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Understanding Prospective Student 'Mindsets' Can Lift Impact of Communications

students holding thought bubbles

Students display specific hopes and dreams as they approach the work of choosing the right college to attend. Understanding those "mindsets" can help the institution personalize their interactions with prospective students more effectively. For example, a new report explained, more than four in 10 students (45 percent) interested in studying the physical sciences fall into the "grad school-bound" mindset. For these students, graduate or professional school is the goal. For their undergraduate experiences they want to focus on scientific and technical skills and research; academic quality and environment drive their choices. Understanding that about a student can help the school rethink how it approaches the campus visit and produce communications that have relevance for the recipient.

The report was developed by Eduventures, a research unit of the National Research Center for College and University Admissions (NRCUA), which itself was recently acquired by ACT. This is the second year in which Eduventures has published its "Prospective Student Survey Report." The first version focused on defining the various mindsets; this year's edition adds insights to help enrollment and student success professionals "better recruit, retain and serve students."

The six mindsets defined fall into three categories:

  • Career, which includes "experiential interests" (held by 21 percent of students pursuing college) and "career pragmatists" (held by 19 percent);
  • Experience, with a "social focus" mindset (21 percent) and a mindset targeted at "exploration and meaning" (13 percent); and
  • Academic, with a "career through an academics emphasis" (15 percent) and those "grad school-bound" individuals (11 percent)

The research done by Eduventures has also identified four primary ways to apply the mindsets:

  • "Bursting recruiter bubbles," and specifically sharing the research with recruiting staff to help them gain a broader understanding of the different kinds of students they'll be working with;
  • Revitalizing communications, by prioritizing which mindsets the institution should target;
  • Redesigning campus visits to differentiate among the various mindsets; and
  • Helping academic people "see" their students as part of improving the academic "product" and student outcomes.

For each mindset, the report offered a "dossier" to help recruitment leaders understand what makes that mindset stand out from the others, with suggestions for an opening conversation, "blind spots" and opportunities for student support. As an example, "experiential interest" students want their academic efforts to include hands-on experiences, such as those provided by internships. An opening conversation with this kind of student would do well, the report suggested, if it mentioned experiential learning opportunities and how they lead to careers. The blind spot here is that these students might push their coursework to the backburner and focus on their work experiences, which means they need to be reminded about finding the "right balance and integration" of both aspects of their college careers. The opportunities for support could involve helping them stay on their chosen program path or assisting them in identifying and navigating to a different path if the first one doesn't work out.

"The prospective student mindsets are point-in-time snapshots of prospective undergraduate students," wrote Kim Reid, principal analyst and author of the report. One of the most important ways to use mindsets, she explained, is to help anybody involved with the student recruitment process "step out of their own perspective about college or [think beyond] the party line of the institution they represent. They will better empathize with the viewpoint the student before them might have. The mindsets can be a powerful training tool for creating real personal connection to students."

The report is available for download by NRCCUA members.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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