Discover the best college recruitment strategies in 2023 and how you can implement them at your institution! Whether you are the hardest or the easiest Ivy League School to get into or a newly established post-secondary institution, read on to learn how you can assess and audit your current recruitment efforts, and what you could be doing even better. From utilizing social media to offering admissions help to competitive professional and grad programs, there are many ways to appeal to prospective students.
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Recruiting prospective students to your institution and/or program requires a very strategic process, and you’ll need to understand the best college recruitment strategies and how to use university partnerships to your advantage in order to properly execute your new-and-improved approach to recruitment. While there may be students who have made their choices concretely and know which school they wish to attend, there are others who are looking to find out who offers the best programs for them, what campus suits them best, and why they should choose one school over another. In order to present your institution and program in a way that appeals to prospective students, you must create a recruitment plan and strategize what works best for both your team and your future students. You must consider how you’ll appeal to students, and curate materials and information that will resonate with the right audience. Not only must your recruitment strategy communicate your school’s message and echo your school’s image accurately, but it must speak directly to the people whom you wish to attract.
Why are College Recruitment Strategies Important?
College recruitment strategies are important, and it’s crucial that you have one, because without a plan in place, you’ll be relying on hearsay and recommendations made between students, complete chance, and old recruitment materials and tactics to attract new students to your institution. You want to ensure that your institution is recognized accordingly for what’s offered, and that students don’t think twice about wanting to apply!
Post-secondary schools operate like a business in that they charge tuition for students to attend. If your recruitment rates are low, or steadily decreasing, this means your institution isn’t generating as much revenue and could be missing out on several opportunities to attract new students and earn much more money in the long run.
Aside from the financial side of recruitment, it is also vital to uphold your institution’s reputation, or work toward a better one if your school currently isn’t very well known or sought after. Depending where you are located geographically, and what programs your institution offers, recruitment can be highly competitive. Often, students will be drawn to an institution solely by its reputation, or the reputation of the programs offered, and what some schools have to offer in addition to their reputation, such as financial aid, additional support, or internship opportunities. So, whether your school offers appealing options for bridging programs, or is well on its way to becoming the best undergraduate business school in the country, you’ll want to emphasize what sets you apart continuously in order to attract new and eager students every year and keep your institution prospering in many ways. Investing is good recruitment strategies also means investing in continuous development and growth for your academic community.
Overall, having the best college recruitment strategy is key because you, ideally, want students to be excited about applying to your program(s) and eager to attend your school. You don’t want to be a ‘last choice’ to anybody, and with a great recruitment strategy in place, you will be able to generate interest in your institution, increase application and enrolment rates, and in turn, earn more money.
Recruitment is a lot like marketing: it’s your opportunity to communicate and show what you have to offer, explain why it’s the best, and entice students to apply. Students want to know what features your institution’s programs offer and what sets you apart, but they also want to know how they’ll benefit from choosing to attend one school over another. Explaining and showing students how your school can help them achieve their dreams, meet their goals, and have a great campus experience are all essential when considering the best college recruitment strategies. This can be done by utilizing digital tools, sticking to what works (and scrapping what doesn’t), and offering unique experiences to students!
What Are the Best College Recruitment Strategies, and How to Implement Them?
There are several great college recruitment strategies that are well known, and others, which approach recruitment from a unique standpoint, are considered to be more modern. While the strategies you gravitate to can depend on your institution and the students you’re hoping to attract, it’s imperative that you review the following strategies and consider how they could help your recruitment rates.
Firstly, before you jump into implementing new approaches and strategies, you should review your current recruitment data and strategies. Ask yourself:
- What are you currently doing to recruit students?
- Do your current recruitment strategies work? Could your application rate be better?
- What is your current engagement like?
- What is your recruitment event attendance like?
- When is the last time you updated your recruitment strategies and materials?
- What recruitment strategy works for you, or has worked for you in the past?
