Families of college-bound students impact the recruitment cycle and have their own autonomous admissions journey.
by Rebecca Stapley, Campus Sonar Marketing Manager
I’ll be the first to admit that as an ex-admissions professional, parents haven’t always been my favorite audience (insert obligatory helicopter parent horror stories here: can I come to the accepted student overnight too? or join the Facebook group!?). However, whether enrollment teams embrace them or not, the families of college-bound students have a tremendous impact on the recruitment cycle through their relationships with their students and an autonomous admissions journey of their own. In analyzing parent conversations, one message is clear; no matter how they approach it, their pride, love, and concern for their students is endless.
In combination with analyzing student conversations for our Social Listening for Admissions Insights: August 2021 report, we analyzed over 1,138 conversations from parents. We found a few consistent trends over the three-month period (February to April 2021) in the heart of recruitment.
Parents Are Proud and Want their Social Media World to Know It
Social media was the most prominent content source for both sets of parents to converse and celebrate their children’s acceptance milestones.
- 66% of prospective student parents
- 70% of admitted student parents
Prospective and admitted students themselves can be somewhat shy about what they share, but parents like to flaunt it! In addition to social media announcements about where their children were accepted and where they plan to attend (sometimes remembering to tag the campus, but often just name-dropping), parents also shared extended details about scholarships received (dollar amounts and all), intended academic programs, and full lists of every campus applied to.
Wonky screenshots of college logos, photos from campus visits, kids decked out in branded swag, and admissions letters abound in these posts … marketing teams, take note!
Forum Conversations Go Deep
Similar to what we see with student audiences, within the comfort of pseudo-anonymity, forums emerged as a place for extended, nuanced, and crowd-sourced queries. The most common topic of conversation among forums was interest and concern about the quality of specific academic programming and student activities. Everything from creative writing, honors classes, and jazz ensembles to proximity to activities (and everything in between). And just like their children, parents were unafraid to ask for direct comparisons between campuses.
As scary as that thought may be for some enrollment teams, college comparisons from parents are like a free competitive analyst from your target audience if you are willing to seek them out and listen to them.
Forum Preferences Vary Between Parents and Students
Our research found that among online content sources:
- 5% of parent conversations occurred on Reddit
- 27% were on College Confidential
This is in stark contrast to students (prospective and admitted):
- 17% of mentions occurred on Reddit
- 3% were on College Confidential
These preferences offer a deeper focus on our key audiences and where to find them as we implement social listening to fuel enrollment strategies for parents and students.
The Darker Side of Parent Perspectives
While sentiment among parent audiences was mostly positive or neutral as they sought information or firsthand experiences, negative sentiment was related to anxiety, worry, and frustration around the cost of tuition and acquiring debt.
While parents are more robust in a public celebration of milestones, we found that they’re not all that different from their younger family members. They care about scoping out the “vibe” on college visits, empathize as their children fret over their essays, and even lament about the endless print pieces mailed to their homes. Parents want to help their children make an often difficult decision about what is best for them and their families. Above all, parents are speaking up publicly throughout the admissions process. Are you listening and speaking to their needs?
Lastly, a friendly reminder that support systems look different for every student. While this research focused on parents, within our larger client work we’ve observed similar behaviors from college guidance counselors, guardians, friends, and chosen family members. As higher ed pros we have the honor and opportunity to offer advocacy and assistance to every student moving through the admissions cycle.
Questions to Consider
- Does your communication flow include parents as a unique audience? How does that flow intersect and align with communications to students?
- How are you inviting parents to celebrate and share key admissions milestones like visits, application completion, and acceptance? What digital and physical resources are made available for them at each of these phases?
- As you listen to parent questions and concerns about your institution, how might you weave these insights into your messaging and storytelling?
- Are there current students, faculty, and staff who can offer their first-hand experiences and examples that speak to parent concerns?
- In addition to parents, how are you considering and speaking to other groups of advocates surrounding your students? And how do they align or differ from your parent audience communications?