Discover the best graduate school recruitment strategies in 2023 and how you can implement them at your institution! Whether you are a school known for your graduate programs, or trying to attract students to innovative, new graduate programs, 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 student and alumni resources and perks, such as , there are many ways to appeal to prospective students.
Recruiting prospective students to your graduate program(s) requires a very strategic process, as graduate school application and acceptance rates can change annually, as can other factors that may impact students, such as technological advancements and shifts in trends. In recent years, graduate school application rates increased by as much as 7-10% across Canada and the United States, and admissions rates rose as a result. Generally speaking, society as a whole saw a shift in the way technology was utilized and incorporated into workplaces during the global pandemic. Because of this, many students found graduate school appealing due to the emergence of online classes and hybrid programs. Additionally, graduate programs—whether students intend to pursue further. According to a study by , the number of Canadian students enrolled in a Master’s level program, or equivalent, has doubled in the past twenty years.
With that said, there are thousands of students who may be either set on attending a graduate program, or, completely new to the idea of attending graduate school. This is why it’s vital that you display your institution and program in a way that appeals to prospective students, and to do so, you must create a recruitment plan and strategize what works best for both your recruitment team, and your future students.
Graduate recruitment strategies and are imperative to have, and your recruitment strategies should be ever-evolving for each new recruitment phase annually. Without the right materials, and the right execution plan to share information about your program to prospective students, students will be relying on whatever information they find online, what they hear from others, or, on whatever reputation your institution has. Instead of simply hoping students stumble upon your program’s website, you should strive to have several strategies in place for any prospective student, and at different levels of interest.
Graduate programs are costly, and, they are a business because they charge tuition for students to attend. If your program’s 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 earn more money, or attract prospective new students. With it being evident that students are increasingly interested in attending graduate school, it’s reasonable to assume that with the right recruitment strategies and approach to recruitment, many graduate programs could see a potential rise in admissions.
Even if your institution is a popular one with steady enrolment rates, it doesn’t mean your recruitment strategy is at it’s best! Your institution, as well as each individual program, should have its own culture and values or intended outcome. Along with this, the reputation for your school and the graduate program’s it offers is very important to uphold. Some students may opt to attend your program for reasons based on finances or convenience, for example, and while that’s certainly not a bad thing, you should strive to ensure your graduate programs are appealing, unique, and exciting so that students decide that your programs are their top choice.
BeMo strives to help universities and colleges attract and recruit top students by offering the university student benefits program. Educational institutions can benefit by attracting and retaining top students, and students gain from having unlimited access to our expert admissions consultants and career coaches, before and during their studies. Learn more on BeMo's university partnerships page to learn how a partnership strategy can increase your school's recruitment.
How do you make your graduate school recruitment strategies work? The best strategies help your institution:
- Stand out from other programs
- Highlight the unique benefits your program offers
- Attract unique, talented students
An additional factor that could be considered an important one in your recruitment strategy is how many resources your institution offers students, and what additional measures you take to ensure you’re also paying mind to your demographics as well and acknowledging any bias or areas of potential improvement. Offering resources, and telling prospective students how they can find information about financial aid, support services, or even pathway and internship opportunities is a great way to increase interest in your school, and also promote an inclusive environment for those who might be from an underrepresented population. For example, many medical schools implement diversity initiatives in order to adhere to—and develop—. This type of recruitment strategy is applicable to all graduate programs, as prospective students come from all walks of life.
Ensuring that you have the best graduate school recruitment strategy is key because your institution will have better opportunities to increase student enrollment and offer enticing programs for all. Ideally, you want students to be excited about applying to their chosen program and feel 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, even across populations of students who may not be entirely sure if graduate school is for them, who may be the first in their family to attend graduate school and/or, who may need help accessing resources to make their application process and graduate school career go smoothly.
Think of it this way: recruitment is a lot like marketing! Your recruitment strategy is your opportunity to communicate the features of your program, and explain how students will benefit from attending your program. To do this, you can include an array of content—and use different approaches when sharing it! Students will benefit from being able to visualize how your graduate program can help them achieve their dreams and accomplish their career goals. This can all be done by utilizing digital tools, working with current technology and trends, and speaking directly to the audience you want to attract.
The approaches taken to actively recruit and entice students may be similar across the board, however, graduate students are a slightly different target demographic than prospective undergraduate students. Here are a few things that make prospective graduate students different from prospective undergraduates:
Understanding and implementing the best graduate school recruitment strategies means you’ll asses your current strategies, application rates, admissions rates, retention rates, and even your graduate program(s) overall culture and reputation. Along with this, gathering insight from current students, and alumni success stories and opinions is a great way to gain an understanding of what your current recruitment strategy is doing well, and, what could change.
