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The Growing Importance of Student Reviews

4 min read

Thaís Roberto

University rankings have long been among the most distinguished resources in determining the best institutions in higher education. However, one factor has existed long before rankings and still holds its importance: word of mouth.

According to recent data, students have valued peer reviews over institutional reputation and leaned more on online social groups for information about their desired schools.

Continue reading to learn about why applicants search for student reviews and how they can benefit students and universities.

What are student reviews?

Student reviews are testimonials by current and former students who evaluate their experience with a specific school or program. These reviews often comment on aspects such as infrastructure, student support, student life, faculty, career outlook, and many others from a personal point of view.

It’s not uncommon for universities to feature student testimonials on their websites. Still, social media groups and third-party review websites have been gaining space as the go-to resource for applicants looking for more insight into the student experience.

Many student reviews cover topics that interested students can’t get from traditional sources like institution rankings or program brochures. The high level of honesty when pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of a school is the main reason they gain relevance with every passing year.

Why do students seek peer reviews?

Business Insider has elected Gen Z as the most skeptical of all generations. They are hesitant to trust any institution, including higher education, so when deciding which school to attend, they trust one voice: their fellow students.

Because student reviews can be found easily on social media groups or websites not linked to universities, they contain the most genuine accounts of the student experience, which is just what undecided applicants want to see.

Aware of the cost of attending university, students are taking more care to determine which school will offer the best overall experience and, in turn, the best return on their investment.

There aren’t many ways to know what life at a particular university will be like - especially for international students who don’t get the chance to participate in open days and other events. This form of peer-to-peer communication becomes a way of experiencing the program or the school before even applying and making a well-informed final decision.

Some of the most common topics students want to know more about include the cost of living, city environment, campus events, social life, mental health support, or career prospects. Some may also be interested in what university life will be like for students from marginalized communities, e.g., students of color or with disabilities, from the LGBTQ+ community, etc.

Where they look for information

Rankings still have their role in assessing an institution’s reputation, but they are losing preference concerning students’ final decision on what school to attend. Thanks to easy access to online information, students can browse several platforms in search of what pertains to their specific requisites for their desired university.

A survey run among over four thousand students in August of 2022 showed that out of the top ten social media platforms today, Facebook remains the leading social channel students use when researching study options, being the primary choice for 45% of the surveyed students.

Instagram and WhatsApp tied in second place, being the chosen platform for 25% of the students. LinkedIn and YouTube followed, with 22% and 21% of the answers. 

What these platforms have in common - and what sets them apart from institution-ranking websites - is the possibility of connecting with other students personally. Facebook and LinkedIn, especially, have countless groups, each with hundreds or thousands of members, where students can share their stories.

Through these channels, students can not only post reviews but also ask questions and share advice with their peers, guiding one another throughout their journey. The same happens in social platforms like Quora or Reddit, where forums dedicated to academia and graduate school have brought over one million users together for the past ten years.

How universities can benefit from student reviews

Regardless of the nature of student reviews, they are essential in helping the university be better. Positive or negative, reviews provide an opportunity to build trust with students. Responding to negative reviews shows that the school is willing to listen to what the community has to say and consider their input. 

These reviews provide valuable additional feedback on details of university life that internal surveys run by the administration often can’t, pointing out exactly what can be improved regarding the quality of teaching, student wellbeing, and program offerings. Each student has a different experience, but a recurring point in multiple reviews can reveal something to start working on.

Besides addressing what needs to be improved, student reviews can also highlight aspects in which the university excels, which the administrators might not have previously known.

Another way universities can benefit from student reviews is by looking at what receives the most praise from the students and using the information to better market the school and each program. With a better understanding of what students look for and what they will love about your university, you can create more realistic and effective marketing materials.

Incorporate student reviews into your plan

Opening up your institution to public commentary can be daunting, especially when the anonymity of the online space acts as a catalyst for increased honesty regarding a school’s shortcomings as well as its virtues. 

However, universities can work towards a more cooperative relationship with their communities by understanding the importance of transparency and learning how to benefit from online student reviews. And a visibly positive relationship between students and the institution becomes decisive when a potential applicant gets a glimpse of what life could be like at your university.

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