Understanding Current Trends in College Admissions Marketing, Recruitment, and Technology

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Higher education tends to be a lagging industry. That doesn’t mean it stands still. In fact, recent years have seen drastic shifts in how colleges and universities market themselves.

Part of it is competition. An increasing number of institutions are competing for a dwindling number of students in states from Pennsylvania to Washington. Another part is opportunity. As other industries have seen success in marketing, recruitment, and technology, higher ed marketers and admissions officers have begun to tap into that success.

Sounds dry? Maybe a little. Bear with us. Let’s break down some of the current trends in marketing, recruitment, and technology to uncover new ways in which you can help your college or university recruit more students and continue to grow.

Understanding Current Trends in Higher Education Marketing

Increasingly universities are beginning to realize that they are not competing for their audience’s attention in isolation. Instead of simply attending college fairs and building their web presence, they have to compete for prospective students in the spaces where these students spend their time.

That’s not to say that your website won’t be important. If you focus on search engine optimization (SEO), you’re actually within the trend of higher education and teenagers who prefer Google among all other websites.

That’s why digital marketing spend in higher education continues to climb. Through social media, Google, and other channels, colleges are actively pushing their name out to students and their parents.

They’re also leveraging social media. In fact, it’s difficult to find a school that doesn’t have at least a Facebook or Twitter account. But are you doing it right? In an increasingly crowded field, it might make sense to use more niche network like Snapchat (a favorite among teenagers) or LinkedIn (a perfect fit for working professionals).

In both digital marketing and social media, colleges are attempting to reach their audience on their turf. That’s because millennials and the even younger Gen Z have very different needs than the generations before them. Marketing to the millennial student has to focus on authentic experiences and credible messages above all.

Millennials also value the importance of brand consistency, and branding in general. Simply choosing a few digital channels and pushing the word out is no longer enough. Instead, branding is increasingly entering the main focus of college marketers around the nation.

The Newest Trends in College Recruitment

Marketing means reaching prospective audience on a large scale. That doesn’t mean personalized college recruitment is going away anytime soon. That personal touch is still necessary to get your students to pay attention, commit, and actually attend your school. And yet, just like digital marketing, the most effective ways of just how you can do that are changing.

The admissions process, for starters, is becoming more convoluted. Gone are the days of a linear recruitment funnel that moved from inquiry neatly through to deposit. Today, stealth applicants require as much information as inquiries, while students deposit to multiple schools and still need some convincing.

That shifting volume requires a shift in strategy as well. Stealth applicants don’t sign up to college visits, but they do expect a virtual experience that mirrors it. Admissions officials also have to be prepared to shift to other more digital recruitment strategies, such as email and (especially) texting. Again, adjusting to your audience’s expectations is the name of the game.

Of course, even with this digital shift, effective communication remains key. Whether it’s via text or in person, you have to be able to get the message across clearly, succinctly, and convincingly. It’s the only way to build student nurturing strategies that lead to enrollment.

Achieving that goal can be difficult, especially for admissions officers who have been in the field for years. That’s why in this profession, training and development for your admissions personnel is entering the forefront. Regular trainings on your own campus should combine with a professional development budget designed to make regular trips to industry conferences and workshops.

What is Changing in Technology for Colleges and Universities?

Intertwined with marketing and recruitment trends are the increasing opportunities presented by new technology, along with the challenges that accompany it. Gone are the days of manual databases of current prospects. The majority of admissions offices now employ CRM systems, short for customer relationship management software.

Your CRM can be the conduit to many of the strategies above. Some solutions, for instance, now allow for integrated texting that reaches your students at the right time. They can also automate your student nurturing strategy to reduce the number of manual outreach efforts, and allow your teams to increase their focus on actual personal touches.

Don’t underestimate the rise of online learning, either. In the context of higher education, it will impact your operations in a multitude of ways:

  • The number of students enrolling in online courses just keeps increasing. Highlighting your university’s online opportunities will attract attention from your target audience.

  • Online learning offers a natural path to professional development, especially with tight budgets that may not allow for much conference travel.

  • Online courses can help you prepare admitted students for success. Consider virtual orientation courses, financial literacy classes, and more.

Finally, never underestimate the power of mobile optimization. We already discussed Gen Z and millennials above; as it turns out, these are also the students by far the most likely to use their mobile devices when researching, communicating with, and even applying to various universities.

Your entire strategy, therefore, has to adjust to mobile. From using the right marketing channels to leveraging text messaging and building mobile optimization for your website, you have to be prepared to keep up with your audience’s rising expectations.

How Can Your Admissions Office Keep Up With Current Trends?

The only constant in college admissions offices is change. You have to be prepared to leverage current trends in order to win the fight for potential and future students.

That doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Sometimes, all you need is a partner who can guide you through the sea of change and keep you current with trends and best practices. Contact us about how we can partner to make that happen, and carve your path to recruitment success.


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