- Are you happy with your recruitment rate? Do you have a set goal?
If you’re somebody who feels your institution’s recruitment rates could improve, a good place to start is reviewing what you’re currently doing. Many times, issues like out-of-date webpages, a lack of digital engagement and unappealing recruitment materials can be easily improved upon.
If you’ve identified a strategy that has worked for you in the past, it’s a great idea to stick to it, but also consider how it could improve, and what could be done in addition.
Here are some of the best college recruitment strategies:
#1: Tell the story of your institution, and its programs, in a unique way
Statistics are great, but stories are even better! Students will be bombarded with information when the time comes for them to decide on their future academic institution. This decision isn’t one that’s made lightly, and it’s important that students feel excited and intrigued by programs that they’re considering applying to.
In the world of business marketing, the term ‘unique selling proposition’ arises whenever businesses are looking to market their product and show their audience why they are the best option available…this also applies to academic institutions! Your school must be marketed accordingly to appeal to students so that they engage with your materials and ultimately make a choice whether to apply to one of your programs or not. Without a unique selling proposition, your institution will not stand out from others like it. In a saturated market, that is, one where there are several similar options for prospective students to consider, standing out is the key to success.
This is why it’s important to tell your school’s unique story, and make it clear what your institution’s values are. Perhaps your institution has a rich history in your community, boasts innovative technologies for students to utilize, has a tranquil waterfront campus, offers numerous extracurriculars, or even has opportunities for incredible internships and additional learning opportunities. A great way to understand what makes your school unique is to review and compare to what your competition offers—or does not offer. It’s vital that you set your school apart, turn your competition’s weaknesses into your program/institution’s strengths, and that your school’s uniqueness is evident in your recruitment materials.
Aside from assessing and researching your competition—that is, other colleges offering the same programs and/or other schools in your area—asking current and former students about their experiences, whether in writing, surveys, or informal recorded videos or meetings is a good way to gauge impressions about what makes your institution great. And, you can repurpose their feedback for other materials, such as website testimonials or social media posts.
#2: Utilize social media
Social media has been prevalent for some time now, and continues to evolve every year. You may have made a Facebook group for your institution, or for program-specific recruitment purposes a decade ago, but it’s important that you make note of how younger generations and social media platforms are progressing. If your social media strategy is outdated, your institution may also be perceived as such and you may not get the response you’re hoping for from prospective students.
Younger generations tend to respond well to relevant, concise and punchy material. When a message from an institution piques their interest and resonates with them, they’ll be more inclined to continue to engage with the material, save it for reference at a later time, or pass it along to friends.
Producing memorable, valuable recruitment material that appeals to your ideal audience (which is very likely high school students or other young scholars, perhaps somebody who has been out of high school for a few years) is essential, and, it must be made visible on relevant platforms.
TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are great tools for social media marketing, especially when utilized regularly—and strategically—and, when used simultaneously. These platforms also provide the opportunity for engagement and calls-to-action, including, “like and share this post for a chance to win a school hoodie”, or “save this helpful post to review when you’re tackling your college essay topics.”
You can utilize social media to not only tell your school’s story and promote its programs, but to offer value to students, such as tips or important information that also increases their awareness of your institution and programs. You can use social media to notify prospective students of upcoming recruitment events, host virtual recruitment events or Q&A’s, encourage them to participate or follow along, and, entertain them by sharing relevant, relatable content, such as video testimonials from current students or footage of fun events on campus.
Finally, if you’re looking to purchase ads to advertise your institution or a specific program to your prospective students, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are effective for targeted marketing and advertising and have many affordable ad purchasing options!
#3: Don’t skip out on in-person recruitment opportunities and the distribution of physical materials
While it’s no secret that our world has gone digital, that doesn’t mean human interaction and physical handouts don’t have a place in your recruitment strategy. Actually, quite the opposite—students often enjoy the opportunity to engage in face-to-face conversation with recruitment personnel, current students, and/or instructors. Giving prospective students the opportunity to ask questions and interact with a personified representation of your institution can definitely work in your school’s favor!
