Gen Z Parents & Their Role in the College Search Process

5 min read

Move over helicopter parents, we've officially entered the reign of the bulldozer parent. And as bulldozer parents enter the scene, you need to revisit your student recruitment strategy.

Based on a recent study by Niche on parent involvement in the college search process, 12% of parents said they did the college search primarily for their child than together, and 88% searched with their child. This compares to only 4% who said they searched for colleges on behalf of their child in 2020.


What's a bulldozer parent? 

Bulldozers go above and beyond to remove any and all adversity from their children's lives. These are the parents bargaining with teachers for higher grades, mowing down any obstacle their child may come across.

You'll find no better example of bulldozer parenting than the college search and application process. 



How does this impact your student recruitment efforts? 

Schools can't ignore parental involvement in the college search process. Your website needs to cater to the needs of both prospective students and their parents.

At the inquiry or prospect stage, ask students to share their parents' contact information through a form or chatbot. Communicate with parents via email and text to keep them up to date with your school's timeline and important information. When you excite and engage the parents, the more likely they are to lean in your favor and share their experience with other parents.

Parents begin actively researching colleges sooner than their children, with 25% starting before their child's junior year compared to just 19% of students.

Parents have less price sensitivity than their children, but two-thirds eliminated colleges from consideration based on published cost. 


Texting parents gives you a leg up on the competition.

While more and more schools are seeing the benefits of texting students, many are lagging behind when it comes to parental communications.

Only 39% of parents said they received a text from a college keeping them updated on the application and enrollment process. Texts can help you stand out from crowded communication channels like email.



What are parents looking for on your institution's website?

Parents are primarily looking for outcome metrics and positive experiences. When asked about four college metrics they used to compare schools, they ranked the following as important for assessing quality:

  1. Graduation rate
  2. Job placement rate
  3. Acceptance rate
  4. Retention rate

Parents shared they were most influenced by online reviews from other parents, followed closely by interactions with parents of current students at a college. Incorporate parent reviews on your school's website and share parent testimonials via text and email.

Safety ranks as the most important factor for parents when researching colleges, with 98% reporting that safety heavily influences their decision when researching and comparing schools. College rankings closely follow with 81% of parents saying they're important. Be sure to also include information on mental health support and resources. They want to know that your campus is a safe place to ask questions and seek help.

Other key characteristics to feature:

  • Clubs & extracurriculars
  • Strong alumni networks
  • Campus diversity
  • Fine & performing arts



Rethink how you share tuition cost.

Be as transparent as you can about the net cost of tuition for incoming students. 

Half of the surveyed students said they would consider schools with tuition up to $30,000 per year while half of parents would consider up to $50,000.

[💡 Key Takeaway: More and more research suggests that schools who promote net costs after aid vs. full tuition costs see more applications compared to their peers]

The more you can educate around college cost, debt, and return on investment, the better you can serve the parents (and students) on your website. Videos, educational landing pages, and social content designed for parents can be very useful.


Educate parents in the entire college search and application process.

It's likely been a long time since these parents have been through the college search process, and that's if they attended college at all.

A lot has changed over the past decade, so don't assume they know what's expected of them. Keeping an open line of communication via text and email is key to a seamless application process.

[💡 Key Takeaway: The more you can simplify your application and enrollment process, the higher your enrollment numbers will be. This applies to both parents and students.]

Educate parents about FAFSA.

Per the study, over 20% of low-income parents earning under $50,000 did not file a FAFSA last year. They said they either didn't know about it or didn't think they would receive anything. This compares to families earning between $50,000 and $80,000 with a 92% FAFSA submission rate.


About the Study

Niche surveyed parents in the fall of 2021 to learn more about their college search experience. The study included 292 responses from parents whose child started at a college last fall. View the results here.


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