Surveying prospective students

In the past two years at BCcampus we haven’t focused much on post-secondary students as an audience. The primary audience for our communications efforts is made up of representatives from post-secondary institutions themselves. After all, it’s the presidents, vice-presidents academic, directors of information technology, registrars, people at centres for teaching and learning technologies who we deal with regularly. They’re the ones we have to persuade that working with BCcampus is cost-effective and provides better service to students and faculty. Students are attached to their university or college, and therefore are a secondary audience for us.

That being said, many of our services are student-facing:, the provincial application service;, an online course directory,, a new service that provides unofficial electronic transcripts for students of eight institutions. Not only that but students also use the learning management systems, and get their learning experience from faculty who use educational technologies. It’s worth getting the student take on the landscape of online BC student services.

We surveyed student applicants through ApplyBC recently – it was a “toe-dip” – a foray into taking the temperature of our secondary audience. There’s a synopsis of the results below; you can find the full report and survey results on the BCcampus wiki.

We are also surveying post-secondary stakeholders, and that report will probably be available later in February.


With this survey BCcampus sought an overview of student’s perceptions and attitudes toward existing online student services. The survey was purposefully short (in order to increase chances for completion) and was meant to complement, rather than replace, detailed user testing of existing tools. The questions were also meant to situate BCcampus services within the landscape of the broader provincial system.

The survey respondents were mostly would-be post-secondary students (not yet accepted into a higher-ed institution). Results indicate:

  • minimal awareness of post-secondary online services in the British Columbia system;
  • fairly strong approval of ApplyBC, the provincial application service;
  • lukewarm support for existing services for post-secondary students in general;
  • strong support for additional and enhanced services in the future.


Total participation rate in the survey is approximately 3%, according to our calculations:

  • There were 7,190 applicants using ApplyBC during the survey period. Google Analytics for ApplyBC show 12.64% of visits derived from search traffic and 15.48% derived from direct traffic for the same period.
  • Thus, approximately 2,013 applicants came from direct or search, and therefore would get the popup invitation to take part in the survey (7,190 * (12.64% + 15.48%) = 2,013).
  • Of the 2,013 potential respondents, 249 emails were sent as a result of applicants choosing to participate in the survey, approximately 12% of eligible users.
  • Of those 249 emails sent, 63 completed surveys were collected. However, 79 eligible respondents clicked on the link, leaving 16 incomplete responses. Those 16 were not counted in the survey results described here as there was not enough data gathered from them to make a thorough analysis.
  • Total participation rate in the survey is approximately 3% (63 / 2013 * 100).

Answers to our open-ended questions contained quite varied suggestions, but one thread can be picked out among several of them: “easy,” “simple,” “clear,” “quick.” This may indicate the user experience of online students services taken as a whole tends to be complicated, confusing and time consuming. Some examples:

  • “I find ApplyBC to be a great tool in comparison to other application systems for other provinces. It’s clear that it was developed with simplicity in mind, which should always be the central focus with this sort of system. Furthermore, I find that it is straightforward and clear in the language used; a situation of confusion is uncommon.”
  • “It’s a good idea to have all of the applications to the schools in one central area. It makes things easier for the student to apply.”
  • “I believe there should be a section where someone can help you figure out what will be a suitable career for a individual and what course should be picked.”
  • “Most campus websites are completely bloated with information that’s not particularly useful for a prospective student. If they each edited and organized their information in a way that makes sense to anybody coming to the site for the first time, then that’d help all students out.”


It is possible there is a gap between expectations and the reality of the B.C. post-secondary system that bears further research. It also may indicate the respondents have not thought through what the landscape of post-secondary services for students might look like. This could be a function of the survey design or inexperience, as the overwhelming majority of respondents are not yet post-secondary students.

The survey responses could also indicate that researching and applying to university or college online is such a basic expectation it’s not perceived as a separate “service.” In many ways online services are now perceived the same way electricity or indoor plumbing are perceived: so ubiquitous that their origins and function are unconscious until they break down or disappear.

Today’s post-secondary students expect online services to work without undue delay or complexity. For the most part they do, but the post-secondary system could be providing a better experience overall.

Posted by Tori Klassen