Remember the days when you could fill your enrollment quotas by inviting a group of parents and high school seniors to your campus and then sending out flyers afterwards?

Those days are long gone.

As students become more and more selective with the colleges they choose, a college recruitment strategy is an absolute must. And if you don’t want to become a part of the 63% of colleges that didn’t meet their enrollment goals in 2019, that strategy has to be sustainable.

This article covers the 5-point plan that will help your higher ed organization immediately attract and convert more students in the upcoming year. 

But before we dive in, let’s define what a college recruitment strategy is!

What is a College Recruitment Strategy?

A college recruitment strategy is a set of workflows and processes that you can easily scale to enroll quality students and fulfill your admissions goals.

Simply put, if your college doesn’t have a college enrollment recruitment strategy, you’re probably shooting random marketing messages in the dark, hoping that prospective students will read them and come knocking on your door.

If you want to meet your enrollment goals, you need a marketing message that is both very specific, and able to stand out in a highly competitive market where students are constantly being bombarded with messaging. A college recruitment strategy makes that possible.

While every recruitment strategy depends on the institution and the recruiters themselves, our 5-step framework will help any student recruiting team better identify their perfect target audience, create a convincing and powerful message, and make the student enrollment process way more efficient. 

Here’s how it works.


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Table Of Contents

  • Step #1: Create Detailed Student Personas

  • Step #2: Coin Your Marketing Campaign Message

  • Step #3: Define Underused Marketing Opportunities

  • Step #4: Train Your College Recruitment Staff

  • Step #5: Analyze Performance Data And Enhance Your Enrollment Strategy


Step #1: Create Detailed Student Personas

The easiest way to make any marketing message convincing is to address it to the right person at the right time.

As a higher education organization, you likely already know who your students are. Student personas help you take that knowledge to the next level. 

Student personas are semi-fictional archetypes that represent a segment of the target audience you want to enroll in your university. 

Personas can be anything from “a senior high school student interested in math” to something much more specific and tailored. 

Typically, the more detailed your student personas are, the better you can understand the core needs of your prospects and develop specific marketing campaigns that resonate with them.

Here’s how to create highly-specific student personas that can function as a backbone for your college recruitment strategy:

  • Survey current students. Conduct polls and surveys among current students to understand how they learned about your organization and why they chose your college over your competitors.

  • Research and analyze current enrollment data. Integrate your learning management software with a higher ed CRM to gain insight about your best performing students and how they were recruited.

  • Create several personas. Don’t restrict yourself to a single persona, as all students are different and enroll for plenty of reasons. Try creating several personas to refine and implement over time.

From GPA to areas of interest, a detailed student persona tells you exactly who you’re looking for to the point that your marketing messages practically write themselves!

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Step #2: Build Your Marketing Message

To create effective marketing campaigns you have to account for several things at the same time. Below are some of the most crucial factors to a successful college recruiting strategy. 

How can you stand out among the competition?

The field of higher education as we know it is becoming more and more competitive with every passing year. Digital education platforms are growing by the day, while thousands of colleges are offering attractive online programs as alternatives to brick and mortar education.

In many ways you’re no longer competing with a handful of organizations in your city— you may be competing with the whole world.

That’s why it’s important to identify your main competitors and analyze their marketing strategies as soon as you have some student personas to work with. If you decide to advertise blindly instead, you risk burning through your whole ad budget trying to compete with organizations that are saying very similar things.

After you’ve identified your competition and their strategies, consider creating a perceptual map to use as a guide for future reference and further analysis. 

Product-level Marketing vs. Brand-level Marketing

While both product-level marketing and brand marketing play integral roles in helping institutions attract more students, it’s important to be able to discern between the two. Brand marketing includes messaging that makes you unique compared to your competition, while product marketing’s main goal is to inform your prospects about your product and how it can help them.

Here are some tips to help you create the most engaging and memorable marketing messages in your niche:

  • Actively use your student personas. Your student personas should be tightly connected with your marketing messages. Personas help make marketing messages more targeted, which leads to better results.

  • A/B test your marketing campaigns. No one can create a perfect message from scratch. Fortunately, every major marketing platform (Facebook Ads, Google Ads, landing page conversion software, etc.) allows you to A/B test your marketing messages  and select the best performing ones.

