Current Program Trends among Today’s College Students – from the Perspective of Students

Posted: November 18, 2022

Here at VisionPoint, we greatly value the contributions of our interns to the work we do each and every day. This fall, we challenged our current intern class to create EduInsights articles based on their research and learnings throughout the internship.

Their topic, “Current Program Trends among Today’s College Students,” lines up well with our recent series on effectively using social media channels, including our articles with tips for Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We hope you enjoy!

Current Program Trends

Current trends in the higher education industry revolve around changing attitudes toward marketing community colleges to prospective students. In 2022, people are using certain avenues to discover the benefits and resources each institution can provide. These trends include the prevalence of researching colleges and universities on social media sites such as Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Snapchat. The best marketing practices today are ones that include quick response times and personal engagement with students across all mediums, and with the world transitioning into the end stages of the pandemic, emphasizing themes surrounding mental health & diversity have become more important than ever.

Social media is leading the marketing world in creating popular culture trends and holding massive influence over the millions of potential college students who utilize these platforms daily. Colleges should aim to engage with their online audience on YouTube, Instagram, and especially TikTok, with the platform growing exponentially in user base over the course of the pandemic, including a growth of 180% among 15- to 25-year-old users. In 2021, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that of participating Americans in the 18- to 29-year-old range, 95% used YouTube and 71% used Instagram on a daily basis. It is not surprising that more and more higher education institutions are investing their resources in digital marketing campaigns, as they are seeing their competitors achieve tremendous results in the online space. According to a research study by TargetX, 58% of the students stated they used social media while researching potential universities. When evaluating the effectiveness of ads in the study, researchers found that 56% of students who saw ads for universities actually clicked on one.

95% of Americans in the 18- to 29-year-old range use YouTube.

Current effective marketing for the higher ed industry revolves around clarity and rapid response times. Students are more likely to engage with advertising that has a clear and fast response to any inquiry they may have about a college’s programs and available resources. Personal messaging and branding have also shown to be more effective than standard marketing practices, leading to marketing strategies that consist of influencers reaching out to their specific audiences or student ambassadors who educate prospective students about what the institution has to offer. Additionally, while traditional marketing is still a big part of the higher education sector, using personalized advertising, online endeavors, and rapid response times has proved to be critical in the success of campaigns.

Today, students spend most of their time on an electronic device, whether that’s a phone, tablet, or computer. Higher ed institutions need to stay on top of social media trends and use them to their advantage when creating digital campaigns and launching them on the various platforms. Among the best paid advertising platforms of 2022 are a few of the most common ones known by students: Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Advertising programs on these digital platforms is important if higher ed institutions want to succeed in eliminating enrollment issues. This is because digital advertising can reach a young audience that traditional media might not be able to. To do this, advertising campaigns must be made to stand out and really resonate with students. Higher ed institutions want to be seen as home for this demographic.

We talked with one current undergraduate student on this subject who happens to also be one of VisionPoint’s interns:

“When I was looking for transfer universities, one of my main sources of information was social media.” – Dairon Perez

“My name is Dairon Perez and I’m currently a senior at UNC Chapel Hill. I can tell you that this is 100% accurate. I’m a transfer student, and, you know, apart from academics, when I was looking for transfer universities, one of my main sources of information was social media, specifically Instagram and TikTok. I wanted to see past their prestigious name. I wanted to know if I was going to experience all four seasons of the year (something I absolutely love), if there was nightlife to have fun after midterms or finals, what the level of happiness was among the students, and if they were really enjoying their journey there as a student, not just academics. I did all of this by going on TikTok mostly and seeing videos of other students explaining all of these things. It was a way for me to feel represented by someone close to my age that was either a transfer student there or had graduated not too long ago. Showing their experiences really helped me get a closer feel of what my time there could look like. Then Instagram gave me a more general idea of who UNC is as an institution. I won’t lie to you, yes, knowing that UNC is a good university as a whole and also in my field helped tremendously in my decision, but so did all the other things I mentioned above, and I couldn’t have known most of it by just going to UNC’s website and reading about them or USA News to see their rank. It was social media that made that last little push for me to decide among five other universities.” Dairon’s testimonial emphasizes the importance of higher education institutions meeting their key audiences where they are and serving them advertising that feels representative of their identities and preferences.

Casey Nelson, a senior digital marketing specialist at VisionPoint, further underscores the importance of using strategic marketing tactics to effectively serve this target market. “It is important for institutions to rethink where their ‘traditional’ high school students will be available. While some states will not experience a decline in high school graduates, there will be a decreasing number of traditional-aged college students after 2025. This does not mean students won’t be available, though. It means we have to look for those traditional undergrad students on channels we haven’t typically used before. With ever-changing trends on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, meeting undergraduate students through digital marketing has become increasingly harder. At VisionPoint, we’ve turned to meeting these users on TikTok, where one in four users on the platform are in high school. We can target by age and also by interests, such as education and wanting to go to college.”

Although we are reaching the end stages of the pandemic, its effects on the student population, and especially mental health, cannot be overstated. With a shift back to in person teaching, students are returning to campus and participating in more clubs and extracurricular organizations that may help reduce the amount of stress placed on them by conventional schoolwork. However, mental health has remained at the forefront of priorities on many students’ lists when considering which colleges and universities to attend. Colleges need to actively promote any initiatives for mental health resources found at their institutions, such as special counseling services or programs that focus on keeping students engaged in university without feeling the burnout associated with high stress. Higher ed institutions must make mental health information easily accessible to students to show that they are able to help students who are struggling or who want to make sure their needs will be served at a particular school.

From left to right: Casey Nelson (senior digital marketing specialist) and Carly Wisse (associate director of media).

However, the pandemic also introduced several new options for students to develop themselves through the convenience of having online events. People around the world can learn about what the school has to offer and hear from current students without worrying about the travel costs to go visit the school. According to Handshake, even after COVID, 87% of students still prefer virtual recruitment. Continuing a strong virtual recruitment system makes information more accessible and helps prospective students get a feel for what to expect when attending the university.

Lastly, in recent years, students have been looking at colleges in terms of inclusivity more than ever. Reports from sources such as the CommonApp platform detail higher rates of first-generation students and students who come from lower-income communities in the newest wave of college applicants. Colleges have accounted for these new trends with more and more dedicated resources for first-time students hailing from these backgrounds, including diversity programs and a focus on hiring diversity professionals to help each institution implement structural changes to benefit students of diverse backgrounds.

Overall, we can see that the higher ed industry is quickly shifting its marketing tactics to include students from all kinds of backgrounds while actively marketing information about accessibility and inclusion for those who may not conventionally look to college as a possible option for furthering their careers. Through the use of social media, colleges have been able to market themselves to a growing audience in the form of the newest generation of students who use those platforms on a daily basis. Coupled with the aforementioned efforts toward inclusivity and diversity, the college landscape is adapting to an ever-changing society and providing resources to students from any and all backgrounds.

Work With Us

VisionPoint Marketing has been a digital marketing company since it began. With 21 years of experience in digital marketing and targeting specific audiences, we are able to help your institution meet its enrollment goals. Contact our Vice President Dana Cruikshank for a free consultation call.

Written by Fatima Achnine (digital marketing intern), Benjamin Bello (strategy intern), Cuauhtemoc Dominguez (project management intern), Dairon Jimenez (digital media intern), and Inu Tenneti (analytics intern).