Focus Group Reflections

Focus groups are just one tool in the evolving world of figuring out a company’s brand, image, and potential direction for projects and campaigns. They require time to truly review, analyze, and adjust the structure of the focus group sessions to achieve: 1) clear set goals; 2) the best time of day/year for attendees; 3) direct questions that will yield results; 4) well-chosen group members and facilitators; 5) and elimination of questions about innovation so you don’t get the below result.

Last April, University Relations (UR) conducted high school focus group sessions within a 90-mile undergraduate recruitment area. The sessions were focused on the undergraduate admissions viewbook, UM-Flint t-shirt designs, and overall perceptions of Flint and UM-Flint. We received great feedback and learned a lot from those sessions, including:

  • Too many questions, not enough time. We reviewed a lot of information with the April 2010 focus groups which caused a few issues with time during the sessions. We had to make adjustments to the questions to accommodate the limited time we had with certain groups. This caused us to not receive feedback on every question.
  • Bad timing? Late spring brought a few challenges with feedback from students because some were seniors and focused on graduating. The other challenge was working around the many school breaks.

Based on what we learned, we’re heading back out to meet with more potential high school students in 2011. We’ve met with a few high school students and have plans to meet with more, but there are a few things I’m noticing and learning this time around.


  • Students are more apt to open and read if it has a unique design.
  • Students indicated that they would take a campus tour after reviewing UM-Flint’s viewbook.
  • Students loved the personal stories, and would like to see more in communication pieces.
  • Less than 20% of the students that reviewed the viewbook returned it after the focus group session. I think that’s a great response and testament to the writing and design of the piece!

College Decision Influencers

  • Parents, family, and friends play the largest role in a high school student’s college decision.
  • High school students indicated that they rely heavily on the word-of-mouth of current students and alumni for the best testimonials about campus life and experience.
  • Parents play a major role because of tuition payment. More high school students rely on financial assistance from parents.

Top Searches on College Websites

  • Financial assistance: tuition and scholarships
  • Admission requirements
  • Majors
  • The surprise in this area was the amount of students that want to know about a university’s accreditation, top programs, and scholarly professors. They want to feel like they would be attending a nationally-ranked school.

Social Media

  • Facebook is the winner so far for the most-used social media site. Many high school students have not used Twitter because they feel it’s for “old people”. This does fit the recent demographic report of Twitter users.
  • High school students would join a special university social network group if they could connect with other students attending that university in the fall semester.

Entertainment Interests

  • Most high school students spend more than three hours per day online: social media, internet radio, movies online, and watching network webisodes.
  • Reality TV is the most-watched television programming among high school students.

A nice surprise while meeting with the focus groups was that given detailed information, UM-Flint could become a top-of-mind choice in students’ college decisions. Many were interested in the types of programs, community outreach, and research available to undergraduate students at UM-Flint. On average, between two and five students stayed after every session to ask additional questions.

So far, so good with the new set of focus groups. It’s amazing the influence you can have on a group of potential high school students just by speaking with them in a small group setting. The students really got us excited to think about new marketing strategies for undergraduate recruitment.  Can’t wait to start the next set of focus groups! We plan to have a full report of the entire process with detailed results in late spring 2011.