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Higher education marketing strategies

interstride logo by Interstride
February 4, 2023

Inside Higher Ed surveyed college and university admissions directors and found that only about one-third of admissions offices met their enrollment goals for the year and most were concerned about meeting their goals for the following year. Paired with the ever-evolving state of student recruitment and changes in student behavior and expectations, admissions officers are faced with unique challenges.

Colleges and universities need to adapt to navigate and leverage the digital ecosystem. These five higher education marketing strategies can help your institution stand out from competitors and reach more prospective international students to boost recruitment and enrollment.

Moving your higher ed marketing strategies online

Most prospective students are from the Gen-Z generation and have been raised in a digital world. Therefore, it’s essential to move higher education marketing strategies online as much as possible to meet prospective students where they’re at. Phone calls and mailing recruitment materials are no longer effective strategies. Instead, prospective students are likely to seek personal reviews and explore university websites to help them decide which school is right for them.

Unfortunately, university web pages are often outdated or too confusing for international prospects to navigate. They are also typically designed for internal use (professors, students, etc) rather than for marketing purposes. Because university and academic websites are not tailored to international students, they often struggle to find the crucial information they need. This represents a missed opportunity for recruiting international college students.

According to research from Interstride, providing clear information online about academic programs and admissions processes can increase international student enrollment. Additionally, university websites should be interactive and have a chat feature for prospective students and their families to engage with admissions officers or current students.

Re-designing a website can be costly and time-consuming, but Interstride makes it easy for universities to engage and support international students with our dynamic, easy-to-navigate portal. This interactive tool can be plugged directly into your university’s website so that you don’t have to do any expensive website overhaul.

Understanding your audience and developing personalized marketing strategies

Understanding your target audience is key to any successful marketing campaign. The majority of prospective undergraduate students are Gen Z. This generation is unique and traditional marketing strategies often don’t work for them. Increasingly, consumers want to feel a connection to a university or brand before spending money. This means providing authentic digital interactions that offer human connection, transparency, and relatability.

Research from Econsultancy shows that 68% of marketers see a higher return on investment (ROI) when they personalize their marketing strategy. Higher education institutions should prioritize adopting targeted marketing strategies to efficiently reach prospective students while offsetting the rising costs of student recruitment.

If prospects and existing students are satisfied with their admissions experience, they can become the best advocates for your university down the line. One great way to leverage satisfied students in your higher education marketing strategy is through a student ambassador program. Student ambassadors are current or former students who represent the university to prospective students throughout the admissions process. Because they were once in the same position as the prospect, ambassadors can connect with leads 1:1 and provide an even more personalized experience by answering questions and helping candidates feel connected to the school before they even apply.

Influencer marketing at your university

In this day and age, we all understand the value of influencer marketing. An influencer is defined as someone who has an online following or can affect their followers’ decisions. This could include the decision of what university to attend. In higher education, the equivalent of influencers are student ambassadors.

Student ambassadors can help boost your institution’s reputation and promote your brand in amazing ways. An institution’s brand plays an important role in a prospect’s decision-making, but the people who represent the brand have the power to drive more interest and enthusiasm among prospects. International students want to know true opinions from real representatives – not admissions officers. Student ambassador ‘influencers’ can engage directly with student prospects.

Leveraging student ambassador programs is an untapped tool that should be a part of your university’s higher education marketing strategies.

Emphasizing Career Outcomes

With the high cost of a college education in the US, international students and their families want to know that their degrees will have value and benefit their lives in significant ways. A report from the ICEF Monitor states that employability and employment outcomes are top factors in international students’ choices for US colleges and universities. One study found that 90% of prospective international students chose to study abroad specifically to improve their future employment options.

Universities should demonstrate that a degree from their institution can lead to a desired career. One of the best ways to do this is to highlight alumni stories and how their degrees helped boost their careers. Alumni themselves can also participate in the admissions process to personally share their experience with prospective students.

Your marketing materials should also highlight general career outcomes using data collected from former students. Universities should track:

  • How many students were employed after graduation from each program
  • What industries they are employed in
  • Who their employers are
  • What additional education they pursued, if any
  • Where in the world students go after graduation
  • International student outcomes, in addition to general student population outcomes

Implementing marketing strategies across the entire student journey

Student satisfaction and retention is another vital part of educational marketing strategies. If students are dissatisfied with their university, they may leave the school or speak negatively about it to others. If current students and alumni voice negative experiences, that could deter international prospects and their families from considering higher education at your institution or even in the US at all. Keeping students happy and satisfied throughout their entire academic journey is key to fostering a positive reputation locally and abroad, and continuing to attract top talent from around the world to study in the US.

Understanding what students need at each stage of their higher education journey is the first step to keeping them satisfied. First-year students may need more hands-on support with academics and making friends. Upper classmen may need more tailored career development and immigration resources.

Additionally, departments have to work together to ensure they reach students at all stages of their academic journey. When each department has their own leadership, resources, processes, and systems, they may not be able to fully support and engage international students. Admissions Offices, Career Services, International Student Offices, Offices of Retention, and Community Life need to work together and have staff members who focus specifically on marketing to international students.

Taking your higher ed marketing strategies to the mext level

Leveraging the Interstride platform helps you identify the most engaged prospects and make data-informed decisions to best recruit students. University admissions offices will find the tool valuable for increasing international student enrollment, boosting the school’s reputation, and improving overall student retention.