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Top Reasons Why Students Chose Their College

When it comes to choosing a college, students’ top priorities include location, academic offerings, price, and flexibility, a new study finds.

The latest Student Voice survey from Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse, sponsored by Kaplan, surveyed 2,001 undergraduates from February 23 to March 1 about their college search and enrollment, and how the pandemic impacted their decision making.


Students at four-year institutions listed major or program of interest, academic reputation, proximity to home, quality of academics in the area of interest, price of tuition, and financial aid as the top reasons for choosing a college.

Fox Troilo is the managing director of the Higher Education Research Advisor team at Hanover Research. Moving forward, he believes it is important for institutions to show how they produce results for students.  “[They need to] highlight the strengths of academic programs and what the outcomes are for students of those programs. Institutions are not historically getting to that level of detail.”

At community colleges, the top reasons for choosing a college include proximity to home and cost. While proximity to home is a top reason for many students, some students say they chose a college further from home. Olivia Broderick, now a first-year student at University of Wisconsin at Madison, says the pandemic’s impact on her high school education made her want to venture further from home for college.

“We’re right on a lake, a huge, beautiful lake—and the city is right on the lake,” she tells Inside Higher Ed. “You have, like, a nature side of campus and then a city side. It was the perfect balance for me.”


On average, the number of applications per student as of February 15 was 5.6 institutions, according to Common App data. Two-thirds of respondents to the Student Voice survey applied to between one and five colleges, with students who anticipate a 2025 graduation being nearly twice as likely as others to have applied to six to 10 institutions.

International students studying in the U.S. are most likely to have applied to six to 10 colleges, the Student Voice survey found.

Sources: College Pulse, Inside Higher Ed

Next Page: University of California system sees historic jump in minority applicants.

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