Student Recruitment: Exploring the Factors Behind College Decisions

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In order to find the best-suited students for your institution, it is necessary to understand (or rather, identify) all of the factors that play into a student's decision-making process when selecting their home for the next four years. Does your school meet their geographical needs? Is your tuition within their financial scope? What majors pique their interest or do they have legacy at your school? Read on to find out all of the factors that can influence a student's decision in choosing a university.

Understanding Student Needs

The first step in college recruitment is understanding: what do students need and want from college? Do they want a large school with lots of activities, or a small school with a close-knit community? Do they prioritize cost, location, or academic reputation? This can vary from student to student, and it's important to understand the needs of your incoming cohort to achieve optimal recruitment efforts.

It's also just as crucial to recognize what motivates them: what drives them to choose your school over another? Student motivations typically include the presence of a major or program of interest, the availability of financial aid, the presence of alumni networks, or even the location of your school. By understanding the factors that motivate students, you can tailor your recruitment efforts to those needs.

Cost in College Decisions

Cost is often a defining factor in college decisions. Financial aid comes in many forms including grants, scholarships, and loans. Calling attention to the monetary support available at your institution alongside information about how students can determine their financial eligibility is a key factor in successful student recruitment.

Equally as important is an added emphasis on the cost of living in the area surrounding your university. Being conscientious and open to speaking about the additional costs outside of tuition like off-campus housing, personal spending on groceries or public transportation, plays an instrumental role in a student’s final decision to commit to your institution (and at length - comfortably stay throughout their years of studying).


Where your school is geographically located is another important factor in college decisions. Students may be motivated to attend a college if it is close to home, as this allows them to stay connected to family and friends. On the other hand, attending college far away from home is something that looks appealing in popular media, and comes with the unique freedom that many teenagers may seek.

Considering where your student body may be arriving from is a useful component to strategizing recruitment, as it will inform the resources and points of connection you provide your prospective students.

Student & Parent Communication

By now, we know that consistent communication from the moment a prospective student inquires about your university is the key to keeping your school top of mind for Gen Z. But do you know the secret ingredient to getting students to actually choose your school? Building relationships and communicating effectively with their parents throughout the admissions process.

Although it may appear that students have the final say for where they’d like to enroll, studies show that “nearly 48% of students ranked “parental influence” as one of their top five sources of information” during the admissions process. That being so, it’s crucial to provide clear, accurate, and transparent information about your admissions process, especially regarding topics like financial aid with curious and involved (albeit, stealthy) parents.

💡 Tip: Although sending out newsletters and emails about upcoming events and deadlines helps keep incoming students engaged and informed, sending a personalized outreach via video messaging can help you stand out from competitors. We know Gen Z appreciates video and their parents will too!

Social Media in Recruiting

Social media has become an important tool to showcase your school’s community, and an even greater avenue for sharing what student life at your university is actually like. Encouraging prospective students to follow your social media accounts keeps them in the loop about upcoming events, tips and updates regarding the admissions process (ahem, FAFSA, ahem), and also allows them to connect with currently enrolled students.

Be mindful of monitoring and responding to comments and questions on social media, as this can help build relationships with prospective students.  

Majors & Interests

Are you using the right faculty members to answer prospective students’ inquiries for their major of interest? It is not enough to provide ample information about the different departments and programs available at your institution. Rather, the impact of student engagement is twofold when it comes directly from program faculty and currently enrolled students, as it’s a gateway for prospective students to gain a holistic sense of the overall program’s value for their future.

A video message from faculty themselves inviting students to program-oriented webinars and Q&A sessions, or to offer introductions and a direct line of communication for prospective students questions, accomplishes information sharing and also restores human connection.

Family History

Prospective students may be more likely to attend a college if they have family members who attended or are currently attending the college.  

But what about students who are first generation and have no tacit knowledge of the institution’s practices? It’s important to understand a student’s level of understanding of your institution, because this also informs how you want to approach them. A first generation student may be more intimidated and feel less like they are entitled to an acceptance or that they belong. This is where approaching them with a human element works best, as a school can seem daunting to applying students who are unfamiliar with the process and potentially overwhelmed by the online literature.

Every Student is Unique

It’s never wise to assume that one cohort of students (especially based on the conditions by which we group them) are all after the same goals/interests. While generalizations like this can help us excel in efficient outreach at the inquiry stage, being more personalized and attending to specific needs later on is a valuable way to show students that you care about their success at your institution. When students are deeper in the funnel, this is an incredibly important consideration.


The future of student recruitment is clear - colleges must understand the needs and motivations of their prospective students and tailor their recruitment efforts to meet those needs.

Are you considering video messaging as a viable way to recruit future students?

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Colleges and universities have to find the right students to fill their classes and they must understand what factors play into a student's decision-making process. In this blog, we'll explore the various factors that can influence a student's decision to attend a particular college, including cost, geography, student/parent communication, social media, majors/interests, family history, and more.

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