Posted June 05, 2013 by

The Importance of Online Reviews for College Admissions

Jay Binstein

Jay Binstein

In the competitive industry of education, attracting top incoming students is a priority among colleges. Some of these institutions spend millions of dollars to assure their campus is presentable for prospective students. With online reviews growing ever more important, many of these schools are realizing their image was determined well before the student arrived on campus.

There are two types of reviews that students assess before making a college choice: academic reviews and student reviews.

Since U.S. News and World Report began compiling college rankings in 1983, academic reviews have been at the forefront of the admissions process. Students use these rankings to create a list of schools that fit their academic prowess.

But while this type of ranking is important to a school’s image, institutions are realizing that a second type of review is just as important to converting students from perspectives to full time students. These reviews are the student reviews found on websites such as College Prowler and College Confidential. Unlike the academic rankings, student reviews offer incoming students a first-hand look at campus life. Reviews on College Prowler range from academics to weather, and leave out very little in between.

While trusting an anonymous review for a very important life decision may not the best choice, these reviews do factor heavily into student decisions, whether it is in the school’s best interest or not. The information provided on these review websites, if positive, can benefit a university by attracting more students to the school. Negative reviews, on the other hand, hurt the image of a college and can detract valuable students from attending. For this reason, it is important that every university monitor online reviews.

John’s College Choice

Take this as an example. John just received his acceptance letters from DePaul University and The University of Iowa. In order to make his choice, he checks out College Prowler to hear what students at each university had to say. How will online reviews affect his college choice?

Academics: John is a bright student, but has not decided on a major. Both schools were ranked on college prowler as a B+, but upon closer inspection John finds a few reviews that claim DePaul’s classes are easy, and often seem like a waste of money. Advantage: Iowa.

Girls: John is surprised to find that College Prowler allows students to review their peers, but he figures he might as well take a look. University of Iowa girls ranked well above their counterparts at DePaul by receiving an A-. John didn’t initially expect this ranking to factor into his decision, but nevertheless advantage goes to Iowa.

Campus Dining: No more home cooking, and John is not looking forward to the transition to dining hall food. Iowa received a slightly higher grade on dining, but John, reading through reviews from students, discovers that DePaul students talk about being satisfied with their food while Iowa students simply note the wide variety of options. DePaul takes another step forward.

Dorms: Moving away from home for the first time, John hopes to find a comfortable dorm room. Students from both schools boast about their comfortable living situations. This reassures John that he will have a home away from home at either school.

Nightlife: John is excited about socializing in college and wants to make sure that students enjoy the nightlife at whatever school he decides on. Both universities received a dazzling A+ for nightlife. While both stress the importance of being 21, John notices that according to a few students, Iowa has more going on for underclassmen. John knows that he will be too young for the bars more than half of his time at college, so he likes this about Iowa.

Indeed, there’s no doubt that online reviews factor heavily into any student’s decision on which school to choose. Keeping an eye on these reviews — and responding to them — should therefore be an integral part of any college or university’s marketing strategy in order to effectively reach the school-going demographic.

About the author: Jay Binstein is a business fellow at Elon University. He’s currently interning at Review Trackers, an online review monitoring platform for local businesses looking to track online reviews from sites like Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor.

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