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How 2022’s High School Seniors Approached College Applications

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Among the high school senior class of 2022, 59% of prospective college students applied to five or more institutions, and 26% applied to ten or more. That’s one of the key findings of this year’s Niche Senior Enrollment Survey, the seventh such survey the the popular college rating and review platform has conducted.

Niche received completed responses from 21,866 high school seniors who had registered a profile on its platform. The survey was open from April 15 to June 12, 2022, allowing students time to respond after the May 1 deadline many institutions use for attendance decisions.

The survey covered several areas, including when and how students went about applying to college, how successful they were in gaining admission, how they approached standardized testing, what kind of financial aid they received, and what factors were most important to them as they decided where they would attend college.

Here are some of the highlights:

The majority of students begin their college search process after their junior year; 24% started during the summer before their senior year, 27% during the fall semester of their senior year, and 7% during the spring semester of their senior year. Only 17% of students started their college search before their junior year.

However, this overall finding was qualified by the type of school to which students applied. Students who considered only 2-year colleges were almost three times as likely to start their search during their senior year, especially during the spring semester.

Almost half of students who considered only 2-year colleges reported submitting just one application. Among those who exclusively considered 4-year colleges and universities, a mere 8% submitted only one application.

Most students made an in-person visit to at least one college. Prior to the pandemic, only 7% of students said they made no in-person visits to a college they were considering. That percentage jumped to 28% in 2021, during the peak of the pandemic. This year, 19% reported making no in-person visits, an indication that campus visits are resuming, although still not at pre-pandemic levels. About 15% of students said they made five or more in-person campus visits.

Only 13% of students who were not from a low-income household reported not visiting any campuses, much less than the 25% of low-income students who reported making no visits.

Emails (75%) and letters (64%) were the communication channels cited by the majority of respondents as influential in their application process. More than a quarter (26%) of students said they applied to a college they previously hadn’t been aware of because of a prospect email they received. Text messaging was the third highest-rated, with 40% saying it was influential. Video chats were the fourth highest-rated. Postcards were the least likely to be rated as influential forms of communication.

College websites were the most important source of information used to research colleges with 90% of respondents reporting them as important. The next most used resources were college search platforms like Niche at 78%, net price calculators at 71%, a visit to the college at 68%, virtual tours at 55%, and virtual events at 51%.

Family members were cited most frequently as sources of influence on student’s college applications. The next most influential groups were current students at a college at 64%, friends at 61%, and online reviews at 55%.

Over half of students said that admissions counselors influenced their decision. Counselors were significantly more influential for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, African American/Black, and Hispanic/Latinx students. They were also more influential for first-generation students, low-income students, and students reporting a GPA below 3.0.

Institutional prestige carries considerable weight with students, with 62% saying a college’s brand and name recognition influenced their decision; only 5% said that it didn’t matter to them at all.

Brand was least important to American Indian/Alaska Native students (46%) and white students (53%), and it was most important to Chinese (85%), Indian (84%), Korean (83%), and Vietnamese (83%) students.

Name recognition was also more important to students who considered 4-year colleges as opposed to 2-year colleges.

Campus characteristics matter – in some cases, a lot.

Diversity was the most important campus community factor to students, with 84% saying that a diverse student body was appealing, and 46% of those saying that it was a “must-have.” Diversity among faculty and staff was also important, with 81% wanting it and 40% of those saying it was a must-have feature. Matters of diversity were important to students from underrepresented groups (89%) as well as those who were not from underrepresented groups (79%).

Over half of the students said they considered colleges further than four hours from home, while 18% reported they only considered colleges within an hour of home. Only 38% of first-generation college students reported considering a college more than four hours from home, compared to 53% of their peers. Family income mattered on this score as well – 58% of low-income students considered enrolling more than two hours from home compared to 86% of students from households earning more than $130,000 per year.

Safety was another major concern – with 97% indicating the importance of on-campus safety and 96% citing the safety of the town or community around campus.

Scholarship availability was another very influential factor, with 95% of students attributing importance to it.

Arts and culture continued to be more important than athletics, a trend that was revealed in prior senior surveys taken during the pandemic. More than three-quarters of students want arts and cultural activities emphasized in a campus community compared to 57% wanting a strong athletics fan experience and 43% wanting athletic participation emphasized.

Most students are still taking standardized admission tests, but many are not submitting their scores. While three-quarters of respondents reported they took a standardized test (SAT/ACT/CLT) while in high school, only 46% of those taking a test reported submitting their scores to all colleges regardless of whether it was required or not. Another 22% did not submit scores to any college.

