marketing plan for private school

March 07, 2023 •

5 min reading

Marketing plan for a private school: 6 pitfalls and how to avoid them

Written by

Making a marketing plan for a private school or college can feel like a daunting task. You might face many stakeholders with little marketing knowledge, incomplete customer data, and complex programs to promote. On top of these difficulties, there are a few pitfalls that await you.


1. A marketing plan targeting only students or parents

Many schools plans look only at their primary audience – as it is common for most marketing plans for other industries. For example, a higher-education school might address only prospective students in its plan, or a primary school might address only prospective parents.

However, choosing a school involves a number of decision makers and influencers There is no standard answer on who has the most influence: it can be parents, students or even school counselors. Depending on culture, student’s maturity and individual family habits, the respective roles of each stakeholder can vary greatly. One thing is sure, though: you can’t afford to ignore them.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Survey your incoming students and their parents - when their experience is still fresh in their mind - about their decision process. Beware of the bias – respondents tend to overestimate their own influence, so make sure to survey both the student and parent audience.

  • Ask about other influencers. The most common are current students, their parents, alumni, professors, school counselors, but others may include friends, other family members, parents’ work colleagues.

  • When capturing leads on your website, make sure you ask about their type (prospective student, parent of prospective student, school counselor, etc.) and then analyze their behaviors.

  • Implement smart/interactive content that automatically adapts to the type of person that visits your website [this requires a powerful CRM/CMS platform such as Hubspot].

2. School marketing strategies under-estimating the length of the decision process

Marketing plans tend to look at the next 12 months, in line with the fiscal year.

However, school decisions processes can be much longer: 14 to 18 months for example for a Bachelor degree.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Measure and track average length of time from 1st contact to the start of an application as well as the average length of time from the start of an application to final acceptance

  • Set strategies that are multi-year. Make sure your goals take into account the delayed impact of your tactics on enrollment.

3. Marketing strategies focusing too much on your program

Existing schools can have a strong brand awareness that is further reinforced for those that are present in worldwide rankings. The tendency is then to focus on selling your program’s key strengths, taking for granted that the target audience is aware (and already loves) your school.

However, although awareness about your school can be strong with employers, with the industry you serve and with students and alumni from similar schools, it is often not the case for your prospective students, especially if they are younger, and for their parents, especially if they don’t work in the industry you serve.

If you don’t build sufficient awareness for your institution, prospective parents and students will rely mostly on tertiary sources and word of mouth to choose between schools, and you will lose an opportunity to influence their perception.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Include strategy and tactics to grow brand awareness

  • Include tactics that tell stories about your school, so that students and parents can relate to them before choosing a program

EDUCATION CONSULTING  Marketing & Recruitment Trainings  Our marketing and recruitment trainings are designed to provide educational  institutions with the skills and understanding needed to effectively reach and  recruit students.  Learn more

4. A marketing plan that ignores adjacent competitors

Most school marketing plans will address their direct competitors. For example, a business school will look at gaining share from other business schools in its geography.

However, a student decision process is much more complex than choosing between two similar schools. He/she might hesitate between business school and hospitality management – both serving the same industries in different ways. Or, it can be a choice on studying for a Master at a university versus taking a range of online certificates.

If you ignore adjacent markets, you risk being blindsided by new entrants and overinvesting your resources fighting your traditional competitive set.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Survey your incoming students on what alternatives they considered.

  • Obtain competitors' insights from study portals that aggregate data from thousands of programs and track their visitors’ search behaviors.

  • Ask your online visitors: implement pop-up polls on social media and on your website (you will need a strong CMS for this) if you are unsure about a trending competitor.

5. A marketing plan with too wide a channel selection

Today’s world is overloaded with sources of information and interactions, especially with teenagers. It can be overwhelming for a school marketing team. To address this difficulty, some schools decide to spread their marketing efforts across as many channels as possible, in an attempt to be everywhere their audience is. The risk with this approach is to dilute resources and impact - especially when it comes to paid channel - and to annoy your audience by being present in places they don’t expect you to be.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Ask your students about how they expect to hear from a school during their decision process (You might be surprised about the relative importance of emails!).

  • Leverage industry analyzes for broad indications about preferred channels, but beware of cultural difference or specific expectations from your own audience. Mine your data: a CRM with an omnichannel view will provide loads of information on the efficiency of your existing channels and insights in what to develop.

6. A marketing plan that misses out on Inbound 

Most school marketing plans focus on advertising strategies to grow their revenues.

Given the length of the decision process, it often leads to bombarding the target audience with repetitive messages such as “apply now”, “last seats”, “discover our program”, as marketing teams run out of things to say about the school’s program.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Implement an Inbound marketing strategy: provide helpful content addressing your target viewer’s questions, pain points and interests, instead of only delivering school- or program-centric message.

  • Develop a SEO-based content marketing tactics that span your entire prospective student journey.

Look out for these pitfalls as you are developing or reviewing your school marketing plan. This will give you an edge over most institutions that rely on the traditional marketing strategies applied in other industries. A few parting thoughts: In addition to a strong customer-centric mindset, ensure that you have at your disposal content marketing and customer journey design expertise applied to education. It is worth getting external help from industry practitioners. Finally, investing in a solid CRM/CMS platform will provide you with some of the insights you need to make your marketing plan truly customer-centric.

Written by

Director, Business Development at EHL

Are you looking to reach more qualified applicants and increase enrollment?

Our team will help you effectively target prospective students, reach out to them through customized campaigns, and gain valuable insights about your target audience.