Are there any marketing strategies to increase student enrollment that truly work? It may sometimes feel like you’re spinning your wheels, unable to reach the right students. Are students even paying attention to ads? We live in an ad-soaked world, and it often feels harder than ever to cut through the noise and deliver the message to people who want to hear it. You might need to think up some creative ways to increase college enrollment and strategies for how to increase college retention.
In this article, we look at student enrollment trends, how enrollment has changed, and give you expert advice on how to market your school to increase student enrollment.
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Student Enrollment Trends
Enrollment has levelled off for some time. Statista indicates that in the last third of the last century to the first decade of this century, enrollment grew fairly steadily. Then, the numbers more-or-less levelled out, including projected numbers for the next decade. Other than a small dip during the COVID-19 years, the trend is one of stagnation.
If you’re looking to market your school and increase student enrollment, you’ll have to think of every opportunity you have at your disposal to implement the best marketing plan you can and achieve your goals.
How Enrollment Has Changed
You can’t understand enrollment trends without considering how enrollment has changed. More than ever, life is online. Virtual schooling is now a serious option, and a lot of students will want to take advantage of this.
Increasing enrollment might mean offering more classes, courses, and programs online, or offering other methods of learning outside of the norm. Don’t allow yourself to stagnate.
What to Market
This is where you decide what you want to show off that you think will get students in the door. Your institution is special and unique. You need to show off that uniqueness, which is your selling feature. What are you good at? What are you best at? What do you personally love about the school? Those are great places to start! It could be any or all of these traits. If you love something, chances are, others will love it as well.
However, you should also ask around. What do your coworkers love about the school? What do professors love? Most importantly, what do students love about the school? Collect as much data as possible and encourage candid responses. You don’t want to advertise something that isn’t great.
What if you do find out that some aspects of your institution need fixing? Well, first, you’ll want to hold off on advertising them, but more to the point, if something is wrong, fix it, so that you can grow and build better. In fact, that could be a wonderful, positive, uplifting – not to mention enticing – message for an ad campaign!
Students want to know that they will be attending a university or college with high academic potential. They want to actually learn something!
If you can offer college and university admissions consulting, you can advertise it to potential students who will want to be able to take advantage of such a service. For example, you could partner with BeMo to offer college interview preparation. Students who think they have a better chance of getting in will be more likely to try to enroll in the first place.
What do your students’ prospective career tracks look like? They might want to know how to find a job in academia, or they may wish to work in the public or private sector. Wherever they’re going, they need to know how to find a job after grad school, or after their degree is completed.
Being able to offer students a resource to help them find meaningful, engaging work after school – in their field of interest, no less – is a full-time job in and of itself. BeMo can help with that, too: with advice on how to find internships and other services in our university partnerships package, we can help you sell prospective students on positive career advancement.
Students want to know that they’ll be attending an institution where they can learn safely, where they will have a home away from home, and where they will have what they need to thrive and succeed. You won’t be babying students, of course, but simply ensuring that they come to no harm. Great student services really matter, and if your institution has good programs for inclusion, cares for its underrepresented student populations, looks toward gender equality, and takes other steps to ensure students are heard and respected, you should let people know. A student wants to be challenged in university, not harmed, so if you have great student care, sell that.
In addition, offering college essay review services and other opportunities to access academic or admissions support will help students, lower their stress levels, and make them feel cared for.
Maybe you don’t want to use the words “party school” to describe your campus, but “vibrant,” “fun,” or “like a second home” might help students understand that they’ll love just living on campus.
Do you have a historic campus? Do you have new growth and buildings? What is exciting about living on campus? What advantages do students have here? Sell them on that. Students know they won’t always be in lectures and laboratories. Between study sessions, they’ll want to know that there are great events and happenings going on. These can be oriented toward activities, causes, groups, and events.
