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4 Major Takeaways From Spark451’s Graduate School Survey

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These days, a key concern for college and university leaders is the waning public confidence in higher education. Why is public confidence on the decline? The cost for a degree is still incredibly high, and many potential students aren’t certain they’ll see a return on their investment. Add to this that many jobs no longer require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree and it’s no wonder institutions are nervous. However, despite doom and gloom media narratives, a recent survey by enrollment marketing experts Spark451 suggests that attitudes toward higher education may not be universally skeptical. Contrary to the highly publicized accounts of waning confidence, 90% of students with a bachelor’s degree are interested in continuing their higher education journey and obtaining a graduate degree as well.

In addition to discovering student attitudes toward graduate studies, Spark451’s annual Graduate School Intenders Survey suggests how the current job market might be impacting these attitudes and reveals which factors students deem most important when determining which programs to enroll in. Below, we take a deeper look into the survey to discover which insights might be key to graduate program strategies this year.

1. Students Believe Graduate School Is Necessary to Land Lucrative Jobs

While the last few years have seen numerous reports detailing the rise in companies dropping bachelor’s degrees as an application requirement, the majority of Spark451’s survey respondents (90%) said they would likely pursue graduate school.

Despite reports that nearly 50% of posted jobs no longer require applicants to hold bachelor’s degrees, students still think advanced degrees are required to land the jobs they want.

2. Students Want Full-Time Graduate Programs

In the 2023 survey, 83% of respondents said they were interested in attending graduate school full time—this is up from the 68% reported in the 2022 survey. According to Michael McGetrick, Spark451’s Vice President of Creative and Interactive Services, students who think they’ll find work in their chosen fields will often choose to enroll in graduate school part time. This year’s increased interest in full-time graduate school suggest that students are waiting to apply to jobs until the job market is stronger.

But recent reports show that the job market continues to grow, unemployment remains under 4%, and wages are increasing. The job market, by all accounts, is strong. What’s going on? McGetrick suggests that news of the recent layoffs in the tech sector (200,000+ in 2023 and 30,000 so far in 2024) may be fueling students’ distrust in the job market and interest in enrolling in full-time graduate programs.

3. Potential Graduate Students Consider ROI the Most Important Deciding Factor

When asked to rate a series of program factors based on importance, 56% of respondents ranked ROI as the number one factor when deciding where to attend graduate school. In other words, students want to be confident that the institution they’ve chosen will enable them to succeed.

What this means for higher education institutions: When building and marketing graduate programs, it’s imperative to understand what types of programs your ideal community is looking for and what they define as success. Marketing those expectations—highlighting tangible outcomes and career advancement opportunities—heightens the chances of drawing students to campus.

4. Students Are Researching Graduate Schools Online

When asked which digital channel is most influential when considering graduate school research, nearly 65% of respondents said Google. This makes sense. In high school, students have myriad resources when choosing a college: counselors, college fairs, parents, and well-known websites like CollegeBoard.org. Resources for graduate programs research aren’t nearly as abundant or well known. Colleges and universities should strengthen their SEO initiatives to maximize online visibility for potential learners.

How Else Can Institutions Attract Potential Graduate Students?

Should institutions offer in-person or online graduate learning options? What impact do scholarships have on students when deciding which school to attend? How effective are online advertisements when attracting potential graduate students?

For these answers and more, download Spark451’s full Graduate School Intender’s Survey. You can find the full survey here.

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