  • Eliminate department silos. Different units within your organization can have their own marketing campaigns and compete for the same student personas. Collaborating instead of competing can make everyone’s marketing strategy more efficient!

Now that you’ve successfully created and tested your marketing message, it’s time to boost your applicant rates by identifying new marketing opportunities. 

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Step #3: Expand Your Reach With New Marketing Opportunities

Often the best way to outmatch your competition and enroll more students is to engage students where your competitors aren’t.

Here are some great ways to expand your marketing reach and attract more potential students.

  • Try new marketing mediums. New platforms are emerging every year. A few years ago Instagram and Snapchat were all the rage. Now it’s all about TikTok and other platforms. When your competition is wary about marketing on new platforms, you have a golden opportunity to command the market.

  • Try new marketing formats. Traditional campus recruitment events have been around for ages, and although face-to-face interaction is a powerful form of communication, there are other marketing channels to consider. Augmented reality, virtual tours, and live streams can present great platforms to engage students in new, original ways.

  • Find new ways of gathering data. The more data you have on your current students and organization as a whole, the more you’ll be able to determine which recruiting strategies will work.  Investing in quality CRM platforms can help you maintain, track, and analyze relevant data quickly and efficiently.

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Step #4: Train Your College Recruitment Staff

Once student applications and inquiries start coming in, untrained recruiters can quickly become a bottleneck. 

Ask yourself:

Do my recruiters reply to all inquiries in a timely and professional manner?

Do they consistently follow up on all applicants to keep them engaged and interested?

Are they utilizing several messaging mediums to boost open and reply rates? 

According to a study from InsideTrack, a national agency behind over 4,000 student success programs, a large  majority of institutions are not using high-response mediums such as SMS text to foster conversations with applicants. Additionally, many recruiters are using inconsistent follow-up messaging strategies that are likely doing more harm than good. .

Here are a few tips to help you make sure your recruiters are effectively closing new students as they express interest in your institution: 

  • Provide adequate recruitment staff training. Online sales programs, webinars, and invited experts will enhance your staff’s ability to convert inquiries into applications.

  • Use recruitment templates and scripts. Shape EDU CRM provides recruiters with well-tested recruitment templates for email, text, and phone calls. The templates were created based on several years of exclusive partnerships with leading EDU organizations such as Woz U and SCI. 

  • Actively use automation. With smart lead distribution and automated email campaigns, you can reduce response times to seconds and consistently reach out to prospects when they’re most likely to respond. 

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Step #5: Analyze Performance Data And Enhance Your Enrollment Strategy

After you’ve gone through the whole recruitment funnel—from student persona ideation to the finished application—you’ll need to look back at your strategy and analyze what worked for you and what didn’t.

This is a critical stage of every enrollment strategy, because it allows you to optimize and improve your results in several ways. When you analyze your performance data, you can:

  • Enhance your student personas. The more students you enroll through the use of student personas, the easier it will be to determine which personas are accurate, and which still need some work.

  • Remove operational inefficiencies. Enrollment is a long-play game, and the more you can optimize your daily processes, the more resources you’ll be able to save in the long run. With data in hand, you can gather feedback from your recruiters, eliminate department silos, and make sure your recruiters leverage technology to reduce routine tasks and focus on recruitment.

  • Learn your numbers. Analyzing your data will help you make sense of your applicant rates, acquisition by channel, and any performance metrics you need to facilitate decisions in the future. 

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A college recruitment strategy is not a one-off solution that you create and follow for years. 

To ensure your enrollment strategy stays relevant, keep a live document where all your team leaders can access it and make relevant updates. An updated college enrollment strategy allows your team to adapt to the shifting preferences of your target audience, and saves you time, money, and effort on strategies that don’t work.

If you want to gain a competitive edge in the current higher education landscape, investing in the right systems can also be a huge help. 

Shape CRM for higher ed is an all-around enrollment marketing system designed to help universities attract students, prioritize leads, and better manage and analyze their data.

Try Shape for free for 14 days, and see for yourself how a well-balanced CRM can help you enroll more students with ease!