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How to Market Your Higher Education Programs to Prospective Students

As the college admissions landscape continues undergoing seismic shifts, higher education administrators and marketing teams must be able to come up with innovative, future-forward marketing strategies designed to increase interest, boost admission rates, and target student populations that may not otherwise have considered attending college.

By developing a marketing strategy for student recruitment, you can promote your higher education programs to the specific groups of prospective students who are most interested in them. Explore the latest trends and strategies for successful student recruitment in higher education, and begin building a higher education marketing strategy aligned with your institution’s goals and objectives.

Understanding the Prospective Student Journey

Before you can begin developing a prospective student marketing strategy, you must have a firm grasp of the student journey. The student journey is defined as the path a prospective student takes to become aware of a higher education program and ultimately enroll in that program. 

Relevance of the Student Journey in Marketing

According to 5DegreesBranding, the best way to understand the student journey is to conduct customer mapping. As you map the student journey, identify the marketing touchpoints that take place during that journey, and develop strategies to capture the attention of those prospective students during those critical moments.

Understanding Your Prospective Student

As you begin taking a deeper look at the student journey, you also need to analyze your prospective students. Perhaps your university most often attracts recent high school graduates who are looking to enroll in a four-year degree program, or maybe your institution focuses on recruiting adult students wanting to build skills or explore a new career path. By being keenly aware of the types of students most interested in your programs—and developing a data-based marketing strategy—you could be more likely to reach the right target audience.

Targeted Market Research

At the end of the day, you must complete targeted market research to fully understand your prospective students and their journey toward your institution. Rather than attempting to collect the necessary data on your own, you can rely on the expert UPCEA Research and Consulting team, which offers a wide range of custom research and consulting options designed to meet the needs of your marketing team.

Online Marketing Strategies

Developing data-based online marketing strategies allows you to target prospective students interested in the online and professional continuing education programs you offer.

Importance of Online Marketing in Higher Ed

Just a few short years ago, higher education marketing teams relied on a multi-pronged approach that included traditional marketing materials, in-person marketing, and online marketing. However, in recent years, it has become clear that online marketing is the most effective option for higher education.

Within online marketing, higher education teams should rely on a multi-channel approach that allows them to capture as many prospective students as possible. For example, a well-developed online marketing strategy for student recruitment will include an Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plan to grow online visibility, content marketing to add value, and email marketing to increase conversion rates. Artificial intelligence will continue to play a more prevalent role in your marketing strategy, too, so it’s important to be aware of the best AI tools on the market and how to utilize them effectively.

Optimizing the Website for Student Recruitment

Optimizing your website will allow you to focus on student recruitment and provide prospective students with the valuable information they need as they move through their student journey. You should prioritize a user-friendly, responsive website design and focus on developing web content to increase student engagement.

Monitoring your website performance is an essential piece of any SEO strategy. These are a few of the key metrics to watch:

  • Organic traffic
  • Organic inquiries
  • Referral traffic
  • Keyword rankings

Utilizing Paid Media for Targeted Reach

While your content marketing and SEO strategy may focus on free ways to increase online visibility and boost traffic, you also need to consider paid media as part of your digital marketing strategy. Some of the most popular paid media channels include Google Ads or Meta Ads, which allow you to develop a pay-per-click campaign that targets specific demographics.

You can create an impactful Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaign by:

  • Developing an in-depth understanding of your target audience.
  • Purchasing ads in the places where your prospective students spend the most time online.
  • Using images to increase visibility.
  • Adding promotions or discounts to your PPC ads.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing continues to play a powerful role in the student journey, with many prospective students becoming aware of opportunities thanks to influencers, online advertisements, and organic social content.

Harnessing the Power of Social Media

According to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Offices, prospective college students are becoming increasingly dependent on social media when it comes to making their final decision. Younger college students have been interacting on social media for most of their lives, and they believe it is one of the most central and compelling places to gather information. In addition, adult students—such as those interested in a certificate program or returning to complete a degree—may rely on social media to learn more about opportunities that might be available to them.

Some of the most effective social media marketing strategies for higher education include:

  • Allowing for user-generated content that puts your current students at the forefront of your social media marketing content.
  • Showcasing compelling student stories that help prospective students connect with your institution.
  • Offering virtual content, such as behind-the-scenes tours or live footage of events that take place at your college or university.

Engaging Prospective Students Through Social Platforms

Social media provides you with a direct point of connection with your prospective students, so you must know how to engage with them in a way that encourages them to seek more information. You can improve your social media engagement rates by:

  • Creating engaging content that offers additional insight into your university. Profiles of key administrators or tours of facilities on campus provide prospective students with added information and context that can support their decisions.
  • Hosting virtual question-and-answer sessions that encourage your followers to interact with you live.
  • Responding to questions and constructive feedback on your social channels. By being responsive and aware, you are not only helping the prospective student who has asked the question; you are also showcasing your customer service skills to all students who are simply browsing your feed.

Targeted Advertising for Student Recruitment

The key to any higher education marketing strategy is to target your campaigns to the student populations most interested in your programs. For instance, if you are a non-degree granting institution that offers certification programs, you would most likely want to focus on recruiting adult students.

Tailoring Advertising Strategies to Prospective Students

Targeted advertising can allow you to capture prospective students at different points in their student journey. By relying on a data-based approach to marketing and advertising, you can develop an intimate understanding of your target market segment and thus a strategy that caters to their needs and preferences.

Measuring the Success of Advertising Campaigns

To evaluate and measure the success of your higher education advertising campaigns, you want to monitor the following key performance indicators:

  • Conversion rates – This is the number of website visitors who convert into customers. Key conversion rates to focus on within the field of higher education marketing include: click to lead, lead to application, and application to enrollment.
  • Click-through rate – This metric highlights the number of users who click on a link they have seen as part of a marketing campaign, compared to the total number of users who have seen the advertisement. It helps determine if your ads are relevant to your target audience.
  • Cost per enrollment – This metric showcases the amount of advertising dollars it takes to convert a prospective student into an enrolled student. Ideally, your team will work to lower the CPE over time.

Aligning Your Marketing and Enrollment Management Strategies

You can work to align your marketing and enrollment strategies by:

  • Developing a unified messaging strategy that extends between your marketing and enrollment materials. This promotes consistent branding and communication across all channels.
  • Establishing cross-functional teams that include both marketing and enrollment management staff members.
  • Creating custom marketing strategies for different enrollment cycles.

UPCEA members benefit from our expertise in marketing, enrollment management, and student success. From developing marketing strategies directed at those seeking professional development to learning how to break out in a crowded market, our industry experts in Research and Consulting can help you craft a strategic marketing plan that aligns with your marketing and enrollment management objectives.

Value of Using a Higher Education Marketing Partner

Although your in-house team has expertise in your branding guidelines and messaging, you can still benefit from leveraging the help of a marketing agency that can offer specialized expertise, scalability, and fresh perspectives. Thanks to the many corporate partnerships we have developed at UPCEA, we can connect you with the ideal marketing partner for your college or university. Through our extensive network of experienced professionals, we can facilitate access to custom marketing and branding solutions that can help you boost enrollment.  

Gain Access to Higher Education Marketing Resources and Enrollment Management Tools Through UPCEA

While enrollment levels continue to even out, the digital revolution maintains its impact on the needs and perceptions of students interested in higher education programs. The dynamic nature of higher education marketing requires you to continue exploring new and innovative prospective student marketing approaches to maximize your exposure to the most motivated students and elevate enrollment rates.

Explore the various resources and tools available through UPCEA—the online and professional education association. For more tips on recruiting students for higher education, explore UPCEA’s blogs.












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