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Students' Preferences for Information Sources during the Undergraduate College Search Process: The Influence of Technology Open Access

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The purpose of this dissertation was to develop an expert and empirically validated survey instrument to measure students' preferences for information sources during the undergraduate college search process. As technological advances introduce new mediums by which to communicate, admissions offices adapt their recruitment practices to reflect these changes. Unfortunately, a survey did not exist to measure how students prefer to receive information about colleges during the search process, and therefore admissions officers make decisions based on anecdotal evidence rather than empirical data. This project sought to provide the field with an instrument to gather this information, resulting in more informed decision making about recruitment practices.First-time, freshman students from one private institution and one public institution in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States were surveyed about their preferences for information sources in the following categories using an expert validated survey instrument: significant people, nontechnological, and technological. High school counselors, within the significant people category, and colleges' websites, within the technological category, were found to be the most valuable and most frequently used information sources, respectively; high school counselors because of the personal interaction and websites because of the ease of gathering information. Though technological information sources other than websites were not used during college search by a majority of students surveyed, those who did utilize these communication mediums most highly valued virtual campus tours, email with college representatives, colleges' Facebook pages, YouTube videos of colleges, commercial websites on colleges, and Naviance--a college counseling software product. The researcher utilized factor analysis to empirically validate the survey instrument. The results of this analysis suggested that further changes were needed to the instrument. The updated version of the survey instrument resulted in new labels of information source categories--mass communication, interpersonal engagement, and instant connectivity--which more accurately classified the information source variables. Overall, this dissertation is significant in that it adds to the current scholarly literature on college choice and will aid practitioners in the field of college recruitment and admissions by providing data from the students' perspective on information sources and introducing to the field a validated instrument.

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