Why College Reviews Matter for Higher Ed Marketing

By: Jennifer Ravey Jul 13, 2023

Why College Reviews Matter for Higher Ed Marketing

Podcast listeners expect most episodes to end with a request to rate and review. Encouraging listeners to share their unfiltered thoughts helps podcasters amass social proof that their podcast is worth listening to. It also helps them get feedback on how they are doing overall. Colleges can reap some of the same benefits from college reviews.

Getting students to review colleges may be a slightly bigger ask than encouraging them to rate a podcast episode, but it can be worth the effort. Prospective students are likely to trust the lived experience of real students over carefully crafted marketing material. The result is more trust and potentially higher enrollments.

Where Students Leave College Reviews

While dedicated college review sites exist specifically to share information about colleges, students also rely on search engines. And with social media, like Instagram Threads, stealing the show, why not embrace social media to help drum up more reviews? Among graduate and undergraduate students, 87% said search engine reviews were very or somewhat important according to the 2023 online college students report. The same survey found that 76% of students thought social media reviews were very or somewhat important. Only a tiny number of respondents, less than 8%, said they didn’t use these review sources at all.

Clearly, having college reviews by and for students is in the best interest of any university. Positive college reviews provide social proof of the college’s legitimacy, give an inside look at the student experience, and underscore marketing messages.

College reviews are a unique tool in the higher ed marketing toolbox. Unlike testimonials, marketers have limited control over the content of reviews. However, there are steps colleges and universities can take to increase review quality and encourage students to leave reviews in the first place.

How to Encourage Students to Write a Review

The best way to get someone to do something is to ask them. Higher ed marketing teams can take a page from the podcast playbook and specifically ask students to leave reviews. Requests for review can be built into multiple places in the student enrollment cycle.

Colleges might ask for a review when:

  • The student completes the enrollment process
  • A class ends
  • A semester ends
  • The student is about to graduate
  • A student completes a major milestone

Alumni are also valuable sources of reviews since they can comment on how their experiences impacted their lives and careers. Marketers can work with the alumni office to contact alumni. Those who are already involved in alumni affairs are likely to have a positive view of their alma mater.

It’s important to give students all the details they need to quickly and easily leave a review. The ask should include a link to a specific review site or a preferred social media platform for reviews.

Specific questions or review prompts can also help. Try including language like:

  • How has [university name] prepared you for your career?
  • What was your favorite or most satisfying experience at [university name]?
  • What kind of student would you recommend [university name] to?
  • How has your experience at [university name] lived up to your expectations?

Without specific prompts, students may be overwhelmed by the task of distilling years of study into a few short sentences. Giving students specific prompts like this can be less overwhelming than just asking them to “leave a review.”

How to Respond to Negative College Reviews

Because reviews are offered directly by students without being filtered through marketing teams, colleges will sometimes receive negative reviews. It’s smart to have someone in charge of monitoring platforms where students leave reviews to catch negative ones quickly. The person monitoring reviews should respond to the review and open up a dialogue with the student.

An effective response to a negative review should:

  • Acknowledge the student’s experience
  • Offer an apology
  • Ask them to reach out with more details

Often, how a college deals with a negative review is more impactful than the review itself. This serves the dual purpose of allowing colleges to collect more information about the issue and showing potential students that the college takes student satisfaction seriously.

Although colleges and universities can’t — and shouldn’t try to — control what is written about them online, they can encourage satisfied students to leave reviews. When students have a less-than-stellar experience, colleges can work with students to resolve their issues. Ultimately, reviews are an opportunity to get a less filtered look at what students are thinking and feeling.

Reviews are an opportunity for colleges to deliver on their promise to support students from enrollment through graduation. If managing reviews is becoming a challenge, our team of organic social strategists stands ready to offer their expertise.