The New Trend: Juniors Return to Online College Search



Alex Stepien

   Written by Alex Stepien, CEO

   Published on May 13, 2020

Since my last trend update in late March, the college admissions world has continued to adapt to the new temporary normal.  What’s normal now?  Virtual events and Zoom counseling sessions are the primary modes of student communication. Test centers remain vacant with SAT/ACT tests cancelled through the fall. Selective schools are heavily recruiting from their waitlists.  Colleges reopening their admissions process. It’s clear that Fall 2020 enrollment has an unprecedented amount of open questions as we head into a summer melt season that has enrollment professionals across the country sweating.


Appily Student Activity

When we last updated, the COVID-19 quarantine across the country was fresh and new — most states had just issued stay-at-home orders in the week or so previous and families across the country were dealing with the new reality of their kids adapting to remote learning. For high schoolers, thoughts of the college search process clearly took a temporary back seat, backed up by stats that we saw on website activity combined with broader Google search trends.

Not so for seniors, however, who were more active on Appily than usual for March. As schools switched to virtual yield events and more digital methods of communication, traffic to those events, virtual college tours, and video content soared to all-time highs.

At Appily, we can now look back to that period in mid-March as an acute shock to the college-readiness psyche of students across the country. After a significant two week lull, we’ve seen student traffic and new account sign-ups roar back, besting numbers for the same period last year through April.  

Running Sum of Registrations

Most interestingly, we’re seeing dramatic changes in behavior from the class of 2020, who are very clearly leaning into online research resources like Appily as they grapple with deposit and enrollment decisions. For the last 30 days, new account registration from seniors is up almost 100% compared to the same time period last year — variance that’s too significant to chalk up to anything but the macro changes we’re seeing all around us.


Testing Changes Impacting the Calendar

For soon to be rising seniors (the class of 2021), changes in their academic lives and the admissions calendar are impacting their behavior. As a group, their activity is more muted than we would expect at this time of year. The smoking gun? Almost certainly the delay, and subsequent cancellation, of ACT and SAT tests.

Our own Steve Kania blogged last week about the observations we’re seeing in Google search trends, and at Appily we have a unique ability to tie these macro trends to specific student demographics since these search terms drive student registration and activity on our platform.

College Tuition and Cost 5-year trend

In particular, search terms like “colleges for a 25 ACT” or “what colleges can I get into with a 1450 SAT” are typically big drivers of junior student traffic during the February-June time frame. We see significant spikes on the days test scores are released. These search terms in particular are down relative to our expectations, along with the activity from juniors that we’d typically see.

3 year ACT-SAT traffic

All of this points to the disruption in the typical admissions calendar. Without the structure of entrance exams signaling to students to “get serious” about their college research, it seems that some juniors are sitting on the sidelines. Will this pent up student demand return once the reality of fall hits, with impending admissions deadlines and the return of tests (virtual or traditional)? How will your institution adapt communication that engages students and families in an entirely new timeline/admissions process? The challenges we’re all facing for Fall 2020 caught the entire world off guard and have forced an industry to react quickly for 2021, Now is the time to plan for these opportunities and challenges we’ll be facing.



With students and families embracing the new quarantine norm for the foreseeable future, college search is finding a new timeline in their lives. Uncertainty about returning to school in the fall and the admissions timeline will certainly drive more anxiety and challenges for these families, but it represents an opportunity for forward-looking admissions professionals to adapt how their institution will engage, educate, and guide prospective students through this process.  

In the coming weeks, we plan to survey Appily students and parents in the class of 2021 to better understand  how industry happenings are shaping their perception and approach to the college application process.  

If you’d like to learn more about how Appily Enrollment Solutions can help you and your institution connect with prospective students, email us here.