What Schools Are You Googling? The New Report is Out.

Google knows a lot about you: what brands of clothing you like, where you live, and — if you’ve ever searched on a strange rash or lingering cough — even your medical history. Privacy concerns aside, the fact is that the mega-search engine’s analytics can tell us more about ourselves than we even know. This phenomenon was highlighted few days ago with Google’s announcement of the most popular searches for universities from users around the world. While the list may be unexpected, it yields significant insights into global higher education trends, putting online education in the spotlight. Read more about Online education here.

Group Of Students In Computer Class

Group Of Students In Computer Class

Online Has Our Attention

Last year Google revealed that collective searches for distance learning and online institutions surpassed searches for conventional campus-based universities. 2014 saw a furthering of the trend with online colleges dominating the rankings.

The U.S.-based University of Phoenix (UOP) claimed the lion’s share of search requests. This online, for-profit university, which has a brief and somewhat controversial history, far surpassed giants like Harvard, Yale and Princeton in terms of public internet searches, suggesting that online courses evoke more interest that traditional campus-based institutions. (That some research also indicates that the University of Phoenix just so happens to have earned the distinction of being Google’s biggest advertiser may somewhat muddy the waters.)

Still, the second and third place finishers reinforce the conclusion that it’s all about online. While runner-up M.I.T. does have a traditional campus — along with laying claim to the title of “World’s Best University,” according to last week’s reveal from QS World University Rankings — it is also lauded as an innovator in the area of online education.

Rounding out the top three — and earning Europe’s top spot — is the U.K.’s Open University, also a leader in distance learning.

And the success of online courses concerns schools from all over the world, such as the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University, based in the United Arab Emirates.

This theme remains consistent throughout the list with many schools which cater to online students making the grade. Read more about Online Masters and Online Bachelor degrees here.

Going Global

Just as the internet has become a global marketplace for everything from shoes to diamonds, it has become the same for higher education. The dissolution of geographical barriers means potential students from around the world have unprecedented access. It’s not exactly a shock, then, that online searches are equally global in focus, although the extent to which searches are internationalized may be a surprise.

For example, Indian universities tied with U.K. universities in claiming a remarkable five of the top 20 spots in Google’s analytics. And while this number roughly corresponds to the QS World University rankings for U.K. universities, which earned six of the top 20 spots, the figure was wildly disparate for Indian higher education institutions: in fact, not even a single contender broke into the top 200, let alone top 20.

Meanwhile, a shift in the types of searches on universities in the U.K. reveals even more. Within recent years, U.K. institutions offering online courses have experienced phenomenal growth, outpacing campus-based schools. When inquiries did hone in on campus-based institutions, they came from far and wide: a full 40 percent of searches for U.K. universities originated from outside the U.K. — most notably from the Asia Pacific region and Eastern Europe.