Flexibility in Learning (Virtual and In-person)
If you can offer students flexibility in learning, they’ll be interested, and indeed, you’ll reach a whole group of students who wouldn’t be able to access your programs if they weren’t online. Advertise flexibility in learning – where possible – and you’ll market to a group of students who need to work around family, distance, or other obstacles that would otherwise cancel their ability to attend your fine institution.
The School’s Standing and Values
Every school has a set of ethics and guiding principles that they stand by. Maybe yours is “Knowledge,” “Truth,” “Social Justice,” or “Progress.” Whatever your school stands for, let students know. Like-minded students who share your values will be interested in your school. It helps if your value statements go into depth and show how you live up to these values, too. Saying you value truth is one thing, but showing it is another.
Also, the more unique your set of values, the better. If every other school phrases “the pursuit of truth” the same way, maybe try re-phrasing to stand out and look fresh.
Where to Market
Okay, great, so you’ve got great programs and people to market, but no matter what, your institution isn’t going to market itself. Word-of-mouth might be good, but you can’t and shouldn’t rely on word-of-mouth to increase your enrollment numbers by any significant amount. You must get your message out somewhere. Where can you do that?
The most prominent platform these days is the internet. Ubiquitous across nations and target demographics, the internet has banners and ads all over the place, and you should be taking advantage of this. Banner ads are great because they feature prominently on the page but aren’t intrusive and obnoxious. If possible, avoid using pop-up ads because these are bothersome for most people. If your advertisement is obnoxious, people might be put off more than they are opened up to the possibility of attending your institution.
Within the online world, social media is used by almost everyone, including our team here at BeMo, with our presence on TikTok and Instagram, among others. Put some of your advertising budget toward these and other social media platforms to reach more people. Everybody logs in to check their accounts on a regular basis, so this will be a great place to reach a lot of people.
Remember target demographics, however. You don’t want to appear in venues used primarily or exclusively by very young children or older adults, unless you have graduate programs you wish to market for the latter. Obviously, aiming at the mid-to-late teenage market will hit the college age crowd, but you might also want to think about targeted campaigns for mature adults whose teenage children will soon be heading off to school. The stereotype of teenagers is that of rebellion, but plenty of college-bound kids will consider their parents’ input into their educational decisions.
Although streaming services and online media, often free of advertising, have taken over a chunk of television program viewing time, traditional TV does still get used, particularly by the parent demographic. You can still make some headway with advertisements on television.
“Print is dead!” is often the cry regarding newspapers and magazines, but it isn’t quite dead yet, and you might want to allocate some funds toward print media. Full-page ads and full-color ads are more likely to arrest attention but target carefully. Newspapers will be read more by parents. If teenagers are reading news, it is likely from an online source.
Remember that you can also use subway car ads, bus stop ads, or even billboards for the purposes of advertising your institution.
Suit the Message to the Media
You might want to advertise specific programs in specific places. Does your institution have a theater arts department? If so, you might want to advertise in the playbills for local theater companies. Playbills for concerts will work great for music programs, too. History programs go hand-in-hand with museums. If you have a veterinary sciences program, you could sponsor a pet shelter.
When you suit the program to the venue, you will hit your target demographic more directly by finding people who desire to attend your school for a particular program. Of course, this means that you might have a lopsided enrollment increase, spiking for a few departments and not for others. So, put some thought into which departments you’ll plug. You might want to select programs that your school is well known for and that have a good reputation. This puts your best foot forward, as it were. On the other hand, you might want to try and increase enrollment for departments that are lagging slightly behind others.
How to Market
Just as important as knowing where and what you should be marketing, you also need to know how to market your institution for maximum effect.
Commercials are the standard-issue way to go, whether in print or on television or radio.
Viral marketing is like harnessing word-of-mouth in purely digital form. It’s almost impossible to do correctly because what “goes viral” is impossible to predict.
