University marketing and sales teams are facing an increasingly difficult task when it comes to recruiting students for their various degree programs. The growing cost of tuition leads potential students to consider alternatives to university studies; the plethora of bachelor and master programs available both domestically and internationally gives students an almost infinite number of study options.
But what is even more painful for sales and marketeers, is the changing habits of students when it comes to making a decision regarding a university. In the past, having great rankings, a solid website, a comprehensive lead generation strategy and a proactive sales team was sufficient. Prospective students are now questioning whether a potential university fits their values, walks its marketing talk and offer an environment and a community where they will truly belong.
Recent education surveys such as QS international student survey highlight the influence of current students on prospective students when it comes to choosing a university. This is an opportunity for university marketing teams to reconsider their approach and make student collaboration a key pillar of their recruitment strategy. There are many ways to do so, beyond simply requesting student testimonials. Here are a few that have been implemented at EHL (#1 QS Ranking 2022 for hospitality & leisure management programs).
Directly involve students in recruiting
Student ambassadors for recruitment activities
Selecting, training and rewarding motivated students to interact with prospective students at recruitment events, and to give campus tours. Universities should set up a process to have them chat with prospective students, for example by using dedicated platforms such as Unibuddy.
Create a referral program
Rewarding current students for convincing future students to join. It is essential to ask current students how they would like to be rewarded – they might see monetary rewards as too commercial when they are genuinely proud of their school.
“Invite a friend” program
Organizing specific days during the year when current students can invite a friend or younger sibling to attend classes and participate in the school life. This is a great way for prospective students to experience the particular vibe of a university community.
Student selection process
Involving students in the selection process of applicants. This can take the form of interviews conducted jointly with an experienced faculty, or role plays and group evaluation activities. One can not only get insights from individuals of the same generation, but also have a chance to showcase the personalities of current students.
Generate student content for the recruitment strategy
Testimonials from your students and alumni
This is the most classic way of involving current students and alumni. University marketing teams should get creative, be playful to differentiate the university’s testimonials from those of its competitors’ – experimenting with different video formats, asking students to interview each other, letting students showcase their theatrical skills, and most importantly, have fun.
User Generated Content tactics
Students are generating content about their university on a daily basis by sharing their life stories on social media. Encouraging them to use a specific hashtag such as #lifeatyourschool, creating “Instagrammable” places on the campus, putting photo calls at their disposal are some of the ways to trigger the creation of relevant content. The marketing team should make sure that they “Like”, comment and share the content created by the students, to further prompt them to capture future moments of their university lives.
Tag and thank
Showing that the university is proud of its students can help strengthen the community and the sense of belonging. Some of the basic ways to do so is to record and share their daily achievements, tagging them in social posts, thanking them for their contribution to the school life. This will naturally motivate them to further share to their own friends and relatives.
Social media contests
University marketing teams can organize photos or reels contests for the students on social media. The idea is to pick a theme that supports the university’s marketing content strategy and letting students be creative. Chances are that one will be surprised by the originality and the quality of their contributions.
Put students in charge of recruitment & marketing activities
The recruitment team can hire student assistants to work alongside them. Students will have the opportunity to gain work experience in sales and marketing, and the recruitment team will gain their insights into recruitment strategies that really resonate with their generation.
If the university degree that is promoted includes some marketing, communication or visual arts subjects, why not collaborating with faculty to organize in-class contests or workshops, using the school recruitment strategy as a business case. It may be a time-consuming initiative, but the return for both students and the marketing team can be significant.
Review content and sales materials
Marketing teams should get current students to provide input into their content strategy and sales materials. Current students know best what would attract future students, and they might raise some important concerns or themes that the marketing team had overlooked.
Manage social media
University marketing teams can even select students and give them the responsibility to be the voice of the university on social media. Playing the role of a coach, they can unleash the students’ creativity and benefit from their deep understanding of what is fun, helpful, entertaining and inspiring for their generation.
Last but not least:
Marketing teams should simply ask students how they would like to get involved, as they might come up with many more ideas!
By implementing some or all of these strategies, universities can tap into an almost unlimited source of ideas and activities that are most relevant to the generation that they are trying to attract. Involving students must be a two-ways approach, where the marketing team makes sure that students are listened, coached and rewarded for their contributions. It will give the opportunity to demonstrate trust in the students, which can go a long way in reinforcing the sense of community for which each university strives.
Article originally published in QS Insights