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Students switch to smartphones in search for universities

New QS report analyses consumer research trends in the higher education space

Posted by Hannah Vickers | January 26, 2017 | Higher education

As competition for the growing tertiary-age student body intensifies, it becomes increasingly essential that universities stay abreast of the way in which the preferences and behaviours of their market are developing. 

To assist university marketers in optimising their outreach efforts, and to provide insights into the way in which consumer behaviour in the higher education sector might provide direction thereto, QS Digital Solutions, department of QS Quacquarelli Symonds, have today released the “How Do Millennials Research Universities?” report.

Its findings are based on the results of student surveys conducted between 2013 and 2016, and include:

  • Students are increasingly researching universities on mobile devices.
  • In 2013, 48% of surveyed students sought relevant content on smartphones. By 2016, this figure had leapt to 62%, mirroring global trends;
  • Linked with this finding is the emphasis students place on using official university websites when seeking a study destination: 71% of respondents perceive them as the most essential, relevant information source available to them;
  • Students are still often unable to find desired information on this platform, however: 56% report difficulties finding information about scholarships and funding;

The findings also reiterate the importance of university rankings: fewer than 1% of respondents eschewed rankings altogether, with over 95% of respondents viewing them as ‘essential’ or ‘very important’.

However, another major form of change is the importance of video content. The proportion of respondents using YouTube as a research tool increased from 24% in 2013 to 29% in 2016. Nor can universities afford to neglect social media platforms and websites: aspiring students still use chat websites, forums like The Student Room, and other social media websites like Twitter to ‘get ideas’ about their university choices.

Despite these changes, universities still need to remain discerning when choosing how to actually conduct outreach. 80% of respondents would prefer to be contacted by email, while 67% would select email when initiating contact themselves. Approximately 10% would choose to make contact via Twitter, but only 2% would wish to be contacted through the platform by a potential institution of study.

The report goes on to say that though universities should be present on a range of platforms, they should understand the ways in which students use each of these platforms. While video content on social media may help raise their profile, they should seek to email or call potential applicants.

Students are likely to use university websites as their first point of call, and are increasingly using smartphones. It is essential that university websites are mobile-optimised and place crucial information in relevant positions.

Amelia Hopkins, one of QS’s report authors, said: “Though digital channels present myriad opportunities by which universities might look to attract students, they are presented with increasingly savvy consumers that are deterred by identifiably commercial content. Personalized marketing, in the form of letters or phone calls, remains unparalleled.”

The full report can be found here

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