For this to even have a shot, you need a subversive ad campaign that doesn’t “feel” like advertising. It needs some kind of hook to get people to participate and pass it along. Coupling your ad with a puzzle that can be solved or having people able to interact with the ad in some way might be good starting points.
Just do be careful. There are cautionary tales of viral marketing that didn’t end well for the company. The best-known example is “Boaty McBoatface,” when a British company held a contest online in which people could suggest names for a new vessel and then vote for their favorite. The frontrunner – by a landslide – was Boaty McBoatface. You can count on the internet twisting whatever you put out there, so be warned.
It’s a good idea to have content creation for your institution. Do you have a YouTube channel? You should. Your institution could be advertising its services this way. Just make sure you put some effort into making a good product. Like any advertising, you get what you pay for, to some extent, and this is no exception. If you make cheesy videos, it won’t work at all. However, videos that show what it’s like to live on campus, work for the school, or go to student social events could drum up interest. Instagram accounts might feature student photographs.
You could combine this with viral marketing by having the content creation team pay less attention to advertising so that they can be more creative; if they aren’t worried about constantly making ads, they might come up with something interesting about the school that really gets people hooked. You get publicity and the best kind of recognition. “Behind-the-scenes” is very popular, so your content might be about what goes on “backstage,” so to speak.
Advertising and marketing don’t have to be restricted to commercials or even direct programming. You could create, market, and promote scholarships or other financial programs. If you have scholarships available for specific programs, holding events could work for you.
If you have a science-based scholarship, for example, you might announce the recipients at a high school science fair. This would target the general demographic interested in your school as well as those who might be specifically inclined to attend a particular program.
Charitable organizations and other community programs might also benefit from a collaboration with your school. Youth programs will again raise your school’s profile, particularly among your ideal target demographics.
Your institution is worth the effort of advertising, and if you want the best marketing strategies to increase student enrollment, be willing to think a little differently and to really focus on what your goals are with your ad campaign. By following these expert tips for marketing strategies, you stand a great chance of increasing your student enrollment.
1. How much money should I spend on an ad campaign?
There are too many variables to give you a straightforward answer, but here are factors to consider:
- What was your budget last year? Were the ad campaigns successful?
- Where did you spend that money? Print? Online? Which campaigns were most successful?
- What kind of results do you want?
- What does the average ad cost in the medium you want to advertise in?
Allocate budget where it’s effective. If it’s ineffective, cut it. Consider doing regular ad campaign check-ins throughout the year, so that you can shift your strategies as they yield results, instead of waiting for the total at the end of the year.
2. Does advertising work?
It might seem like jaded teenagers and savvy parents don’t respond to ads in the age of constant information bombardment. But the fact is that marketing still works, provided you target the right groups with the right ads.
3. Enrollment went up last year. Do I need to advertise?
Maybe. Do you know why enrollment went up last year? If you ran a lot of ads, maybe that was the reason. You also might want to use ads to capitalize on this upswing.
4. What message should I focus on?
If you have too many things to advertise – great career services, great academics, vibrant campus life, etc. – home in on one or two. You can get a couple in if you target different areas. Social media ads might be seen more by prospective students, for instance, so emphasizing student care and campus life might be appealing. High academic standing might be more for the parents, so target accordingly.
5. When should I run ads?
When do your applications come in? You will want to run ads at least several months before that – five or six months at least. That way, students have time to see the ads, consider the school, and prepare for their admission submissions. Students need time to prepare quality submissions, so give them that time.
6. Should we advertise our summer programs?
Yes, if you have them and you want enrollment up.
7. What if we receive too many applications?
That’s a better problem to have than too few. If you are in a period of growth, it’s time to think about whether to expand your facilities and teaching staff to accommodate new students.
8. What else should I know about advertising?
The world of ads can be fickle and confusing. Don’t get frustrated with one or two attempts that don’t go your way. Just take our advice to reevaluate on a regular basis, get more information, and restructure your ads based on what is working. Stay positive and focus on the good.
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