Hosting recruitment events or open houses on campus is a great way to generate interest in your institution and allow students and their friends and family to explore the campus and get a feel for the environment. Some experiences, such as physically visiting the campus that a student may spend the next few years of their lives at, cannot be replicated through social media or websites! Offering the opportunity to hear faculty speak, or meet program instructors, is also a good way for students to feel comfortable on campus and eager to apply.
In addition to organizing on-campus recruitment events, visiting high schools annually is a tried and true recruitment strategy. High school visits and information sessions can easily be tailored to seniors who are about to begin their application process, and separate sessions can be designed for younger students who still have 1-2 years of high school ahead of them, but are looking to learn about programs and schools to plan their future early. These sessions are often held at lunches or after school, and some are even conducted as presentations during assemblies. The structure and setup of your recruitment visit may vary by school or district; however, an in-person experience is always great to have in addition to excellent social media and engagement efforts online.
As a final component to your in-person recruitment strategy, you should ensure you have eye-catching, informative handouts available to pass out to students. These can be program specific, or, brochures with information about the campus and institution itself. You can also share information about extracurriculars, financial aid, resident life, or additional perks that your campus offers in these handouts. It’s crucial to only provide students with relevant and error-free information, and, it’s also quite handy to include a prompt for students to connect with you online. QR codes, or easy-to-recall web addresses or social media information is beneficial to include on your physical handouts. That way, if students want to learn more, they can scan a code or visit the appropriate account or website, thus increasing interest in your institution, increasing engagement, and potentially boosting web traffic.
#4: Regularly update and audit your website
Simply put, your school’s website and program web pages should be easy to navigate, and modern. Prospective students may stumble upon your website through an organic search for a college or a program, perhaps in a specific city. Or, the students may hear of your institution from a classmate or even learn about it through your social media accounts or an in-person recruitment visit. No matter how students end up on your website, it’s important to hook their interest and communicate what you offer well. This means all of the content and copy on your website must be concise, factual, and written in the style and language that reflects your unique institution. You web design should be organized and visually appealing.
Auditing your website’s functionality a few times each year, especially during recruitment efforts, is imperative. For example, websites that are dated and not optimized for smartphones or tablets could potentially have a high bounce rate and deter prospective students. It’s important to consider how most of students will be browsing your website, because many young adults use smartphones. If your website isn’t compatible with their phone, or displays poorly, a student who is just beginning their search for institutions may simply say “forget it” and move on to an option that is more legible and visually appealing. Even if your website is well laid out and informative, there are plenty of additional opportunities to increase SEO-based traffic, offer value to students, and boost engagement on your webpage. Strategically written blogs, for example, can include content that can be recycled on social media or at recruitment events. Blogs can offer tips and insight, and can increase web traffic if they are written with SEO best practices in mind. Students who are looking to learn a lot about an institution’s programs, culture, reputation, and day-to-day operations may scour websites and social media to gather as much information as they can, and blogs can serve as useful, informative pieces, as well as fun content to attract prospective students.
Finally, for prospective students and even their parents or teachers, offering different call-to-action options throughout your website is a good idea. Perhaps you’ll opt to offer a monthly email newsletter if they subscribe, or, offer a ‘click to learn more’ option for individuals who are looking to have specific questions addressed, or are interested in attending a recruitment event. This will keep them engaged and continue to provide them with information about your institution, especially if they’re receiving monthly emails with event information, campus news, links to your blog, YouTube videos about your school, or links to your social media account.
#5: Offer support and perks that other schools don’t
Even after you’ve identified what makes your institution and programs unique, audited your website, scheduled in-person recruitment events and executed a fresh social media strategy, you still have to think of ways you can stand out among any competition!