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 and deciphering where you’re going wrong. Too often, businesses and schools will host out-of-date webpages, mundane recruitment information, and also have a lack of digital engagement. 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 graduate school recruitment strategies:
#1: Tell the story of your institution, and its programs, in a unique way
Another marketing tip: stories sell! Statistics, along with empty promises or broad statements, such as “Our students go on to work their dream career in X field” don’t mean much to students without a narrative tied to them. If you want students to choose your graduate program(s) above all others, tell them your unique history and provide some facts about your institution!
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 offering graduate programs! In a saturated market, that is, one where there are several similar options for prospective students to consider, ensuring that you stand out is the first and most important thing you can do to improve your recruitment strategy.
In order to understand what makes your programs and institution unique, you also need to have confidence in each program’s history, and, where your school is headed. Identify your school culture, along with the values and potential outcomes intended for each program. Along with this, looking at alumni success stories, and even speaking to current and former students for the purpose of curating inspiring recruitment materials is a great idea. If you’re a newer campus or institution, an easy 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.
#2: Utilize social media
Social media has been prevalent for some time now, and it’s extremely important that you utilize it! Having social media accounts that are active and organized for each individual program, for your institution, and even for recruitment-specific materials, such as a ‘prospective students’ group, is a great way to encourage engagement from prospective students, and stay current. Social media evolves rapidly, and this is why it’s important to update your recruitment strategies often. In addition, your future graduate students may not be as involved with certain aspects of social media, such as TikTok, as younger, potential undergraduates are. Pay attention to trends and make note of who your target audience/demographic is. A bit of research can help you identify what platforms may be best, and what materials students are most likely to engage with! Most importantly, the message you convey must be clear and concise across all platforms, and either resonate with them, and/or encourage action. Whether the student simply saves your post, follows your account, likes your photo or completes another call-to-action, it’s imperative that you produce materials that prompt action.
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 also use social media to connect with various communities and reach out to underrepresented populations of potential students. 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 alumni, or footage of fun or professional events that take place on your campus.
Finally, if you’re looking to purchase ads to advertise your graduate programs, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are effective for targeted marketing and advertising.
#3: Host the right recruitment events and prepare concise materials
Your prospective students may have cell phones and laptops by their side daily, but it’s still important to note that students often enjoy the opportunity to engage in face-to-face conversation with recruitment personnel, current students, and/or instructors.
Hosting recruitment events or open houses on your campus is a great way to generate interest in your graduate programs. Whether you’re hoping to attract undergraduates, from your institution or another, or mature students, you can get strategic about recruitment events and where you decide to set up your physical information booth. You may wish to visit colleges with undergraduate programs with students who may be interested in your graduate program. One way to decipher where your current enrollment comes from is by analyzing student data and noting what 5-10 institutions the majority of your current graduate students came from. If you’re looking to diversify your population more, you may want to reach out to schools or communities that you haven’t seen students from.
Finally, you should ensure you have eye-catching, informative handouts available to pass out to students. For graduate programs, these should be very program specific, rather than being general information about campus life. With your materials, you can also provide information about program-specific internship or employment opportunities, financial aid, and additional resources or perks you offer to your students exclusively. It’s crucial to only provide students with relevant and appealing 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. Your handout may get tossed aside once the student discovers your web page or social media account, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Students who interact in-person, and receive physical materials will very likely engage with the prompt to learn more online, which only increases interest in your graduate program and your web traffic!
#4: Understand what your potential graduate students value, and what would make their lives easier
Even if you present your graduate programs well and have an incredible online presence, students may still be unsure if they should attend your institution or another. That is only natural, but this is where you should implement unique perks and emphasize the access to specific resources that students at your institution will have.
For example, if your graduate program includes a renowned internship opportunity for several lucky students and plenty of 1-on-1 time with instructors, you should make these details pertinent in your recruitment materials. If you’re the only program offering access to innovative technology and your alumni are thrilled with their overall experience, share this message with prospective students in a variety of forms, such as social media, and in your recruitment materials.
As mentioned prior, many graduate students may be seeking additional resources to help ease their transition to graduate school, and even help them along with way. Mental health services, financial aid resources, such as bursaries or grants, and even social and professional networking groups on campus should be mentioned in your recruitment materials. If your campus/program doesn’t offer these types of resources currently, it’s advised determine what your students’ value, and devise a plan that could include resources that would make their lives easier. Thousands of students feel deterred to attend graduate school due to barriers, whether they’re personal, socioeconomic, or due to their own uncertainty of potential success. Use your unique qualities and storytelling ability to paint a picture for students: tell them what you offer, why it’s unique, how they’ll thrive on your campus, and what they’ll learn and achieve in your graduate program! And, should they require additional help, let them know what resources will be available to them should they decide to become a student at your school.
