How to encourage students to pick your university

By Chelsea Castonguay Stanhope

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Students have a plethora of options when it comes to selecting the right school. More than ever, students can afford to be choosy about where they decide to pursue a higher education. With today's international and digital higher ed market its more critical than ever for schools to stand out. Here is a few ideas that will help your school stand apart from the crowd.

Identify your target audience:

While most schools may have a demographic they’re specifically targeting, it is time to start thinking outside the box. For example, many universities primarily cater to the more traditional student; an 18 year old who has graduated high school and is looking for an in-person, four year degree. However, that may not always be the case. Even prior to COVID-19, students were looking for alternatives to achieving a great education. Therefore, identify if there are more groups can you target. This could include non-traditional students, such as veterans, those looking to expand their education for a job advancement, single parents, or students graduating from trade schools or training centers. Reach out to local organizations that work with these prospective students, and provide them with materials to make them understand how you can help them find success at your school.

When you do identify prospective students, make your correspondence with them personal. Students can tell when they’re part of a blanket email, so take the time to craft emails, or handwritten notes to let students know they’re important to you. Trying to get to know students on a personal level will allow them to create a connection to you, and your university.

Showcase the unexpected:

If you’re hoping to persuade an undecided student to attend your school, you’re going to need to showcase the unexpected. For example, a student who has committed to a specific program, such as engineering, probably already knows the resources available to them at your institution. Therefore, you need to think outside of the box to capture the attention of students who are still wavering. What makes your school unique? Do you have an amazing fitness center, close proximity to world-class restaurants, or an incredible arts scene? Perhaps you have brand-new, state of the art residence halls, or exceptional internship opportunities. Regardless, you need to find your hook to catch the attention of prospective students, and it has to be something that makes you stand apart from the competition.

Utilize social media:

While most schools have jumped on the social media bandwagon, it never hurts to reaffirm the importance of using this relatively-low cost form of advertising. You have approximately seven short seconds to capture a prospective students’ attention before they move on to the next video, email, or webpage. Therefore, your content needs to be on point and relevant to the students’ interest. This is a great time to work with current student ambassadors, alumni, and influencers to help develop content that will draw a student in, and perhaps turn a ´maybe´ into a ´yes´. Students want to know what it’s really like to attend a school, so sharing snippets of daily life, from classes, to life in residence halls, to sporting events, and everything in between can help a student see themselves at your school. TikTok, Reels, and Instagram are all excellent ways to share content, and are popular platforms for a variety of prospective students. This is also a great time to upgrade your website. Is it fresh, sharp, and easy to navigate? If students have to spend too much time digging for information, their attention will turn to places that are easier to get what they want. Hult International Business School, for instance, offers a simple, elegant, and accessible website for showcasing information to prospective students.

Make swag count:

Another way to capture the attention of students is through giveaways, merchandise and swag. This can be tricky because you don’t want to spend your budget on items that are going to end up in the giveaway pile. Remember, students are going to be inundated with freebies, especially as many schools are having to work virtually today. However, it’s possible to make sure your items are some of the ones they get most excited to open. Focus on what’s important to prospective students today: items that are representative of the institution they hope to attend, are attractive, are useful, and are environmentally conscious. Students make your best brand ambassadors, so give them items they’ll be excited about or give away during move in or at events. T-shirts, glass water bottles, and branded pens are among some of the best ways to share your institution pride with students, and ensure those items will be worn.


Students want to feel unique, heard, and understood. Helping students relate to your university is one of the best ways to help them pick your school. Going that extra mile, making a thoughtful effort, and helping them see how they will fit in at your school is a great way to help an indecisive student make the commitment to your university.

Topics: Student Recruitment

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