Best Practices for Responding to Prospective Student InquiriesFrom the Student's Perspective
Communicating with prospective students is a vital step for ensuring stronger conversions, but it’s even more important that the content of those responses is aligned with what students actually want to see.
We wanted to better understand students’ communication preferences and their satisfaction with the information-seeking process regarding universities and colleges. To do so, we designed a survey with a combination of multiple-choice, open-ended, and Likert-scale questions.
This survey informed how we tallied the results in our Fall 2022 Secret Shopper Results (where we collect and rate the responses from 100+ schools on the SchoolFinder and StudyinCanada platforms).
In trying to better understand students’ communication preferences, we designed a survey to collect qualitative data on students’ preferences from students who requested information from a school using the SchoolFinder and StudyinCanada websites between June 1, 2022, to December 31, 2022. We received 552 complete responses.
The data was analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize the demographic information and the communication preferences of the participants. Inferential statistics were used to examine the relationship between the communication preferences and the satisfaction with the overall information-seeking process.
The insights obtained from the questionnaire were used to alter the scoring criteria and to introduce a weighted scoring system. The weighted scoring system was introduced to account for the importance of content, relevance, and rate of response versus the graphics/images used and elements of personalization in regular email correspondence.
The limitations of the study include the possibility of self-reported bias, as participants may not have accurately reported their communication preferences and satisfaction levels. Additionally, the sample size may not be representative of the entire population of students who have requested information from schools, and the results may not be generalizable to the general population.
What describes you best?
We had students at all stages respond, including those in high school, post-secondary school, and who identify as mature students.
- Student in grade 11 6.7% 6.7%
- Student in grade 12 71% 71%
- Student in post-secondary 13.2% 13.2%
- Mature student 9% 9%
- Other 0.1% 0.1%
Where do you live?
Students from all around the world are represented, but the majority of them live in Canada.
- Canada 90% 90%
- Africa 5.1% 5.1%
- Asia 3.4% 3.4%
- Mexico, Central, or South America 0.7% 0.7%
- Europe 0.5% 0.5%
- Australia or New Zealand 0.2% 0.2%
Which topics are you interested in receiving further information on?
It’s no surprise that all students want to hear more about scholarships/financial aid.
For high school students living in Canada, programs and deadlines were #2 and #3.
For international students, getting a student visa moves above programs to the #2 spot. For older students, the application process takes the #2 spot.
|Topics of Interest (all students, ranked)|
|Residence and accommodation|
|Sports and clubs|
|Living in the region (city/country)|
|Getting a student visa|
|Connecting with student ambassadors|
What type of degree are you currently interested in?
Students are interested in a range of degrees.
- Undergraduate degree 83.7% 83.7%
- Undergraduate diploma 6.5% 6.5%
- Masters or PhD 6% 6%
- Other 2.2% 2.2%
- Certificate 1.6% 1.6%
How many schools are you considering?
Most students request information from 2-5 schools.
- One school 16.5% 16.5%
- 2-5 schools 70.5% 70.5%
- 6-9 schools 9.4% 9.4%
- 10+ schools 2.9% 2.9%
- I am not interested in any schools 0.7% 0.7%
How quickly do you expect to receive a response to your request?
Most students (65%) expect to hear back within 1-5 days, but over a third don’t care how long it takes, as long as they get a response.
Note: The response rate expectations differ depending on age and stage. 21% of international students expect a response within 24 hours, but only 13% of older students do, and only 9% of Canadian high school students.
- Within 24 hours 11.2% 11.2%
- 24-28 hours 29.7% 29.7%
- 3-5 days 24.1% 24.1%
- It doesn’t matter as long as I hear back 35% 35%
How many emails do you want to receive from a school prior to applying?
One third of students want to receive emails once a week or more frequently, a third only when useful, and a third somewhere in between.
Note: International students want more frequent communication, with 20% saying they’d want to hear from a school more than once a week.
- More than one week 6.3% 6.3%
- Once a week 29.2% 29.2%
- Once a month 11.6% 11.6%
- Once in a while 13% 13%
- Once is fine 5.1% 5.1%
- Whenever the school has something important to share 34.8% 34.8%
Did the response you got from the school(s) have a positive impact on your decision to apply to and/or attend the school?
Students have told us loud and clear how important it is to hear back from a prospective school; only 13.6% said it had no impact.
Note: 58.2% of international students told us a quick response made a huge difference.
- Hearing back quickly made them a top contender 41.3% 41.3%
- It had somewhat of an impact 45.1% 45.1%
- It had no impact 13.6% 13.6%
How would not hearing back from a school negatively impact your decision?
On the flip side, over 87% of students said that not hearing back from a school had some level of negative impact. The takeaway: make sure you’re replying to your leads!
Note: International students are more forgiving, with 80% indicating it had some level of negative impact.
- Not hearing back eliminated them as a contender 29.4% 29.4%
- It had somewhat of an impact 57.2% 57.2%
- It had no impact 13.4% 13.4%
In addition to receiving emails, from what other channels would you like to receive information?
Physical mail is a re-emerging trend for students, along with text messaging.
Note: 56% of international students indicated that WhatsApp was an important channel.
- Mail 61.1% 61.1%
- Text messages 44.2% 44.2%
- Other 9.6% 9.6%
- Phone calls 8.3% 8.3%
- WhatsApp 7.8% 7.8%
Which device do you usually use to read your email?
With almost 66% of students reading your emails on a cell phone, you want to make sure they’re mobile optimized.
- Cell phone 65.6% 65.6%
- Laptop 28.4% 28.4%
- Desktop computer 3.6% 3.6%
- Tablet 2.4% 2.4%
How important are certain qualities when you receive an email from a school?
Interestingly, graphics and images rank on the bottom of the leaderboard. Students care more about content and relevance.
|Email Qualities (ranked)|
|The content (it was useful and on point)|
|Relevance (“I asked about programs, not accommodation!”)|
|The response speed|
|Personalization (“Hi [first name]”)|
|Graphics and images (a good looking email)|
What is your preference when receiving emails?
Don’t try to jam all of your content in one email, as most students prefer shorter emails with minimal content.
Note: 49.1% of international students prefer longer emails.
- Longer emails with lots of information 31.9% 31.9%
- Shorter emails with minimal content, some images, and more hyperlinks 39.7% 39.7%
- I don’t have a preference 28.4% 28.4%
For more information on how we can help you strengthen your lead communication plan, contact us at:
The SchoolFinder Group Team