How to Make Your Higher Education Institution More Appealing to Prospective Students

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College enrollments have steadily declined each year since the peak in 2010. The period between Spring 2020 and Spring 2022 was one of the sharpest falls yet, with a 7% drop in enrollment — a loss of around 1.3 million students.

For many colleges, such losses can prove financially devastating, especially for smaller schools that rely heavily on tuition. In fact, a 2021 survey of higher education professionals found that 74% of colleges were facing financial challenges, with schools with fewer than 5,000 students facing the greatest limitations.

In 2022, that trend continued as several smaller colleges closed — some of which had previously served students for over 150 years.

In the midst of this financial turmoil, few things can prove more important to your institution’s continued stability than its ability to become more attractive to prospective students. So here are a few tips to get you started:

Also see: 3 Marketing Tips to Boost Pre-College Program Enrollment Rates

Offer virtual tours, info sessions and more

Campus tours and information events may not be accessible to prospective students for various reasons. Perhaps they live across the country or have a job to support their family and are unable to attend during times when scheduled sessions are available on campus. In this case, digitization can improve accessibility for all.

For example, Arizona State University offers self-guided online video tours for each campus location. Tours are available online or via a mobile app, and prospective students can personalize their virtual tour experience based on their areas of interest. Curated tours highlighting popular campus locations are also available.

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While virtual tours and informational sessions often became necessary during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, they continue to offer great value by helping more students get a feel for what it’s like to be on campus. The flexibility to adapt to a student’s available schedule goes a long way in making them more committed to your school and more motivated to apply.

Of course, you can (and should) continue to offer guided tours and info sessions on site if possible. Still, even these in-person events can take on a digital twist that expands your reach and makes them more engaging. Even something as simple as live streaming an info session or posting highlights on social media can increase your reach and influence.

See also: How Virtual Tours Can Improve Your Marketing Strategy

Let current students do the talking

Social media can be a powerful tool to showcase your campus, courses, and activities to potential students. But the messages coming straight from your college won’t be nearly as compelling as the messages from the students who already attend your school.

For example, Brigham Young University regularly hosts #MyViewFromBYU posts and reels on its Instagram account, giving current students an opportunity to “take over” the Instagram account while sharing stories about their student life and journey to university .

This is a great way to get a more honest and casual look at student life at your college – and in a way that feels more relatable to potential students. Of course, social media isn’t the only place this can happen. You can also feature blogs and videos from current students and alumni on your website or other marketing materials.

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Alumni can be an especially powerful voice in making your institution more attractive to prospective students. Highlighting alumni’s success stories—be it in sports, business, or the sciences—and their connections to your university can be an incredibly powerful testament to students pursuing similar goals.

Also see: 3 digital trends shaping the future of college admissions

get personal

When creating the pitch for your institution, it’s important to remember that the message shouldn’t necessarily focus on the school itself. Rather, you should focus on the student and the experiences they can gain for themselves while attending your school.

For example, a case study by EAB that evaluated 1.2 billion interactions with students found that student-centric recruitment texts increased response rates by 50%. Using something as simple as using the word “you” and focusing on the student’s individual journey – rather than your “excellent curriculum” or “highly qualified professors” – can prove to be much more compelling.

Your messages should also be personal and focused when it comes to parents. A study of 2021 high school seniors found that 48% ranked “parental influence” as one of the most important sources of information they used in making their enrollment decision. In fact, parents were the second most cited source of information, ranking only behind college websites.

For this reason, universities should also focus a large part of their personalized messages on the parents of prospective students. Marketing campaigns that frame the institution and its benefits with a focus on the parent mindset can lead to more influential parent-driven conversations.

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To combat financial instability, colleges should focus on becoming more attractive to prospective students by offering virtual tours and informational sessions, letting current students speak on social media, sharing alumni success stories, and delivering personal messages to prospective students.

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