First-generation, underrepresented minorities, and low-income students were all much less likely to have taken a standardized test and to submit their scores as part of their applications.

Most students are accepted for admission by their first-choice school. More than three-quarters of students (78%) reported being accepted by the college that they identified as their “first choice,” and almost half of the respondents (43%) said they were accepted for admission by five or more colleges.

Applicants are very sensitive to colleges price. Among this year’s respondents, 81% said they eliminated colleges from consideration and did not apply because of the total cost, or “sticker price.” That’s a substantial increase from 73% in 2021, 68% in 2020, and 56% pre-pandemic.

To put a finer point on it, first-generation and low-income students were more likely than their peers to say that they would only consider colleges whose total cost was less than $10,000 per year.

Nonetheless, students who had been accepted to at least two colleges didn’t necessarily choose to enroll at the less expensive option – 13% reported they were enrolling at a college that was much more expensive than their other options, 18% said they were enrolling at a college that was more expensive, and only 36% indicated they were enrolling at a college that was less expensive than their other choices.

Among enrolling students, 82% reported applying for outside scholarships and grants, and 2% said that although they didn’t apply, their parents did it for them. In a disappointing finding, first-generation-to-college students and respondents in the lowest income quintile were the least likely to report they had applied for scholarships.

Over one-third of students reported they planned to take out loans their first year in college, and another 36% said they hadn’t yet decided yet whether to assume student loan debt. And in another worrisome finding, students who weren’t confident they could afford the college they were attending were more likely to be taking on loans and four times as likely to be taking on a loan of $20,000 or more their first year.

Three-quarters of students said they planned to work while enrolled in college and another 19% said they had not yet decided whether they would work.

Nearly three-quarters of students reported receiving financial aid from the college they’re attending. Merit aid was the most common form of aid, with 56% saying they received it, followed by 39% saying they received need-based aid. Athletic and arts scholarships were much less common – only 3% and 4% of respondents reported receiving them respectively.

Only 58% of low-income students reported they had received aid from the college they’d be attending, another indication that many institutions continue to put a lower priority on need-based aid rather than merit-based aid.


Among the high school senior class of 2022, 59% of prospective college students applied to five or more institutions, and 26% applied to ten or more. That’s one of the key findings of this year’s Niche Senior Enrollment Survey, the seventh such survey the the popular college rating and review platform has conducted.

Niche received completed responses from 21,866 high school seniors who had registered a profile on its platform. The survey was open from April 15 to June 12, 2022, allowing students time to respond after the May 1 deadline many institutions use for attendance decisions.

The survey covered several areas, including when and how students went about applying to college, how successful they were in gaining admission, how they approached standardized testing, what kind of financial aid they received, and what factors were most important to them as they decided where they would attend college.

Here are some of the highlights:

The majority of students begin their college search process after their junior year; 24% started during the summer before their senior year, 27% during the fall semester of their senior year, and 7% during the spring semester of their senior year. Only 17% of students started their college search before their junior year.

However, this overall finding was qualified by the type of school to which students applied. Students who considered only 2-year colleges were almost three times as likely to start their search during their senior year, especially during the spring semester.

Almost half of students who considered only 2-year colleges reported submitting just one application. Among those who exclusively considered 4-year colleges and universities, a mere 8% submitted only one application.

Most students made an in-person visit to at least one college. Prior to the pandemic, only 7% of students said they made no in-person visits to a college they were considering. That percentage jumped to 28% in 2021, during the peak of the pandemic. This year, 19% reported making no in-person visits, an indication that campus visits are resuming, although still not at pre-pandemic levels. About 15% of students said they made five or more in-person campus visits.

Only 13% of students who were not from a low-income household reported not visiting any campuses, much less than the 25% of low-income students who reported making no visits.

Emails (75%) and letters (64%) were the communication channels cited by the majority of respondents as influential in their application process. More than a quarter (26%) of students said they applied to a college they previously hadn’t been aware of because of a prospect email they received. Text messaging was the third highest-rated, with 40% saying it was influential. Video chats were the fourth highest-rated. Postcards were the least likely to be rated as influential forms of communication.

College websites were the most important source of information used to research colleges with 90% of respondents reporting them as important. The next most used resources were college search platforms like Niche at 78%, net price calculators at 71%, a visit to the college at 68%, virtual tours at 55%, and virtual events at 51%.

