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How High School Students are Researching Higher Ed Institutions in 2021: Social Media & Advertising

Academica Group and Glacier surveyed over 1,400 high school students in the first quarter of 2021 exploring high school students’ usage of marketing and branding resources for postsecondary institutions.


Marketing initiatives play a critical part of high school students’ decisions around higher education. That’s why Academica and Glacier collaborated on an online survey to explore high school students’ usage of marketing and branding resources for postsecondary institutions. This report covers the results of the third annual Gen Z Media Survey and outlines what we discovered from talking to over 1,400 high school students across Canada.

Every single surveyed student said that they had an active account with at least one social media platform, marking the importance of this area of media. High school students said that they were most commonly active on image- and video-based social media platforms such as Instagram (93% had an active account), TikTok (85%), Youtube (83%), or Snapchat (81%). Only about one-third said that they had an active account with Facebook (30%) or Twitter (39%).

Has an Active Account

When asked how frequently they used these platforms, students said they were most likely to use TikTok (92%), Snapchat (86%), and Instagram (85%) on a daily basis. This marks a shift from the 2020 study, where the platforms most commonly used on a daily basis were Instagram (94%), Snapchat (87%), Spotify (82%), and TikTok (72%), in that order (2020 Glacier-Academica Study).

Frequency of Use

92% of students said that they used TikTok on at least a daily basis. One-third of students said that they followed postsecondary institutions on social media, a practice that was more common in Atlantic Canada (54%) and British Columbia (47%) than in areas such as Alberta (30%).

When asked about whether they had used social media to ask questions or learn more about a postsecondary institution, over two-thirds confirmed that they had. The most popular sites were Instagram (51%), YouTube (25%), TikTok (19%), Twitter (7%), Reddit (7%), and Facebook (7%). Students in Atlantic Canada were much more likely to say they had used Facebook (25%) than other students in Canada, while TikTok was slightly more popular among Ontario students (23%). This marked a slight deviation from the platforms that students used generally, as text-based platforms (Twitter, Reddit) were more commonly selected than the very popular Snapchat. This suggests that usage rates alone should not be used to guide institutional decision-making process around marketing on social media.

Nearly two-thirds of students said that they had seen an ad from a postsecondary school on social media this year, while 45% saw ads or posters for institutions in their high school
and 42% saw an ad on another website. Students were less likely to have encountered an ad through traditional advertising locations such as TV (13%), billboards (10%), or radio (8%).

Have you encountered any of the following from a college, polytechnic, or university?

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