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Universities have long sought measures to attract and engage prospective students both before and after the application process. A handful of universities now are creatively exploring ways to engage both prospective and current students, using the very tools and technologies students are accustomed to using. Through YouTube, vlogs (video blogs), and social media, some universities are creating buzz by casting their own students as reality stars in university-based documentaries and web promotions.

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In Georgetown Stories, for instance, Georgetown University showcases about a dozen students as they go through their everyday campus experiences—from shopping at a farmers market to attending a sporting event. With Rising Tide, Pepperdine University follows five students through their first year of college. Instead of simply mailing glossy print catalogs that tout academic excellence and rigor, these schools have embraced technology to show prospective students what their experience could be, while also enabling participatory engagement from students already enrolled.

In Torben Drewes and Christopher Michael’s article “How Do Students Choose a University?,” the authors looked at students who have already chosen to attend a university in order to see the driving forces behind their selection and decision-making.

Though the authors specifically focused on high school graduates attending 17 universities in the Province of Ontario, Canada, their findings have much broader implications. As Drewes and Michael state, “[T]he decision we are analyzing is about which institution to attend, much as one might analyze the decision about what brand of automobile a consumer would choose.”

In their study, they explore factors that admission offices commonly consider important to prospective students: “Does average class size matter? What impact does the scholarship budget have in attracting students? Do…university rankings…affect student choices?” The results, it turns out, are mixed: some confirm traditionally held beliefs while others highlight some unexpected beliefs. For instance, the study confirmed that students care about scholarship opportunities and the school’s proximity to their homes, but it also showed students’ preferences for instruction as opposed to research.

These creative digital initiatives allow universities to highlight instruction and other unique offerings students want. For instance, in Georgetown Stories, one student invites viewers to join her in her Italian language lab to experience first-hand what this kind of instruction looks, feels, and sounds like. And in Rising Tide’s episode “Learning to Grow,” viewers follow students through their first semester of final exams, which includes watching a student getting one-on-one help from a professor during office hours, experiencing what the last day of class looks like, and seeing a professor host an end of semester dinner at her home for students. 

These digital innovations offer much richer insights for prospective students (and parents) in ways that print and digital brochures could not.


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Research in Higher Education , Vol. 47, No. 7 (Nov., 2006), pp. 781-800
Published by: Springer