You’re running events on-campus, encouraging alumni to lend a helping hand… But students still aren’t considering your university when making their choice to progress with higher education.

Research says that 35% of the U.S. population aged 25 and above have graduated from a college or other higher education institution. With a new wave of prospective students keen to be included in that group, how can you convince them that your school is the best choice?

It starts with a smart digital marketing strategy. But marketing your college or university doesn’t just get more students enrolled on your course.

Sure, it’s great to have a steady stream of students you can recruit. But crack your higher education marketing strategy and you’ll be able to retain them for the entire academic year (and beyond.)

In this guide, we’ll talk about three of the main challenges for university marketing, and the techniques that can ease each:

  1. How to attain institutional buy-in
  2. Combatting slow adoption of technology
  3. Standing out from other colleges

Challenge 1: Institutional Buy-In

Chances are, the manager of your higher education facility has been in the role for years.

Up until a few years ago, they could quickly (and relatively easily) recruit and retain students. Times have changed since then—but your boss still doesn’t think marketing will help. In fact, they think it’s a waste of money.

You’ll need to build a marketing strategy that results in quick, easy wins to combat this. Leaders will buy-in—and potentially increase your marketing budget—once you start to prove the ROI of your higher education marketing strategy.


Take a look at your website and count how many URLs you’re trying to attract new students through. You’ve probably got a combination of:

  • Blog posts
  • Videos
  • Landing pages

An easy win is to utilize that existing infrastructure, and optimize your content for SEO.

Most internet users use search engines as their first source of information for higher education institutions. Make sure your website is optimized to reach them when they’re searching for you by writing content they’d enjoy reading, optimizing it for those keywords, and beating other universities to position one in the SERPs.

Email Marketing

Once you’ve got your website optimized for prospective students using Google, include a popup or sign-up form to encourage them to hand over their contact details.

(The average blog-to-newsletter conversion rate is 19%; it’s easier than you think.)

A potential student’s email address is gold for any higher education marketing team. They’re the people who’ve opted-in to hear from you, giving your marketing team the ability to contact them at the push of a button—no pesky advertising required.

Once you’ve got that information, send regular, segmented emails that are personalized based on the:

  • Course
  • Campus
  • Web pages

…They’ve expressed an interest in to keep your university top-of-mind when they start applying.

Tools like ConvertKit will show the metrics of each campaign—including the ROI of your email marketing, which can prove to bosses that emails are impacting open day attendance.

Challenge 2: Slow Tech Adoption

There’s no doubt that the digital transformation is coming for every industry—education included. Products like smart speakers or watches are slotting into our daily lives seamlessly, making us question what life was like before them.

But when it comes to finding, recruiting, and retaining students for your higher educational facility, slow adoption of new technology could be disengaging to students considering your university..


Do you have a specific department that handles the ins and outs of your university website?

Higher education websites can quickly become tricky to manage. Faculty staff biographies, course information, and blog posts designed to recruit new students can contribute to a sitemap that’s too hard to keep track of.

Relying on an IT department to keep this website in working order doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy for visitors to navigate.

One report found 75% of Gen Z chose mobile as their go-to device, (compared to just 30% for a desktop computer. Plus, some 18% of high school students researching prospective colleges visited college websites once a day using a mobile device.

Your website needs to be optimized for mobile devices, and easy for on-the-go students to navigate. (Remember: They only have an 8-second attention span. They won’t be willing to wait five minutes to find the page they’re looking for.)

Take a look at the website we created for Northwestern Bienen School of Music:

Not only did we craft a mobile-friendly website that’s easy for prospective students to browse, but the redesign helped Northwestern attract a top, international PhD Musicology student.

SEO (Again)

Earlier, we touched on how SEO makes your university’s website more accessible to prospective students.

The best part about it? You don’t need a genius to start optimizing your website. Slow technology adoption isn’t a barrier to entry for SEO; there are tools that take the basics (almost completely) off your hands. Those include:

Google Search Console: To view the keywords you’re already ranking for, and the positions you’re sitting in for each term. Where are you ranking for “best colleges in [your state]”?

Ahrefs: Track the keywords your prospective students are using, and determine whether they need a standalone page to help your website rank for it.

Challenge 3: Standing Out

There are over 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States. Students can only choose one; a huge challenge is making sure they pick yours.


We’ve already touched on the fact that a great website can help you reach on-the-go prospective students who’re looking for colleges. But the slow adoption of technology is rife in the higher education space—meaning a savvy, fresh website could be what you need to stand out.

Take a look at the website we designed for UChicago GRAD, for example:

screenshot of u chicago grad's marketing website

They work with students to plan their careers, support networking events, and plan extracurricular activities. Needless to say, their site architecture is large—and often tricky to navigate.

However, their new website design makes it easy to browse, while also standing out from other colleges and universities. Their branding colors are used throughout the design, it features photos from their campus and students, and we’ve created templates. This allows their internal team to create on-brand, customized pages as and when they’re required.


Students’ preferences are changing.

In fact, a recent study found that most millennials would rather spend money on an experience than buying something decadent or desirable. To put simply: They value experiences more than items.

A great way to use that to attract prospective students is to run events.

Just like the majority of colleges, the University of Miami’s music program have events on their campus. The only difference? They live-stream their shows and upload them to YouTube, so prospective students from all over the globe can then set a reminder to tune in—a superb differentiator:

marketing example of a live stream by a college

User-Generated Content

One in two teen applicants use five or more social platforms in their college research. It’s a well-known fact that Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook form part of a student’s daily routine. They spend more time on social media than watching TV.

…But a successful higher education marketing strategy think further afield.

Take Unsplash, for example. They’re a photo-sharing website with 4,379 photo views per second, yet they’re not technically considered to be a social network.

Here’s what ranks #2 for the terms “graduation” and “college,” currently amounting to 4.7 MILLION views:

high ranking image for graduation and college

…What if that was YOUR university in the background?

Increase your chances of recruiting (and retaining) students with your higher education marketing strategy by using user-generated content. Ask existing students and alumni members to take photos around your campus, and upload them to photo sharing websites like Unsplash or Pexels.

People using those sites need images for their own marketing—like blog posts or infographics. It’s a superb way to raise awareness.

Influencer Marketing

Students watch between two and four hours of YouTube videos everyday. They’re hopping from influencer to influencer, and consuming more online content than traditional TV.

That can benefit your higher education marketing strategy—especially when you’re partnering with the influencers they’re watching.

Take a look at this video sponsored by Unite Students, for example:

You could do the same, and reach a new group of potential students, by partnering with influencers with an audience similar to your prospective student demographic.

Or, you could find current students with large social media followings to partner with. Have them vlog a day in their life at your university and share it with their peers!

The best part about this strategy? Foreign students occupy nearly one in five seats in American graduate schools, yet their numbers have been declining. Influencers have global audiences, meaning you’re able to attract them to your college or university.

The Top 3 Higher Education Marketing Challenges:

The days of boring marketing are no more. Students want genuine and authentic relationships with their college before enrolling. A higher education marketing strategy that focuses on the strategies we’ve mentioned here does exactly that.

Here’s a quick recap on the higher education marketing strategies we’ve covered, depending on the challenge you’re facing:

  • Institutional buy-in: Focus on SEO and start emailing prospective students.
  • Slow adoption of technology: Create a website that’s mobile-friendly and easy to navigate. Then, optimize it for SEO.
  • Standing out from other colleges: Design a unique website, live-stream the events you’re hosting on campus, capture content your students are generating, and partner with the influencers they follow.

Want to see EXACTLY how we helped Northwestern University improve their marketing?