student application decisions. For some students, the school’s reputation overall is the leading consideration, while for others it is the specific program that leads the charge.
“UBC is a really good school, and I wanted to be in Canada but away from the snow,” said one student who was attending the first year of an Applied Science program at UBC, “[and] I really enjoy the maths and sciences and would like to create machines or technology that can help people.”
“I am interested in construction and architecture, [and Algonquin] was one of the best institutions that had the program I was interested at and was situated in Ontario,” explained a first-year Algonquin College student who had begun an Architectural Technology program.
Word-of-mouth also played a major factor for several students. Several mentioned that they had alumni in the family, referenced positive or negative experiences that friends had at institutions, or pointed to what they’d heard from future employers.
“Good reputation, my dad is an alumni, affordable, and had the program I was interested in,” said a Carpentry student from Saskatchewan Polytechnic.
“A lot of my family goes here, [and] I wanted to be nearer to my parents,” noted a Biochemistry student at Redeemer University College.
“I had heard from many different people in multiple police agencies that it was the best school for the course I was looking to take,” explained a first-year Lethbridge College student pursuing a Criminal Justice Police Studies Program. “I am looking to have a career as a police officer but wanted to have a better understanding of the job and be better educated before pursuing that career.”
Career opportunities, accreditations, and co-op opportunities were also frequently taken into consideration by our first-year students.
“[Centennial College’s] facilities were all up to date and modern. Residence looked amazing. The program was accredited and I enjoy computers,” explained a first year student at Centennial College’s Computer Systems Technology program.
“I am planning to achieve a CPA designation in the future. With that being said, Brock offers the fastest path to the CPA therefore I was inclined to attend said university,” said a first-year Accounting with Co-op student at Brock University.
“I have more than 8 years Audiology clinical experience overseas and I enjoyed this profession,” explained a first-year MacEwan University student who had begun a Hearing Aid Practitioner program. “The Hearing Aid Practitioner Program is only available at MacEwan University and also I am interested to live in Alberta.”
The Little Things
For others, “nurturing” qualities such as accessibility, supports on campus, and the community of the school were major deciding factors. Several pointed to the size of the classes, the beauty of the campus, and the resources that they would be able to rely on while attending the institution.
“Plenty of opportunities to go abroad, beautiful campus, family nearby,” explained another student who was attending the University of Lethbridge for a Bachelor of Arts in General Social Sciences. “[I] couldn’t choose a major so went general for now.”
“[GPRC]’s easier to afford and close to home, I can live affordably here,” explained a student who was attending Grande Prairie Regional College for Open Studies. With respect to their specific program, the student noted: “I want to get into a bachelor of science in forestry, but due to my upgrading last year I was unable to be accepted into any universities. So I am taking all the first year courses in hopes it'll make transferring easier if I get into another school.”
“I wanted to further my accounting knowledge and take something that would further my career,” explained a first-year Bachelor of Commerce – Accounting student attending Athabasca University. “I chose Athabasca University because courses are completed online. I work full-time so this fit with my needs.”
“I loved [Laurentian’s] campus and they have more resources for students than other universities,” said a Laurentian University first-year student in Behavioural Neuroscience. “It is a bilingual university. Also it had my program and the courses seemed more interesting than other programs and more specialized.”
Putting it All Together
These factors become especially interesting when we examine how students will compare competing institutions. A school that prides itself on a strong academic reputation may lose quality students to one with a warm campus community, and a school that fails to establish its brand outside of its four walls may be forgotten in favour of a school that can be recognized by its colours and motto alone. Yet any institution that keeps a finger on the pulse of its prospective students is leagues ahead of those that walk blindly in the world of enrolment.
Finding the Right Partner
Learning more about applicant decision-making is something that can significantly improve a school’s SEM practices and organizational culture. But in a world of limited resources, trying to seize new opportunities for institutional improvement can sometimes feel like an exercise in frustration. That’s why Academica Group has spent more than 20 years providing the enhanced research capacity and expert guidance to move higher ed forward, and to help these professionals break through internal limitations to change the lives of their students, colleagues, and campus communities.
At Academica, our syndicated studies – the University/College Applicant Study ™, Acceptance Declined Study ™, and more – zero in on the specific factors that most heavily a student’s choice to enrol or not enrol at your school. We dig into the demographics, the key decision factors, the qualities of institutional brands and offerings that attract or push away students, communications, and more. What we’ve found through our decades of research is that the decision process of students is far from simple, and that their ultimate application and acceptance decisions can be influenced by a wide variety of factors: the opinions of family members and friends, personal priorities, current circumstances, trends in the media, interactions with institutions, and more.
If you’re looking to better understand why students choose your school, or why they turned you down in favour of a competitor, we can help. Reach out to Academica Group via email or call us toll-free at 1-866-922-8636 ext. 228. Together, let’s turn your ambitions for institutional improvement into a reality.