Additional resources and support you may choose to offer students can include alumni perks and lifelong discounts. For example, many institutions and specific programs offer their alumni discounts on insurance, hotels, air travel, and even local attractions. This may sound insignificant, but it’s certainly a perk that students may find enticing, especially if it’s one that they can enjoy throughout their lives once they graduate from your school. Another support option you could offer could be access to academic consulting services. Services like can help students reach their full potential, get into their dream programs, and prepare for the admissions process for a variety of programs, including graduate school! You may wish to offer this service to current students and alumni at a discounted rate—especially if they plan to continue their education, or, if they have a dependent who could utilize the service—or, you may even opt to reach out to specific populations of prospective students and offer a discount code to allow them to access academic consulting services. This can be especially beneficial to students who are first generation applicants, who have low GPA’s, or who are overwhelmed by the admissions process.
The additional resources and services you offer can vary by program, and certainly tend to vary by institution. However, if you’re hoping to stand out and appeal to a diverse range of students in the near future, it’s important that you consider where some potential students may be struggling, and, who may be missing out on the graduate school opportunity entirely due to lack of support or resources. Further to this, understanding how to reach your intended audience, understanding their values and professional goals, and emphasizing how your graduate program(s) will help them achieve their dreams and move forward toward their careers is essential. And, you must communicate all of this in a concise manner, through the appropriate digital channels and platforms, and physical materials as well.
1. What does student retention mean?
Student retention refers to the number of students who complete their program at your institution. Retention, or ‘retaining someone’ for the expected duration of time is favorable in workplaces, for example, as well as schools. If your institution is able to retain, say, 90% of your students for the duration of their program, that means you see very few drop outs and students are completing their courses, and eventually graduating!
2. Why is student retention important?
Student retention is very important in higher education because for every student that drops out, your institution is losing money, and perhaps its reputation! Students will inevitably drop out, of course, as some realize that their chosen path isn’t for them. However, it’s unfortunate if students are dropping out for preventable reasons, such as feeling unwelcomed or overwhelmed by the campus experience, disliking their program instructors, feeling a lack of support, being confused about their future, grades or financial abilities, or being offered limited opportunities for engagement. Learning why students are leaving, what could have prevented their departure, and what can be done to better the student experience is all a part of building a retention strategy and understanding best practices.
3. Are retention practices ongoing, or are they geared toward first year students?
Retention practices are always ongoing! Seldom do students not require support in their upper years of study. Your institution and your programs should understand how to support and engage with students at all levels of schooling. Orientation and communication with your first-year students is very important because it sets the tone and makes an impression of them as they begin their educational journey, however, students will require support and opportunities throughout their years at your institution in order to succeed, thrive, make important decisions about their career path, and stay enrolled in their program.
4. Is paying attention to retention important for all programs and institutions?
Yes! Retention is important for all levels of higher education. Undergraduate students, MBA students, medical students, law students, and so on.
No matter what type of focus your institution has in mind, you’ll want to ensure you’re able to retain students throughout the duration of their program in order to help them succeed and send them down a promising career path. If your students are dropping out at concerning rates, especially in their upper years or in a graduate/professional program, something isn’t right!
5. What are some of the best practices for student retention in higher education?
The best practices for student retention in higher education include: providing exciting inclusive orientation activities and utilizing social media groups/pages for students in all years, but especially first years. Ensuring that students have ample networking and mentorship opportunities, dedicated faculty, encouraging academic advising, and providing resources, support and guidance to students who are struggling with their academics, personal struggles or finances are all great ways to retain students. Along with this, using surveys or other evaluations to gauge student success, impressions and feedback is a great way to figure out what needs to be improved upon at your institution.
6. I want to implement better practices for student retention, where should I start?
Start by looking at your current strategies and practices, as well as your data. Is your drop-out rate standard, or, are you losing students frequently? If so, you’ll want to hone in on what programs and years the students were in, and see if you recognize any patterns. You may want to consider student surveys and ask for student feedback, as well as feedback from faculty, as you determine what your next best steps will be, whether it’s curating a better social media and communication/networking environment for your first-year students, or improving your academic advising practices, or anything in between.
7. My school has a low retention rate, can it be fixed?
Yes. It may require some strategic analysis, planning, and work, but a low retention rate often reversible when the contributing factors are identified and corrected!
8. How can academic consulting help?
Offering academic consulting to students will appeal to them as being more than just a perk, but as a means to help guide them on their academic journey and path toward graduate or professional school. Students who become discouraged throughout their program, perhaps who have a low GPA or feel overwhelmed by the thought of accomplishing their career goals, are at risk for dropping out of their program entirely. Academic advising can help students with their current studies and barriers to an extent, however, academic consulting is more of a preparatory service that helps students approach interviews, exams, and multi-step applications with confidence.