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Open source learning. A global economy. Shifting demographics. These are just a few realities impacting your college recruitment strategy.

According to the National Student Clearing House Research Center, Spring 2018 college enrollment across U.S. campuses was down from the previous year. University and college recruiters have shifted to overdrive in response.

Related: How to improve higher ed student retention

Some focus on radio ads, alumni referrals and online recruiting fairs. Others build interest on social media and at live events.

Regardless of the outreach method, one thing is clear: In today's higher education landscape, recruiters must be increasingly creative and strategic to attract new students.

A varied college recruitment strategy

"The times, they are a-changin'," sang Bob Dylan. Want to keep up? Pay attention to your audience.

Today's students don't want a cookie-cutter version of their parent's university experience. They're also not impressed by (pun alert) old-school marketing tactics.

Instead, create a varied strategy that will reach your top prospects on multiple channels. Essentially, you want to provide engaging information that helps your college sell itself.

Use multi-channel enrollment marketing

Most colleges and universities know their target demographic well, and they market to basically the same audience year after year.

However, success also depends on reaching new targets via a multi-channel approach:

  • Website — a branded, responsive hub that's easy to navigate and engaging to use
  • Blog or vlog — where interested prospects go for bite-size information
  • Social media — critical online outreach, both locally and internationally
  • Email campaigns — important tactic for lead generation and nurture
  • Direct mail — still relevant and effective marketing for certain audiences
  • Phone calls — an effective, if time-intensive, method for personal outreach
  • Brand ambassadors — relatable outreach by faculty, students & alumni
  • Parent outreach — critical influencers of your target audience
  • Campus visit days — highly successful recruiting events, up close and personal
  • High school visits — successful outreach that meets students where they are
  • College fairs — key events that can market your institution both off and online
  • International markets — a growing segment of your target audience

Now, for a few of the most helpful enrollment marketing strategies...

Recruiting college students online

It's no surprise that most prospective students live online, particularly on mobile technology.

So, today's recruiting strategies must be mobile-friendly. End of story.

How to create a college recruiting strategy, examples
Source: Lake Superior State University

Responsive web design is no longer optional. But, you'll stand out even more by offering mobile-friendly instruction and interactive pages.

For instance, students are wondering what they'll learn on your campus. Why not show them instead of tell them?

Continuing education is common enough. But, standout institutions are experimenting with AR, game-based platforms and social learning models. Just one interactive feature on your site can put you ahead of the curve.

Even without all the technological bells and whistles, you can still provide value to new recruits.

Offer valuable resources

Don't just throw a bunch of content on your website and call it good. Instead, create a user-friendly path that puts visitors at ease.

Which resources are clicked on the most? These might include:

  • A catchy, above-the-fold video
  • A listing of popular majors
  • Programs and career opportunities
  • Student and alumni testimonials
  • Admissions deadlines
  • Financial aid information
  • Data-rich infographics

Simplify the application process

Of course, what you don't include on your homepage can be equally important.

Generally, anything that simplifies your navigation and motivates would-be students to apply online is a good thing. Often, it means including more white space in your webpage design.

Face it—applying for college can be a daunting task even for the initiated. So, a user-friendly interface is essential.

Why not include a pithy video tutorial or a colorful step-by-step checklist to make the application process less painful?

Also, non-traditional students (e.g. adult learners, international students) generally want to know about credit transfers, flexible course listings, and financial aid options.

Build your blog

Most colleges today have a blog. What about your college?

More importantly, does your blog cover the topics your prospects care about most?

Boston University's blog regularly shares pithy thoughts and videos by faculty members.

Likewise, Cornell University publishes "life on the hill" posts that help wannabes sample current students' daily academic routines.

How to create a college recruiting strategy, example
Source: Cornell

Your blog might also feature guest posts by alumni, video tours, listings of popular courses, and user-generated content.

And of course, the most popular blog posts should factor into your upcoming email campaigns.

Direct interaction with prospective students

As you can see, a successful recruiting strategy contains many moving parts. But, personal interactions (phone calls, campus visiting days, etc.) are still the most powerful of these.

According to Hanover Research:

"Despite increased digital activity, a recent survey found that the most effective marketing strategies for universities are nevertheless events‐based and involve direct interaction with potential students."

After all, sometimes it really is about your newly upgraded facilities, swanky campus and student perks.

Most prospects who've gotten this far already know about your tuition costs, financial aid options, and faculty-to-student ratio. A successful campus visit just helps close the deal.

International student recruitment

Quick—what's the Chinese version of Twitter?

If you're recruiting students from China, you already know the answer to this question. (It's Weibo, by the way.)

How to create a college recruiting strategy, stats
Source: Statista

As you can see, international student recruitment is alive and well at American colleges and universities.

As discussed earlier, your website needs to be user friendly and easy to navigate. This is particularly important if you're appealing to international students.

Your site should help this target demographic understand the advantages of studying in America—and at your institution specifically.

Simple videos and infographics can also help smooth potential cultural barriers.

Do you already feature international students in your recruiting videos? If not, now's the time to help them share their story—in their language.

As appropriate, include video links in your email campaigns. Share these on international social media channels.

Your website should also include pages dedicated to the specific needs of international students and recruits.

How to create a college recruiting strategy, example
Source: Cornell

Reduce educational jargon

Higher education is adrift in educational jargon, which can be painful even to American-born students.

All those acronyms can be excruciating to international applicants. Whenever possible, cut them out and use a simpler description.

In the end, remember: Every positive interaction with a brand depends on clear communication.

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Now that you're familiar with what it takes to build a successful recruiting strategy, let's wrap things up by considering the real-life example of Western Colorado University. WCU's creative team struggled to manage their recruiting strategy and materials, as they were too busy trying to keep their head above water.

Read Western Colorado University's full case study here to learn how they dealt with their recruiting and marketing problem.

How can higher ed marketing teams build a strong, consistent brand across campus? This downloadable guide will show you how to templatize design at your school.

Higher ed marketing ebook: How to templatize design on campus

Author Bio

Ruth Christensen lives in northern Utah, where she works full-time as a content marketer and part-time as a freelance writer and musician. For many years, she taught vocal music at local universities, including BYU, UVU and SUU.