A college classroom is filled with students recruited through an effective student enrollment strategy.

9 Tactics To Increase Student Enrollment at Your College or University

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Higher education recruitment has increasingly become a zero-sum game. Thousands of colleges and universities are competing for increasingly fewer students, with the looming 2025 demographic cliff only complicating the problem. Against that backdrop, the status quo in student enrollment marketing is no longer enough.

Last fall, only 36% of admissions officers reported meeting their enrollment goals for the cycle. In 2021, only 9% reported not being concerned about meeting those goals. To stand out from the crowd and keep filling your incoming classes, you need to get creative.

The good news: getting creative might just be easier than you think. In fact, a number of creative ways to increase student enrollment are just waiting to be unlocked. They’ve proven successful, and they’re waiting for you to explore and implement them.

That’s what this guide will cover. Keep reading to learn more about creative ways to increase student enrollment, and how you can get started implementing them. But first, let’s talk through exactly why developing a comprehensive enrollment strategy is a necessary first step.

The Need for a Comprehensive Student Enrollment Strategy

In the modern enrollment landscape, creativity is key. But that doesn’t mean some tried-and-true tactics will no longer work.

Yes, your admissions counselors still need to perform personal outreach. Yes, at least some printed materials for college fairs and mailings should still be part of your comms flow. The key is not switching gears entirely, but building an engine that incorporates both the old and the new into a comprehensive enrollment strategy.

The saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts may be a cliche, but that doesn’t make it less true. Individual ways to create college enrollment, no matter how creative, will never succeed if they’re not part of that larger strategy. Every bit of messaging and interaction with the university must fit into a larger, cohesive college experience for your students.

The nuances of that comprehensive enrollment strategy go beyond the scope of this post. For now, the most important part to remember is that your chosen tactics and ways to increase enrollment always need to fit within that larger plan and framework.

Speaking of which: let’s dig into nine enrollment tactics that have been proven to help colleges and universities stand out and improve their enrollment, even in the most challenging environments.

9 Ways To Increase Student Enrollment at Your Private or Public School

1. Create a Virtual Campus Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a consistent trend: prospective students no longer need a physical campus visit. Instead, they’re looking for virtual experiences as well.

With the average family now spending between $1,000 and $3,000 per campus visit, especially underrepresented populations benefit from these virtual tours. And sure enough, studies show that institutions implementing virtual tours can expect a 69% year-over-year increase in new student inquiries.

And it doesn’t end with the inquiry. According to one analysis of 65,000 students, students who used a virtual tour became twice as likely to apply to that college. Finally, the virtual tour can supplement your digital content, shining on your website, social media accounts, and even as a link or QR code on physical mailers.

2. Embrace User-Generated Content (UCG)

Modern enrollment marketing means communicating with Gen Z, a generation seeking authenticity and who is increasingly cynical toward advertising messages. The solution: user-generated content that promotes your institution through your audience’s eyes.

User-generated content is already embraced in other industries, thanks to its ability to generate trust and engagement at a higher level than any other type of content. You can build strategies to generate it in almost infinite ways:

  • Run contests on social media, asking students to share their stories or favorite places on campus.
  • Embrace influencer marketing, finding your most influential students on campus to collaborate with.
  • Hire a student social media team to produce content for you based on their own experiences.
  • Work with your admissions tour guides on content, like an Instagram takeover during an Open House.

And that’s just the beginning. User-generated in any of those and other ways can fuel your social media accounts, website, and even emails you send to prospective students.

3. Own Your Google Business Profile

It seems like a small thing, but the school profile that appears when someone searches for your institution’s name is an absolutely vital part of your online presence. It’s the first thing prospective students see in their online searches, which is why 50% of Google Business Profile views result in website clicks.  

Much of that profile is controlled by information Google automatically pulls from IPEDS data. But you can still control anything from the visuals to the contact information and even the reviews posted about your institution. Claim it, then treat it as a core digital channel to reach prospective students.

4. Use New Social Channels–In New Ways

By now, you’ve probably heard about or even created school accounts on networks like Snapchat or TikTok, and for good reason. The two networks, along with Instagram, have become by far the most popular social channels for Gen Z.

