Posted by idgroup team ● April 24, 2018

Making it Matter: 8 Best Practices for Student Recruitment Campaigns

Students are the life-blood of colleges. Whether you’re marketing a traditional, 4-year university or an online school focused on adult education, you can’t survive without a steady stream of new students. In other words, student recruitment is a must for everybody in education.

Branding is a key element of any student recruitment campaigns. Students want to identify with the schools they attend. For many people, their education is part of their core identity. They’re not just an employee; they’re also a graduate of their alma mater.

We have extensive experience working with schools and institutions to build brand credibility and recruit students. Before you launch your next student recruitment campaign, check out this list of 8 best practices to ensure your campaign is a success.

#1: Create Separate Recruitment Campaigns for Traditional and Non-Traditional Students

The first thing you should think about is who you want to recruit. Some schools, such as traditional four-year universities, focus primarily on recruiting students who are about to graduate high school or undergraduate school. Others focus on adult education and non-traditional students.

Remember that these two groups of students are not the same. A traditional recruitment campaign for graduating high schoolers might focus primarily on concerns about class size, potential majors, and campus activities.

However, an adult student who needs to work full-time while taking classes isn’t going to care about the same things. Their priorities are different. They’ll want to know about things like:

  How class schedules will affect their ability to work
  How much time they’ll need to dedicate to classes
  What professional advantages they’ll gain by choosing your school or course

Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t care about having a fulfilling college experience. However, it’s essential to tailor your marketing to the audience you’re trying to reach.

#2: Use Social Media Wisely to Engage Potential Students

It should come as no surprise that social media plays an essential role in new student recruitment. However, it’s not enough to maintain a presence on social media. You must use each platform wisely to increase engagement and attract students.

One rule of thumb that can help is sticking to the rule of thirds. Your content should be broken down as follows:

  One-third of your posted content is branded marketing content
  One-third is relevant content created by somebody else
  One-third is direct interaction with potential students

It’s also important to stick to those social media sites where you target audience is likely to be. A traditional, four-year college might want to focus on platforms that skew young demographically, like Instagram. By contrast, schools recruiting non-traditional students might focus on LinkedIn to connect with professional adults interested in continuing their education.

#3: Create Key Messages for Specific Programs

Every educational institution has areas of specialty. A school that has a stellar reputation for a department or major – an example is Yale’s drama school – can and should capitalize on their reputation when it’s time to recruit new students.

For example, you might:

  Highlight the most important benefits of a department
  Offer biographies of key faculty members
  Feature graduate success stories

These things can help you give students interested in one of your programs concrete reasons to choose your institution over others they might be considering.

#4: Use Stories to Convey Your Message

Brand identification is a complex thing when it comes to education. People tend to identify quite strongly with the schools they attend. That means that your recruitment efforts must give people a reason to identify with you.

One good example of this comes from the University of Phoenix. They were out ahead of the trend of online learning. And while the school gets its name from the city of Phoenix, they’ve done a good job of connecting themselves to the mythological phoenix – the bird that rises from the ashes to be reborn – with their recruitment.

Here’s an example from their website. It says:

What does it mean to be a Phoenix? We are the risers. The ones who know that if we want it, we have to go out and get it.

This language encourages potential students to align themselves emotionally with the school. Since most of their students are adults who didn’t get degrees right out of high school, their branding message makes a lot of sense. It tells students that if they enroll, they’ll be able to rise, too.

A strong branding message is something you can use in every aspect of student recruitment. Telling stories, whether they’re about the founding of your school or the success of your graduates, will entice new students to matriculate.


#5: Target Students Based on Their Decision-Making Process

Students who are evaluating schools start as consumers of any product do. They gather information and learn what they want. They may check websites, social media, and reviews. Eventually, they’ll narrow their choices – and when they do, they’ll dig deep to make a final decision.

One mistake that schools sometimes make is focusing too much on students at one point in the decision-making process. For example, if all your content is geared toward students who are brand new to your school and brand, you risk losing those who are close to making a choice. And, if you put your attention on potential students who already know the basics, you might alienate those who don’t know anything about you, yet.

The key, then, is to provide an array of recruitment materials that will be relevant to students at different places in the process. You might want to create an email campaign that’s strictly for new subscribers and associate it with a section of your website with the same kind of material.

For prospective students who are already familiar with your school and its offerings, you should provide detailed information about relevant topics, including departments, programs, living arrangements, and other things that are important to them.

#6: Make Customer Service a Priority

It might seem odd to think of students as customers, but it’s a mistake not to. The ease of researching online has turned students into consumers – and you need to treat them accordingly.

One key mistake that schools make is not having a coherent plan to respond to questions and inquiries from prospective students. Increasingly, big companies are integrating customer service with social media. You should do the same. A question posed on a Facebook post or Twitter thread should receive the same attention as a phone call or email.

An example of a college that takes customer service seriously as a way of recruiting new students is York College. They developed a comprehensive customer service strategy that focused on friendliness, responsiveness, and convenience. You can do the same – and both prospective and existing students will appreciate it.

#7: Focus on Inbound Marketing

Students are seeking information about your school. When you provide them with plenty of inbound marketing – things like blog posts, videos, and social media campaigns – they’ll come to you. If you put too much of your emphasis on outbound marketing, you’ll be stuck competing for their attention instead of waiting for them to come to you.

It all comes down to effective content marketing. If you provide students with relevant content that provides them with answers and helps overcome any objections they might have, you’ll improve your recruitment and attract the best students.

That means you should have less of a focus on selling yourself and more on helping your audience understand what you can do for them. 45% of consumers say that they have unfollowed a brand on social media when the content was too focused on self-promotion.

#8: Think of Recruiting as an Ongoing Process

Your recruitment efforts might bear more fruit at certain times of the year, but you can’t afford to ignore at other times – especially if you want to recruit non-traditional students. Just as it can take several “touches” from a brand before a consumer becomes a customer, it can take a while for a prospective student to be ready to enroll.

Non-traditional students have concerns about returning to school. They might worry how they’ll find the time to do homework while working and taking care of their families. They might also be concerned about money.

A dedicated, ongoing recruitment campaign for these students can help overcome their objections and educate them about the realities of studying with you.

The same is true of traditional students. Both students and parents may worry about the quality of your programs, living arrangements, social activities, and tuition. A steady stream of valuable and relevant content can educate them and alleviate their concerns, making it more likely that they’ll choose you over other schools


Student recruiting is essential if you want your school to grow and flourish. The eight best practices outlined here can help you craft your next recruiting campaign.

Need help with your next student recruiting campaign? Click here to learn how we can help.


Topics: Branding