Family members were cited most frequently as sources of influence on student’s college applications. The next most influential groups were current students at a college at 64%, friends at 61%, and online reviews at 55%.

Over half of students said that admissions counselors influenced their decision. Counselors were significantly more influential for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, African American/Black, and Hispanic/Latinx students. They were also more influential for first-generation students, low-income students, and students reporting a GPA below 3.0.

Institutional prestige carries considerable weight with students, with 62% saying a college’s brand and name recognition influenced their decision; only 5% said that it didn’t matter to them at all.

Brand was least important to American Indian/Alaska Native students (46%) and white students (53%), and it was most important to Chinese (85%), Indian (84%), Korean (83%), and Vietnamese (83%) students.

Name recognition was also more important to students who considered 4-year colleges as opposed to 2-year colleges.

Campus characteristics matter – in some cases, a lot.

Diversity was the most important campus community factor to students, with 84% saying that a diverse student body was appealing, and 46% of those saying that it was a “must-have.” Diversity among faculty and staff was also important, with 81% wanting it and 40% of those saying it was a must-have feature. Matters of diversity were important to students from underrepresented groups (89%) as well as those who were not from underrepresented groups (79%).

Over half of the students said they considered colleges further than four hours from home, while 18% reported they only considered colleges within an hour of home. Only 38% of first-generation college students reported considering a college more than four hours from home, compared to 53% of their peers. Family income mattered on this score as well – 58% of low-income students considered enrolling more than two hours from home compared to 86% of students from households earning more than $130,000 per year.

Safety was another major concern – with 97% indicating the importance of on-campus safety and 96% citing the safety of the town or community around campus.

Scholarship availability was another very influential factor, with 95% of students attributing importance to it.

Arts and culture continued to be more important than athletics, a trend that was revealed in prior senior surveys taken during the pandemic. More than three-quarters of students want arts and cultural activities emphasized in a campus community compared to 57% wanting a strong athletics fan experience and 43% wanting athletic participation emphasized.

Most students are still taking standardized admission tests, but many are not submitting their scores. While three-quarters of respondents reported they took a standardized test (SAT/ACT/CLT) while in high school, only 46% of those taking a test reported submitting their scores to all colleges regardless of whether it was required or not. Another 22% did not submit scores to any college.

First-generation, underrepresented minorities, and low-income students were all much less likely to have taken a standardized test and to submit their scores as part of their applications.

Most students are accepted for admission by their first-choice school. More than three-quarters of students (78%) reported being accepted by the college that they identified as their “first choice,” and almost half of the respondents (43%) said they were accepted for admission by five or more colleges.

Applicants are very sensitive to colleges price. Among this year’s respondents, 81% said they eliminated colleges from consideration and did not apply because of the total cost, or “sticker price.” That’s a substantial increase from 73% in 2021, 68% in 2020, and 56% pre-pandemic.

To put a finer point on it, first-generation and low-income students were more likely than their peers to say that they would only consider colleges whose total cost was less than $10,000 per year.

Nonetheless, students who had been accepted to at least two colleges didn’t necessarily choose to enroll at the less expensive option – 13% reported they were enrolling at a college that was much more expensive than their other options, 18% said they were enrolling at a college that was more expensive, and only 36% indicated they were enrolling at a college that was less expensive than their other choices.

Among enrolling students, 82% reported applying for outside scholarships and grants, and 2% said that although they didn’t apply, their parents did it for them. In a disappointing finding, first-generation-to-college students and respondents in the lowest income quintile were the least likely to report they had applied for scholarships.

Over one-third of students reported they planned to take out loans their first year in college, and another 36% said they hadn’t yet decided yet whether to assume student loan debt. And in another worrisome finding, students who weren’t confident they could afford the college they were attending were more likely to be taking on loans and four times as likely to be taking on a loan of $20,000 or more their first year.

Three-quarters of students said they planned to work while enrolled in college and another 19% said they had not yet decided whether they would work.

Nearly three-quarters of students reported receiving financial aid from the college they’re attending. Merit aid was the most common form of aid, with 56% saying they received it, followed by 39% saying they received need-based aid. Athletic and arts scholarships were much less common – only 3% and 4% of respondents reported receiving them respectively.

Only 58% of low-income students reported they had received aid from the college they’d be attending, another indication that many institutions continue to put a lower priority on need-based aid rather than merit-based aid.

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