The growing role of tech in students’ HE choices

From virtual tours to social media engagement, prospective students are increasingly using online to choose universities and courses, says’s Aspen Zhang

When it comes to searching for the right university or higher education programme, today’s students prefer to use the internet as their main source of information. According to’s 2019 industry report – surveying more than 32,000 students of 192 different nationalities – 84% of prospective students are likely to use internet research as a basis of their  decision-making.

Student behaviour when choosing the right university or programme is clearly shifting in today’s technological age, and schools are modifying their advertising strategies to meet the student demand in the two-way process of university admission.

How do students typically learn about schools?

Two factors have long influenced students trying to find the best university or programme: the school’s ranking and campus visit.

Perhaps the most straightforward and common indicator of school quality, school rankings have traditionally dominated the decision-making process. Despite its convenience, even the most objective ranking cannot deliver a comprehensive understanding of the higher education experience. As students and educators begin to recognise the limitations of rankings, it is no surprise that prospective undergraduate and graduate students alike report a decrease in reliance on school rankings when selecting schools.

The more tech-savvy a university is, the more likely prospective students will choose it over other educational institutions

In comparison, open campus days remain a popular option for universities to showcase the campus environment for prospective students. Students are able to learn more about the campus facility and housing option, physical factors of particular importance. However, students unable to travel – due to financial hardship or geographical distance – won’t be able to benefit from such events. Similarly, today’s undergraduate students are less likely to cite ‘study abroad’ fairs as an influence in their choices, which also reflects the changing means by which students are obtaining relevant information.

While rankings and school visits still contribute to students’ decisions, it’s clear is that students today are also looking for more personal exposure to universities in order to find the right fit. This is where technology and the internet enter the picture.

“Social media and other internet tech are great assets for universities to demonstrate what unique opportunities they offer”

Social media and the internet—personalising the university search

Prestigious institutions including Harvard, Columbia and Cambridge now provide virtual campus experiences accessible from their respective admission’s webpage, a tactic that will likely reinforce their global reputation and serve as an entry point to the school search for students.

Social media has also been popular with students and universities, engendering a new mode of engagement that is as informative as it is wide-reaching. 72% of international undergraduate students report that they rely on social media to learn about different school options, and 57% of graduate students answered likewise.

Schools are also capitalising the branding and admission opportunities presented by social media. Recognising its influence, schools are now publishing dedicated content documenting campus life and events that give prospective students a sense of the school environment. This enables students in the admission process to have a remote and prior university experience, which can differentiate the educational institution from its competitors.

In related news: How technology is making the move to the UK easier for international students

At a time when prospective undergraduates are increasingly likely to cite video material of the university as a factor in decision-making, it is imperative that schools offer the visual information deemed essential by prospective students and bring the in-person experience onto the internet platform.

The takeaway 

The big picture is quite clear: the more tech-savvy a university is, the more likely prospective students will choose it over other educational institutions.

Prospective students want to have a university experience for themselves, and are less concerned about referral or recommendation. Social media and other internet tech are great assets for universities to demonstrate what unique opportunities they offer and, more importantly, how they can keep up with the evolving academic and behavioral needs of the younger generation.

Aspen Zhang is digital content editor at