But here’s the problem: most university presences on those channels are less than ideal. Pushing institutional content goes directly against the above-mentioned Gen Z preference of authenticity. It makes sense to embrace these channels, but only if you can generate authentic content matching each platform’s style and tone.

That’s easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. TikTok and Snapchat are great outlets for your UGC. It also helps to learn from the few successful higher ed examples, like Washington University’s institutional TikTok channel

5. Reinvent the Application Process

Looking at the college application as the simple, process-oriented part of the larger student journey is tempting. But in reality, it might just be the difference maker.

According to one study, 79% of students judge their future experience at a college by the application process. If it’s bad, outdated, or counterintuitive, those feelings transfer to the institution as a whole.

The key, then, is making things as simple and intuitive as possible. The application form should be short and auto-filled for prospects already in your database. Allow documents scanned in via smartphone. Include payment options like PayPal and Venmo for your app fee and tuition deposit. The more you align the application with your audience’s expectations, the better.

6. Showcase Your In-Class Experience

As students learn more about you, maybe the most difficult thing to get across is what your classes and education will be like. And yet, that’s an absolutely crucial part of the process. Academics are consistently among the top factors for choosing a college, and Gen Z’s preferred learning style of collaboration versus traditional lectures will play a large role in the school they choose.

That’s why you need to show what learning at your school will be like. Host mini lessons on relevant topics at open houses or record 10-minute lectures on relevant topics to promote on your digital channels. You can also involve your faculty directly in your recruitment messaging, showcasing their expertise and personalities as a preview of the college experience.

7. Integrate Financial Messages

Especially in today’s environment, thanks in part to rising educational costs, both students and their parents will want to know about their true cost of attendance. It’s why the 2021 E-Expectations Report put financial messaging as the top priority for both audiences, a trend that’s not expected to change anytime soon. It’s also why schools that excel in this type of messaging consistently increase their yield rates.

Good financial messaging is both transparent and intuitive. You need to be able to clearly explain your students’ future costs, including both secondary costs like housing and potential scholarships. Integrate this message even in early funnel materials, then carry the message through the admissions process. 

8. Leverage Visual Storytelling

Higher education marketing can quickly become fact-based. You want to discuss your diverse student body, championship-winning sports teams, highly-ranked academics, and famous alumni. But those facts don’t resonate nearly as much for your audience as a well-told story. In fact, the human mind is 22 times more likely to remember a fact if that fact is part of a compelling story.

Studies repeatedly show that human brains are ‘wired for stories,’ which is why telling those stories is so important.

Frame your success statistics, expert faculty members, and famous alumni as visual stories, and your conversions will increase dramatically. A well-told video or even a perfectly framed image with that story in mind can go a long way toward capturing your audience’s attention and leveraging that attention into an inquiry or application.

9. Adopt Conversational AI To Boost Student Enrollment

When today’s prospective students have questions, they expect fast and relevant answers. In fact, according to Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 81% of adult students apply to the first school that engaged with them in their research process. Meanwhile, more than 50% of online users expect brands and organizations to be available 24/7.

No admissions staff can support that level of interaction without help. That help: conversational AI, in the form of chatbots and AI-enabled digital assistants.

According to a 2021 study, college student experiences with chatbots are overwhelmingly positive, with 94% saying that it was valuable or extremely valuable in their experience. A well-built assistant, engaging with the right answers and through the channels preferred by the audience, can go a long way toward building a relationship with your student, ultimately leading to enrollment.

Start Implementing Creative Ways to Increase Student Enrollment for Your 2023-24 Recruitment Cycle

In an increasingly competitive enrollment market, it’s time to get creative. And, just as importantly, it’s time to implement new and creative ways to increase your student enrollment into your existing strategy for the 2023-24 recruitment cycle.

The good news: it’s not too late for that step. Any of the above tactics can be implemented relatively quickly, even in time for this year’s summer and fall semesters.

For example, an AI-enabled digital assistant like AtlasRTX can be stood up quickly, with a basic database that expands and improves over time based on continuing student engagements. Ready to get started? Request a demo to learn more about our conversational AI tool today.

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