The Application Process

2015 College Decisions Survey: Part II
Policy Paper
June 25, 2015

Today, New America’s Education Policy Program released the second in a series of College Decisions Survey briefs that analyze new survey data about what prospective college students know about the college-going and financing process. Part Two: The Application Process focuses on how students go about researching and applying to colleges. It looks at the number and type of schools and programs applied to and the search behaviors of prospective students.

With more than 7,500 colleges and universities in America, students have several options to choose from depending on a variety of factors such as price, location, and programs offered. So how do prospective students go about the process of applying to colleges? According to an online survey of 1,011 U.S. residents ages 16-40, who were largely prospective college students (with the remainder in their first semester of college), a majority of prospective students (60 percent) plan to apply to more than two colleges, and about three-quarters (76 percent) had already started their search. The survey was commissioned by New America and conducted by Harris Poll in October-November of 2014.

Though many prospective and recently-enrolled students had behaviors in common, the process of searching for a college did vary based on age. Adult prospective students were far more likely than their straight-out-of-high-school peers to intend to enroll in online or hybrid programs. In fact, 76 percent of 30-40 year olds planned to enroll in online-only or hybrid programs (which blend online and face-to-face courses), whereas 66 percent of students aged 16-19 planned to attend on-campus only at a traditional ‘brick-and-mortar’ college or university.

It is clear in the college search and application process that older prospective students have different needs than younger students. And since students need to have good information in order to compare colleges and make an informed decision, it’s critical to consider how to meet the different needs of these demographics.

“While higher education operates in an imperfect market full of information asymmetry, policymakers and institutions can do better to make sure students are aware of their options--including providing information about face-to-face, online, and hybrid options,” said Rachel Fishman, senior policy analyst and the report’s author. “Targeting information to different demographics will ensure that they can make a college choice that makes sense for them academically and financially.”

More About the College Decisions Survey

New America commissioned Harris Poll to create and administer the College Decisions Survey. A national online survey was conducted between October 7th and November 3rd, 2014. The sample included 1,011 completed interviews and consisted of U.S. residents ages 16 to 40 who do not have college degrees and plan on enrolling in a two-year or four-year college within the next 12 months (n=747). The survey also included individuals who were in the first semester of their first year at a two-year or four-year college (n=264).

The five College Decisions Survey briefs will be released during the spring and summer of 2015 and will cover topics including:

· Financial concerns during the postsecondary decision-making process

· The application process for different types of students

· Students' familiarity with financial aid

· Students' ability to estimate their loan debt and monthly payments

· The college search process and helpfulness of various common resources