Higher Education Admissions Marketing: Driving Applications With Digital Advertising

The UK has long been regarded as one of the best places in the world to seek higher education. With many esteemed institutions offering a wide range of A Levels, higher and further education courses, degrees, post-graduate and other academic and arts options, competition for the most dedicated and talented students is ever-increasing. 

However, in the wake of rising tuition fees, cost of living pressures and a potential drop in lucrative foreign students as the UK government seeks to reduce immigration, challenges for colleges and universities are deepening.

The Independent reports UK universities have experienced a 40% fall in EU applications since Brexit, which has so far been more than replaced by non-EU students. The number of British school leavers applying to university continues to rise, increasing the complexity for institutions seeking the best mix of domestic and international students. If international student numbers were to fall, university budgets would need to be cut back leaving admissions teams with a need to do more, with less. UK colleges are in a similar position, reporting record enrolment levels post-pandemic but with funding not rising with inflation.

For academic institutions experiencing financial challenges, the key priority is going to be attracting the most dedicated students to maintain consistency in fee income. When it comes to higher education admissions and attracting students, UK universities and colleges will need to be strategic and targeted in their marketing campaigns.

So, let’s look at ways that higher education admissions can drive quality applications through digital marketing:

Audiences Seeking Higher Education Courses

Firstly, it’s important to understand the audience here, because it isn’t only students. Many parents will be doing a reasonable amount of legwork in researching the best vocational paths for their children. Even amongst the student population itself, there is diversity. Key audiences to consider include the following:

Students (16-18 years) – Students between the age of 16 and 18 years will likely be keen to take a more active role in their education. Being able to select from a range of courses, qualification types and study options, many in this age group may choose to stay on at school if their school offers sixth form, but many will also need to look or wish to look, at other colleges. Most students in this age bracket will likely stay living in their family homes during the sixth form. Therefore, location targeting will be key in marketing to this audience.

Students (over 18s) – University applicants will not only be looking to fulfil their educational needs. They will also be looking at universities in their desired locations, which may be further from home. Furtyhermore, they may look more deeply into the reputation and credentials of an institution, mindful of how that may be perceived by potential future employers.

Universities may be marketing to both passive and proactive students and also their parents. It is also worth noting that, although most students have opted to study away from home traditionally, rising living costs and tuition fees may lead more students to seek campuses they can commute from. Therefore, more localised advertising may prove effective. 

Mature Students – Mature students are a key market to target as many adults seek to retrain, especially given the rising demand for digital skills in the workplace. Yet, they may not be exposed to or respond to the same marketing approaches used for younger students. Mature students are also more likely to stay closer to home and therefore will look at local further education institutes and possibly distance learning options.

Parents – Often the most invested people in a younger person’s education are the parents. Still at an age where guidance is needed and distractions are plentiful, many parents/carers will take an active role in these crucial higher education decisions. Furthermore, they may well be funding these choices. Therefore, colleges and universities must be talking as much to the parents as the students themselves. 

Careers Advisors/Teachers – Educators are highly invested in the futures of their students. Not only from a caring perspective but also to safeguard and promote the reputation of their schools. Teachers, tutors, careers advisors and other education professionals are in key positions to offer recommendations and advice regarding higher education and so institutions should seek to engage with school educators also.

Attracting Students To Your University Or College

In attracting students to your university or college there are three key areas of importance:

  • Advert Placement
  • Advert Location
  • Advert Messaging

Additionally, as highlighted above, there are at least two target audiences course providers need to reach – students and parents.

Admissions Marketing And Advert Placement

Generally, colleges and universities will be less interested in passive audiences when targeting preferred students. Driven seekers of higher education will be more likely to meet the requirements and be an asset to the institution. Therefore, higher education course providers are mainly marketing to a responsive, invested audience.

A common mistake in admissions marketing is trying to target students in their online spaces. Notably, social media. There are two reasons this may prove a high-cost low-yield approach. 

Firstly, assuming your key stakeholders are older teens is to overlook the role parents play in the further education selection process. Targeting by age also means you may be failing to engage with mature students. Secondly, online social spaces are just that. Though it may be important for colleges and universities to be engaging on social media, advertising on these platforms can at best be ineffective and at worst harm your reputation, leading to you to come across as pushy or needy.

A far better way to target those who are already researching higher education is to meet them when they are going to be most responsive. Admessenger uses content crawling to ensure our higher education messaging shows up in places where users are actively engaging with relevant content. As your target audience is already reading content similar to your offering, our advertisers see a far higher conversion rate when compared to other admissions marketing methods.

Targeting Prospective Students By Location

Since most under-18s live at home whilst they study, colleges have always had the advantage of advertising locally, which tends to be more targeted and results in higher click-through rates. However, as more university students opt to stay at, or nearer to home, this option is becoming increasingly effective for universities too. In fact, according to a survey carried out by Student Living in 2022, 37% of students are now choosing to live at home whilst they study.

With the rising cost of living, specifically rent increases, students seeking to minimise their debt and make higher education affordable are more likely than ever before to be looking at local institutions. Additionally, targeting by location enables institutions to reach potential students, their parents and their educators/careers advisors.

With Admessenger’s powerful GPS-driven location targeting we can deliver your campaign precisely within your chosen area. Messaging can also be tailored to highlight the benefits of accessing higher education locally, or within commuting distance.

However, we don’t use location targeting just to reach local audiences. Many higher education institutions seek to attract students from specific schools, specifically those who performance highly in relevant subjects. We’re also seeing record numbers of students from underprivileged backgrounds pursuing university education and this is helping institutions in their efforts to become more accessible and diverse. Location-targeted advertising is used for a great many reasons in driving the right applicants to the right universities, and Admessenger’s GPS-driven technology can deliver this with location-specific ad campaigns that can be created in minutes.

Effective Messaging To Target Prospective Students

Again, admissions teams are looking to communicate with young students, their parents, mature students and other educational influencers. Therefore, messaging can be difficult to perfect. Ultimately, further education, and where you choose to pursue it, is a massive decision and no single advert is going to win over any student (or parent). Your goal will be to drive traffic to the university website where the prospective student may research and browse at their leisure. On this note, having an up-to-date, responsive and even interactive website is essential. Younger audiences are likely to access the website from a mobile device and will be as interested in the campus as they are in the course details. They will also expect the website to be easy to navigate and designed to reflect the institute’s ethos.

Another option is to use digital advertising to promote open days and other admissions events. This provides an opportunity for interested students and their families to learn more and encourages them to take that next step. Admessenger is ideal for this form of content because our scrolling ads mimic news alerts and therefore demand attention. The messaging is also concise, easy to read and initiates a clear call to action. Additionally, they are quick to create and deploy so are instrumental in event promotion.

Colleges and universities will need to use their digital promotions to highlight their further education courses and campuses effectively, often to audiences who may find themselves overwhelmed with options. Therefore, to stand out you may wish to avoid the cliched banner adverts of students sitting under trees on campus or groups posing in university courtyards. Instead, deliver clear and compelling messaging designed to resonate with your target audience.

Try our Free Admessage Demo Builder to see just how simple it is.


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