Co-written with Pamela Lee, Market Research Consultant, Noel-Levitz
This is the first of a two-part series. Read Part II here.
How do human beings make decisions? Neuroscience tells us that humans have both a logical, conscious “system” and a non-logical, unconscious “system” that provide input as we make decisions. We like to think of ourselves as highly logical creatures, but in fact our choices represent a mysterious blend of influences. Many researchers suggest that the subconscious is actually the dominant driver of human decision-making. (Here’s one study on the subject.)
On the topic of college choice by traditional-age students, the logical factors have been well researched. UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, Noel-Levitz, and other organizations have investigated top student choice factors such as institutional location, academic reputation, available majors, cost and financial aid, educational outcomes, faculty teaching and credentials, and enrollment size.
Why emotions matter in college student choice
Given what science says about decision making, enrollment managers need to understand—and respond to—what students are feeling as well as what they are thinking. To ignore this key component of student choice would render our understanding incomplete.
We know anecdotally that emotions play a significant role in the college decision. How often have you heard a student use emotionally charged language such as?
“I fell in love with the campus.”
“It just felt right.”
“I knew I would belong here.”
This research study shows just how completely the decision process is awash in emotions such as excitement, anxiety, stress, and hope.
How we studied the emotions and college choice
For this study, Noel-Levitz was invited to include questions in NRCCUA’s “Mapping the College Search” survey, deployed online in January 2014. Our quantitative sample included 5,240 students who expected to graduate between 2014-17 and who also planned to attend four-year institutions, community colleges, or technical/career colleges. In addition, we completed 16 qualitative follow-up queries to explore specific emotions in more detail and add “color” to our research.
The study revolved around this central question we posed to students: