College Student Consumer Journey

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Student and Parent Consumer Journey - Choosing a College

The primary steps through which high school students and their parents choose a college are research, campus visits, narrowing choices, entrance exams, applications and college selection. Notably, parents may be largely influenced by the cost of a school or where they attended college when considering potential college options, while students most commonly prioritize a school's location, reputation and fit.


  • The earliest step in the college selection process is the research process, during which students become more aware of the different "types of colleges," and how a school may intersect with a student's particular interests.
  • The research process can involve a variety of activities, including discussions with school counselors, visits with college admissions representatives, attending college fairs and more specific reviews of individual college profiles.
  • This process generally begins with juniors and seniors in high school, who use it to "narrow their college choices" and "prepare for the college application process," however the research process can begin much earlier.
  • For example, students who participate in athletic activities are often "noticed" by colleges looking for athletes by their "freshman or sophomore year" of high school.
  • Notably, however, the National Collegiate Athletic Association limits active recruiting of high school students to the sharing of more general or non-athletic materials until after a student's sophomore year in high school.


  • Campus visits are commonly used by juniors in high school to determine how well a school "fits" with their overall goals, as well as by seniors who are looking to confirm or "revisit" their preferences.
  • Visits are best conducted while "school is in session," and may involve meetings with admissions representatives, financial aid counselors, faculty in a student's potential major and other familiarization activities.


  • While students may narrow their choices for top schools in a somewhat iterative process, a junior or senior ultimately must determine the finite list of schools where he or she will submit formal applications.
  • It is generally recommended that students determine this subset by considering a wide variety of factors, including "academic programs, size, location, career preparation, internships, and social climate."
  • Although the 2018 Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Survey indicated that just 7.5% of families chose a college "because it was affordable" investor company, Vanguard, asserts that the key factor for most families in their college selection process is the cost associated with each school.
  • Notably, parents often have a "large influence" on a student's "college and major choice," particularly given that parents can have meaningful preferences related to where they went to school as well as their current income.
  • Meanwhile, the motivations behind a student's preferences may vary significantly and include "every reason imaginable", from the proximity of a "Krispy Kreme donut shop" to the center of campus, to a desire to attend college in a location that is a great distance from home.
  • However, according to the 2018 Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Survey, students selected a school most commonly because of its location (28%), reputation and fit (20%) and its ability to lead to a "good job or career" (19%).


  • College entrance exams typically are completed during the junior and senior years of high school, and therefore often take place in parallel with several of the previous steps.
  • These exams consist of the ACT and SAT, and some students retake exams given that schools use the best score when making decisions about admitting students and/or providing scholarships.
  • As such, entrance exams can influence which schools are a reasonable fit for a student, and where applications may ultimately be submitted.



  • This final step in the college selection process occurs when a student has received acceptance letters and makes a final decision about his or her top choice based on the options available.
  • This step typically occurs during the spring of the senior year in high school, however a decision may be made in the fall of a student's senior year in cases of an early acceptance through an "Early Action" admissions process, which may or may not restrict where a student applies to college, and may or may not require an immediate decision.
  • Ultimately, the college selection process concludes when a student submits appropriate forms and provides a formal deposit to the school of his or her choosing.
  • Accompanying activities include creating a student account with the selected school, registering for the school's orientation program, applying for loans and declining the offer letters of other schools.