College Admissions Marketing Needs to Focus on the Degree, Not the Reputation

According to the results of a recent study conducted by EAB on thousands of incoming college freshman, majors and academic programs topped the list of their concerns, ahead of tuition costs and concerns about financing their education. The result may be surprising, given the current student loan debt crisis facing millions of young Americans, but they have prompted some experts in the field to consider how campus post-graduate career advancement programs and resources remain a top motivator for college attendance and enrollment.

Why Academic Quality Trumps Reputation for College Students

According to the survey results, 70 percent of respondents indicated that they looked to college websites for information on the school’s academic programs, a 3.6 percent increase over the past two years. Meanwhile, less than a quarter of prospective students (19 percent) were most concerned with the reputation of the institution. Perhaps most surprisingly, the percentage of students seeking information about financial programs and opportunities was a relatively modest 24 percent.

The ROE (Return on Education) Factor

According to EAB, “research shows that Generation Z students are increasingly selecting majors and minors that will have a greater ‘ROE’–return on education. For example, Michigan State University, like so many other colleges and universities, has reported a sharp rise in engineering and business majors, and a steady decline in arts and letters majors since the recession.”

Data from the EAB study found that when presented with potential salary information and hiring prospects for their major, 12 percent of students switched to a different major. Concerns about job prospects and salary may be a key factor behind the growing uptick and resurgence of enrollment in engineering and computer science programs over liberal arts degrees.

Helping Prospective Students Calculate ROE

Although all young college-bound students may not place how to pay for college at the top of their list of concerns, the majority are viewing the colleges they are interested in through a lens of “what can your school do for me?” Placing your institution’s ROE at the forefront of recruitment efforts should be the main focus and selling point when recruiting Generation Z students, and to an extent their parents as well.

Student loan financing company SoFi helps to breakdown “return on education” for college students trying to decide where to go to college and just as (if not more) importantly, what to major in:

  • Is the degree/program worth the cost?
  • Is the program worth going into debt and taking out student loans for?
  • What is the projected salary and change in income relative to the costs and debt?

The answers to these questions can help students determine their personal return on education. For college recruiters and marketers, shifting the focus to helping students and their families make the right connections between the institution’s programs and their future career and financial trajectory will be necessary to meet enrollment quotas.

According to EAB’s assessment of the findings from their study,

One ‘so what’ of this New College Freshmen Survey finding, and from the return on education phenomenon overall, for that matter, is that colleges and universities should be thinking more deeply about the enrollment impact of their program portfolio choices. We find that as many schools review their academic programs and make changes, they too seldom and too narrowly factor in market information from enrollment managers.

Factors to Consider When Recruiting Generation Z Students

Not surprisingly, the students who participated in the EAB study admitted to getting much of their information through social media, so focusing efforts on advertising to and reaching students where they are most actively engaged should not be ignored. This ranges from Facebook ads to relevant sponsored content across social media platforms popular with college-aged students.

Merging College Recruitment With Career Counseling

More so than previous generations, incoming college students are less likely to wait until their senior year to decide what to major in, let alone to begin the job search and career-building. Consider incorporating the traditional campus career services with your institution’s recruitment efforts to highlight how getting a degree at your institution also offers a leg up on the job market, well before graduation:

  • Emphasize employment rates and industry accomplishments and success from past alumni.
  • Highlight internship and job training programs.
  • Focus on prominent faculty and mentorship programs.
  • Build on career fairs, career counseling services and opportunities for networking that can lead to job prospects.

Despite the fact that college financing and student debt are a major concern for a large portion of American college students and their families, Generation Z students are placing a higher premium on the quality and feasibility of their chosen majors and academic programs.

While an academic institution’s general reputation and extracurricular offerings may factor into the decision, the current generation’s main concern seems to be firmly placed on how their chosen field of study and college will help them to find the right career and meet their desired earning potential.

Meeting the needs of the new generation will require doing things differently. According to the Guardian, “The best way to manage the change? Work with Gen Zs and involve them in designing your services.”

Consider Career Services When Finding a College

Consider career services when college hunting

In the era of LinkedIn, social media networking and digital connections, everything from finding a job to a career mentor happens online. And, as online college courses and degrees become more and more popular and accessible, fewer students are taking advantage of traditional campus career services and resources than in previous generations. According to recent studies and Gallup Poll data, less than 20 percent of college students use campus career services for help with finding a job or applying to graduate programs.

Just like academic, athletic and other collegiate programs, the benefits and opportunities available through a school’s career services office will vary from campus to campus, according to factors like the makeup of the student body and the school’s resources. Researching a prospective school’s career services offerings and track record can be especially helpful for students who graduate with student loan debt and do not have existing networks or relationships to leverage with professionals and mentors in their chosen field.

What a College Career Services Program Has to Offer

From helping you craft a professional and optimized resume to leads on internships and help applying for graduate school, a good college career services program can offer comprehensive support and networking opportunities well beyond what you can do yourself on Facebook or online career sites.

Some of the most common services offered through campus career centers include:

  • Cover letter and resume writing tips and workshops
  • Interview prep
  • Career assessments and counseling
  • Career fairs
  • Internship opportunities
  • Networking through alumni relations and professional partnership programs
  • Career/jobs databases
  • Graduate school application/advisement
  • Skills assessment and advisement for undecided students

How to Make College Career Services Work for You

If you already know what you want to major in and what career field you’d like to pursue after graduation, or are a returning or older student with real life and work experience under your belt, you may already have a leg up and some ideas as to how to pursue your career goals. However, in an increasingly competitive and rapidly evolving job market where many jobs are facing the prospect of automation by the start of the next decade, it is more important than ever to utilize every resource available to guide you through the hiring process before and after graduation.

If you are not sure what you want to do after graduation, or change your mind mid-course like many students do, campus career counseling and advising can help you to navigate your options and provide actionable resources and contacts to help you find the right path for your skills and interests.

Tips to Get Started

Here are some ways to make the most of your college career services.

Don’t wait until senior year. In fact, a school’s career services offerings, reputation and success rates should be part of your initial research when applying for college. Ask questions about their alumni network, internship opportunities, relationships with businesses and corporations in your field of interest, placement rates and support services.

Fake it ’til you make it. You don’t have to have it all figured out to take advantage of skill- and career-building programs. Whatever your current or future goals might be, it is never too early to work on your resume and cover letter writing skills, and to practice successful interviewing by attending career fairs and workshops. In fact, starting the process in your freshman year and staying persistent can help to build your confidence for the real thing come graduation.

Stay ahead of trends. The career services department exists to help students prepare for employment and ongoing education after graduation. As such, it is an invaluable (and free) source of industry data and trends that can help you stay competitive and build your skills and coursework as necessary.

Think of career services as another tool to help you reach your professional, educational and personal goals.