At Forge, we immerse ourselves in the worlds of our clients. And our higher ed clients are no exception.
Over the years, we’ve spent time living and breathing campus life. We talk with online students, meet with alumni and get outside perspective from future employers and the broader world. Recently, we focused on first-years, conducting a mobile ethnography study of 20 incoming freshmen students. They shared their daily lives, thoughts, and wisdom through their mobile devices.
“Take a moment to reflect and relax” – Ann
We started by asking them to give us a peek into their lives. They answered questions, took polls, uploaded photos, and recorded video diaries, sharing what they thought and felt during their first 100 days as college students. What we learned spanned from the expected to the surprising, and from the day-to-day to the big picture goals of each student.
Overall, we found that first year students were ready to dive right into the college experience, but admittedly had many hurdles to overcome. Many found new challenges in living with a roommate, while balancing newfound freedom managing their own schedules. Across the board, they’re all developing new routines and plans of attack knowing they’ve got big goals to achieve.
“Students are the backbone of your school” – Devon
The most interesting and informative takeaway from our study, was a big surprise even to us. While conventional wisdom in the college “shopping” process considers classes, campus size, location, and cost, what really mattered to these entering freshmen was the people.
This emphasis on people came through vividly when freshmen described their approach to achieving their own goals. Anastasia talked about wanting to “find a group of students looking to excel in business worlds just like I am.” Joy wanted to “better understand differing kinds of people” and “engage socially with those I otherwise may not have encountered.”
Understanding the true importance of these human connections is critical. It can help us better understand how to more effectively connect with potential students about your institution. As Ahmet said, “I would tell schools who are marketing to be personal and connect with the students. Most of these students have never left home, so make your campus and school as comforting and accepting as you can.”
“Stop trying to be perfect and just show how unique [you] are.” – Megan
Over the next few weeks, we will be diving deeper into the freshman universe and learning from their perspectives. We will address how friends and colleagues are critical to helping students toggle between managing the day-to-day and keeping their eyes on their futures. We’ll explore their feelings about being social media influencers for their school and what that looks like. We will analyze the advice they would have given themselves a year prior about the path from application to freshman fall.
We’re looking forward to discovering even more insights about their experiences and thoughts on who’s getting through to them – and how to create better stories and connections that resonate deeply with students.