New Surveys Reveal That Students and Parents Want Personalization and Prioritize Academic Quality Over Cost When Selecting a College

Conducted by Enrollment Marketing Experts Spark451, Surveys Shed Light on Student and Parent Approaches to College Selection Process

BOSTON – September 26, 2023 – Enrollment marketing experts Spark451, a Jenzabar Company, published today two new independent surveys that reveal that the leading deciding factor for parents and students when making their college decision was academic quality, followed by cost and financial aid. Thousands of high school seniors and their parents from across the United States participated in Spark451’s College-Bound Student Survey and Parent Survey of College-Bound Students. Their responses helped uncover which elements of the college search process have the greatest impact on traditional college-aged learners and their direct influencers. The findings also contradict narratives outlined in recent high-profile articles that detailed higher education enrollment declines, the rising cost of college, and the public’s general loss of faith in the value of a college degree.

“We saw several important takeaways from this survey, including that institutions may see substantial and positive changes if they personalize content and communications, are consistent with their branding, and convey critical information on their website,” said Steve Kerge, Co-Founder of Spark451 and Vice President of Enrollment Marketing at Jenzabar. “Our surveys also found that 30% of incoming freshmen aren’t attending their top choice of school because another institution was more affordable. First impressions are vital to retaining those learners and colleges and universities want to make sure they deliver the first-year experiences that they promise.”

Money Matters, But It’s Not the Primary Consideration

Despite many media narratives blaming the rising cost of college for the public’s disillusionment with higher education, Spark451’s surveys found that while money was an influencing factor in the college decision process, it wasn’t the most important factor.

  • The leading deciding factor for parents and students when making their college decision was academic quality. Cost/financial aid was the second-leading deciding factor.
  • When asked if the college their child selected was the most affordable, 56% of parents said no.
  • 30% of parents said they would have encouraged their child to select a different school than they chose if money were not a factor.
  • 55% of students applied to schools because they received an application fee waiver, and 45% of students applied to the same number of institutions, even if they weren’t offered waivers.
  • 65% of parents said they would not make a college decision based on a state’s political stance, but 50% of students said a state’s political leanings would influence their decision.

Personalizing Content Maximizes Engagement With Students and Parents

Students listed emails as their preferred method of communication with an institution; text messaging was second. Despite this preference, many students said they don’t open emails that are sent to them, most commonly because they didn’t feel the content was personalized.

  • 59% of students said they would open an email from a school they did not know if the topic or offer presented was of interest to them.
  • 27% of students said they didn’t open emails because they looked generic and not personalized.
  • When asked which print materials influenced them the most, students said personalized letters were the most effective, followed by personalized brochures. Parents answered the same.

The report also discovered that high school students began the college search process during their junior year, giving them considerable time with which to view a variety of materials and to form strong opinions on the marketing tactics they had seen.

Students and Parents Are Diligent During the College Search

Both survey reports reveal that when it comes to selecting the right college, high school seniors and their parents conducted a variety of research. 

  • When obtaining information about a preferred college or university or seeking answers to a question about an institution, the most commonly accessed source was the college’s website.
  • Throughout the college selection process, students were more likely to utilize Instagram as their preferred social media outlet. Parents said they were most likely to utilize Facebook as their preferred social media outlet.
  • 84% of students said that visiting campus was a part of their college search process.

The survey also found that college ranking sites like US News and World Report and College Confidential were among the least utilized sources when it came to researching a college, signaling that colleges have substantial control over their brand and reputation.

Spark451’s College-Bound Student Survey and Parent Survey of College-Bound Students were conducted in the summer of 2023 amongst a randomized selection of high school seniors and parents of graduating high school seniors across the U.S.


  • To access the College-Bound Student Survey or the College-Bound Parent Survey, contact Spark451 at
  • For more information about Spark451, a Jenzabar company, and its higher education marketing services visit
  • For more information about Jenzabar and its higher education software solutions and services, visit

About Spark451

Spark451, a Jenzabar company, is a higher education enrollment strategy, technology, and marketing firm that combines creativity with powerful technology to achieve measurable results. With a mission to help colleges and students fuel their future, the firm integrates a multitude of communication channels and platforms for effective enrollment marketing, student search, creative services, and digital media. Since 2011, Spark451 has worked with over 200 colleges and universities nationwide.

About Jenzabar

Created out of a passion for education and a vision for technology, Jenzabar offers disruptive, innovative software solutions and services that empower students’ success and help higher education institutions meet the demands of the modern studentOver 1,350 higher educational campuses harness Jenzabar solutions for improved performance across campus and a more personalized and connected experience for the student. For further information, please visit or on Twitter @Jenzabar or on LinkedIn

Media Contact 
Gail Scibelli 
fama PR for Jenzabar