In the senior year of 2022, 59% of prospective college students applied to five or more institutions and 26% to ten or more. That’s one of the key findings of this year’s Niche Senior Enrollment Survey, the seventh of its kind conducted by the popular college ratings and ratings platform.
Niche received full responses from 21,866 high school seniors who had registered a profile on their platform. The survey was open from April 15 to June 12, 2022, allowing students time to respond after the May 1 deadline that many institutions use to make participation decisions.
The survey covered several areas, including when and how students applied to college, how successful they were at admissions, how they approached standardized testing, what type of financial aid they received, and what factors were most important to them in making their decision were where they would attend college.
Here are some of the highlights:
The majority of students begin their college search process after their junior year; 24% began in the summer before their senior year, 27% in the fall semester of their senior year, and 7% in the spring semester of their senior year. Only 17% of students began their college search before their junior year.
However, this overall result was offset by the type of school to which the students applied. Students considering only two-year colleges were nearly three times as likely to begin their search during their senior year, particularly during the spring semester.
Almost half of the students who only considered two-year colleges said they only submitted one application. Of those who only considered 4-year colleges and universities, only 8% submitted only one application.
Most students have personally attended at least one college. Before the pandemic, only 7% of students said they had not personally attended a college they are considering. That percentage rose to 28% in 2021, during the peak of the pandemic. This year, 19% said they were not making in-person visits, an indication that campus visits are resuming, albeit still not at pre-pandemic levels. About 15% of students reported making five or more in-person campus visits.
Only 13% of students not from low-income households reported not having visited campus, much lower than the 25% of low-income students who reported not having visited.
Emails (75%) and letters (64%) were the communication channels cited by the majority of respondents as influential in their application process. More than a quarter (26%) of students said they applied to a university they didn’t know before because of an email they received with prospects. Text messages were rated the third highest, with 40% saying they were influential. Video chats were rated fourth highest. Postcards were the least ranked as an influential means of communication.
College websites have been the primary source of information for college research with 90% of respondents saying they are important. The second most used resources were college search platforms such as Niche at 78%, Net Price Calculator at 71%, Visiting College at 68%, Virtual Tours at 55%, and Virtual Events at 51%.
Family members were most often cited as sources of influence on students’ college applications. The next most influential groups were current college students at 64%, friends at 61%, and online reviews at 55%.
More than half of the students indicated that the admissions advisors influenced their decision. The advisors were significantly more influential for Hawaiian/Pacific, African American/Black, and Hispanic/Latinx students. They were also more influential for first-generation students, low-income students, and students with a GPA below 3.0.
Institutional prestige carries considerable weight among students, With 62% said a college’s brand and awareness influenced their decision; only 5% said they didn’t care at all.
Brand was least important to Amerindian/Native American (46%) and White (53%) students, and most important to Chinese (85%), Indian (84%), Korean (83%), and Vietnamese (83%) students.
The notoriety of the name was also more important to students considering 4-year colleges as opposed to 2-year colleges.
Campus characteristics are important – in some cases very much so.
Diversity was the most important factor of the campus community for students, with 84% saying that a diverse student body is attractive and 46% of them saying it is a “must”. Diversity among faculty and staff was also important, with 81% wanting it and 40% of respondents saying it’s a must. Diversity issues were important for both students from under-represented groups (89%) and those not from under-represented groups (79%).
Over half of the students said they would consider colleges more than four hours from home, while 18% said they would only consider colleges within an hour of home. Only 38% of first-generation college students said they would consider college more than four hours from home, compared to 53% of their peers. Family income also played a role in this assessment — 58% of low-income students considered enrolling more than two hours from home, compared to 86% of students from households earning more than $130,000 a year.
Security was another top concern – 97% cited the importance of security on campus and 96% cited the security of the city or community surrounding campus.
The availability of scholarships was another very influential factor, which 95% of the students considered important.
Arts and culture continued to outrank athletics, a trend reflected in previous surveys of seniors during the pandemic. More than three-quarters of students want arts and cultural activities to be front and center in a campus community, compared to 57% who want a strong track and field fan experience and 43% who want greater athletic participation.
Most students still take standardized admissions tests, but many do not submit their scores. While three quarters of respondents reported taking a standardized test (SAT/ACT/CLT) during their school years, only 46% of test takers reported submitting their scores to all colleges, whether required or not . Another 22% did not submit results to any college.
First-generation, under-represented minorities and low-income students were much less likely to take a standardized test and submit their scores as part of their application.
Most students are accepted for admission by their first choice school. More than three-quarters of students (78%) said they had been accepted by what they described as their “first choice” college, and almost half of those surveyed (43%) said they had been accepted by five or more colleges approval to have been approved.
Applicants react very sensitively to the university award. Among this year’s respondents, 81% said they had excluded colleges from consideration and had not applied because of total cost or “sticker price.” That’s a significant increase from 73% in 2021, 68% in 2020 and 56% before the pandemic.
More specifically, first-generation and low-income students were more likely than their peers to say they would only consider colleges whose total cost is less than $10,000 per year.
Nonetheless, students who had been accepted to at least two colleges did not necessarily choose the cheaper option – 13% said they enrolled in a college that was much more expensive than their other options, 18% said they did enrolled in a college that was more expensive, and only 36% reported enrolling in a college that was cheaper than their other choices.
82% of enrolled students said they had applied for outside scholarships and grants, and 2% said their parents had done it for them despite not applying. A disappointing finding was that first-generation students through college and those in the lowest-income quintile were least likely to say they had applied for scholarships.
Over a third of students said they planned to take out a freshman loan, and another 36% said they hadn’t decided whether to take student loans. And another worrying finding: Students who weren’t confident they could afford the college they attended were more likely to take out loans, and four times more likely to take out a loan of $20,000 or more in their first year.
Three-quarters of students said they would work while they enrolled in college, and another 19% said they hadn’t decided whether to work.
Almost three-quarters of students reported receiving financial aid from the college they attend. Performance-related help was the most common form of help: 56% reported receiving it, followed by 39% who reported receiving needs-based help. Sports and arts grants were much less common – just 3% and 4% of respondents said they received them, respectively.
Only 58% of low-income students reported receiving support from the college they would attend.