Design thinking for better college recruiting

What students are really looking for – and where you should be investing more in your recruitment strategies.

Illustration of a high school student buried in college recruitment marketing

Thump. The mail hits the counter and my teenage son flips through the many envelopes covered in college branding, pulling out his gaming magazine and then tosses the rest into the recycling bin.

“Wait! Colleges?” I shriek. “Yes, Mom,” he sighs. “More of them.”

He never looks at them. Even the ones from schools he’s interested in. He looked at the first two or three he received at the beginning of his sophomore year because he was excited that colleges were contacting him. After that, it was straight to the recycle bin. Every. Single. Time.

It begs the question – why are colleges and universities spending so much money on these pieces when they haven’t been truly designed with the student in mind? Why aren't they timing things more strategically? We can help you develop a marketing strategy with materials designed for your varying audiences. 

My son’s behavior reflects what we’ve learned in countless focus groups, one-on-one interviews and surveys with Millennial and Gen Z students over the years – students are looking at your website and social media first (on their phones and laptops), to see what life on campus is really like and whether they think they’ll feel at home there. Instagram, SnapChat and yes, Twitter, are all really, really big for this. Does your website reflect the culture on your campus? 

More and more college admissions reps are indeed learning to interact with students where they hang out: online.

According to a recent study by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, 100% of universities surveyed use social media to communicate with students, up from 61% in 2007-08. The study found that 98% of the responding colleges have a Facebook page and 84% have a Twitter account.

But you do still need printed materials.

Once your target is interested, they’ll engage – especially if it’s designed with their interests in mind. They want great photography. Minimal text. Big stats. And confidence that an education from your school will help them land the job they want. (Print is especially useful for college visits, which can be transformative for prospective students when they’re done right).

Utilizing design thinking, which is a strategic approach to understanding your audience and problem-solving for their needs, will help you get there (and it happens to be the way we always work).

With limited budgets, shrinking student pools, ongoing retention challenges and overwhelming competition, you’ve got to be smart with every dollar you invest in recruiting and converting prospective students.

Research, strategy and smart digital connection points are critical pillars in helping you realize a real return on your investment when it comes to finding and connecting with students. Make sure they’re done right, and you’re setting yourself – and your institution – up for real success.

Let's talk about how your next recruiting year can be your best enrollment year yet.