Students may feel that you offer great programs, and advertise your campus experience well, but still, they may be torn between your school and another. So, it’s important to offer support and perks at your institution that are unique and useful. For example, your campus may have smaller class sizes and connections with several internship opportunities available locally. In this case, you should share why this is important with students! Let them know that because your institution has the smallest class size of all other schools in the area, students will have the opportunity for one-on-one learning, regular access to professors, close collaboration with other students, and perhaps better opportunities (or, less direct competition) when applying to internships in a specific field. This could be an asset and ‘decision maker’ for students who are looking to attend a smaller institution. You could also include some testimonials from current or successful alumni students when you publish/print information about this.
Another support option you could offer could be access to academic consulting services. Take a look at your current statistics and data and ask yourself: how many of your current and past students moved on to attend graduate school or medical school? Would your students benefit from havinf access to a graduate school consultant or medical school advisor? If your institution is one that is known to have graduates continue on their academic journey after receiving their undergraduate degree, offering additional academic support could make you stand out among other schools.
Why Should Colleges Offer Academic Consulting as a Recruitment Strategy?
It may vary based on the college or location, however, many academic institutions offering undergraduate degrees are a ‘stepping stone’ in a student’s academic journey. Some students may opt to conclude their time in academia upon completing their undergraduate degree, whereas many others will opt to pursue graduate school, professional programs, such as an MBA, or even medical school.
Regardless of which field these students are applying to, they’ll be faced with several complicated application requirements and may feel overwhelmed by the process of applying to their future programs. Students mustn’t only strive for a high GPA, but also set out to make connections with instructors who can provide them with a grad school letter of recommendation, prepare documents such as their MBA resume and their statement of intent, or prepare for defining moments in their academic career, such as their medical school interview. They must strategically organize their application process and details while being full time students in their final year of study, too.
Because the process of applying to other programs may be potentially stressful to fourth-year undergraduate students, offering access services such as BeMo Academic Consulting to your students can relieve a lot of tension, and help provide the support that many students require while they prepare their applications.
Education isn’t readily accessible for some, and there are students who are still in high school who may not only feel overwhelmed by their current situation, but also by their future path if they already know that they may pursue a higher level of education after completing their undergraduate degree. That’s why advertising that your institution provides fourth year students with access to academic consulting services during your recruitment process can help generate interest in prospective students. If students know that they’ll be taken care of—whether they’ll receive free access to services like BeMo through our university student benefits program, or discounted rates—they may feel more inclined to list your institution as their first choice! Offering something that is both unique and helpful to students, even if they won’t reap the benefit immediately, is a great way to improve your recruitment strategy. Students are often forward thinking, so assisting in their future academic and career planning is a good way to stand out.
1. Why are recruitment materials important?
Recruitment materials—whether a handout, a video, a social media post or a webpage—are important because they exist to explain to prospective students what makes your institution and program unique, and why they should choose your school. While some schools get by solely on their reputation, it’s always good to make new efforts to attract students and share why your school is the best choice.
2. What are some of the best college recruitment strategies?
A great, timeless recruitment strategy has always been conducting open houses, campus visits, and in-person information sessions at high schools or community centres. These events give prospective students the opportunity to learn about your campus, school, and programs and ask questions. Along with this, you can provide students with handouts to review with information about their desired program, financial aid, campus life, and the school in general.
However, because our society has become quite digital, it’s also important that you echo this information online and utilize tools like social media platforms, email, and websites to communicate and market your institution to prospective students. And, finally, offering something unique to students, such as preparatory academic support if they should opt to apply to grad school down the road, or, access to internships, is a great way to stand out. Be sure that you communicate what you offer clearly in your recruitment materials.
3. Who is responsible for developing and executing a college recruitment strategy?
This can vary depending on the size of your institution. Typically, there are management-level employees, such as a Director of Recruitment, along with other team members in various roles, such as marketing or analytics, who can help brainstorm and curate a recruitment strategy. Often, employees in this department will pay attention to past and current data and be able to analyze how well your current recruitment strategy is working, and watch for trends in your industry.
Other team members you may opt to include (if you don’t already) in the execution and planning of your recruitment strategy are, a social media team, a content writer or developer, and tech/web developer. These individuals can focus on the website and the design of any visual or written marketing materials. Additionally, a team of recruiters, sometimes student ambassadors who exhibit a lot of passion and dedication to your institution, are great for recruiting events and high school visits. Remember, you want to employ a team that is able to recite the positive information about your school without hesitation and leave students with a good impression!
4. Do I need to revisit my recruitment strategy?
Take a look at your current recruitment rates and application statistics. How are they? Could they be better? When was the last time you updated your approach and revisited your strategy? Additionally, you may want to conduct surveys to gain insight into how students (current, past or even prospective) perceive your school and recruitment efforts.
Once you’ve decided where you stand in terms of rates and goals, and what you’d like to do better, you can revisit your recruitment strategy to see if there is room to make it better. There is almost always room for improvement, even if it’s just a website audit or social media campaign!
Technology and trends advance quickly and change rapidly, so, if you’ve been using the same recruitment strategies for a decade, it may be time to refresh.
5. Should I focus solely on digital recruitment strategies?
Not necessarily! Rather, utilizing tools like social media platforms, YouTube videos, ads, blogs and websites, alongside in-person recruitment events is quite valuable.
Utilizing social media and communicating the same information/repurposing posts for different platforms is a good way to get your message out to students in a way that they understand and enjoy. For example, using trending sounds or filming strategies, including ‘just for fun’ content and communicating value with brief descriptions or short videos is a good way to reach younger audiences. You can host accessible, virtual events, but also promote in-person sessions. When you host in-person recruitment events, provide students with physical handouts, discuss the features and benefits of your programs and school, and even include QR codes to entice students to visit your online spaces
6. What can I offer my students to increase recruitment?
Offering your students something unique that other institutions don’t offer is a great way to increase their interest in your school. This can come in the form of programs with unique opportunities, such as internships. Or, it can be something that will help the students in their near future. For example, a student who knows that they will continue toward graduate school or medication school upon completing their undergraduate degree may feel stressed out about their future already. Students face a lot of academic pressure, so offering a service such as BeMo Academic Consulting to fourth-year students who are on a path toward graduate school is a great enticement and a useful perk that will support them in the future, and give them peace of mind now.
7. Is it best to approach a college recruitment strategy with a business-oriented mindset?
In a way, yes. While many people view college as a vital academic experience, or a stepping stone toward the future, academic institutions are essentially businesses.
In order to operate, schools require funding. Money is generated through tuition being paid, and other supplementary fees. If admission rates are plummeting, and fewer students choose to attend your institution each year, you may struggle financially. Along with this, your reputation may suffer.
Just as products and services have benefits and features, so do academic institutions and programs. And, just as brands have a unique selling proposition that is used to communicate their worth and increase brand awareness, schools should, too! It is important that you understand how to best market your service—that is your institution and the programs offered—in an effective and modern way!
8. I want to implement the best college recruitment strategies; how can I start?
A great way to get started, that is arguably one of the best college recruitment strategies, is to analyze who your students are and communicate what you have to offer them in a way that speaks directly to them, and across a variety of relevant mediums.
Ask yourself, what are your prospective students interested in? What do they respond to? Are they on social media often? Are your ideal students’ people who bring pens and notebooks to in-person information sessions? Do they constantly crave more information about their prospective program and career path? Once you’ve identified who these ideal students are, you may have a better idea of how to reach them and what kind of messages/content you feel will attract them.
Once you’ve established who you’re speaking to with your recruitment materials, you can execute a great plan. Along with this, you can analyze your recruitment data and strategies from the past to see what works, and what doesn’t.
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