Using Market Research to Recruit New Students


By: Christopher Tashjian Jun 07, 2018

This post has been updated. It was originally published on April 12th, 2017. When it comes to recruiting new students for your college or university, it can be difficult to know where to focus your efforts. Should you push your new blended-learning course? Offer more evening classes? Start a social media campaign to connect with potential students? Before you decide on a course of action, focus first on your intended audience. Identifying a target audience helps institutions develop an efficient plan for increasing enrollment. Conducting market research provides valuable insights into who your potential student is.

Whether you’re hoping to recruit post-traditional students for a new blended-learning course, or entice international students from all corners of the globe, market research should play an integral part of laying your recruitment foundation. Download the Post-Traditional College Students Report here.

Lets take a look at three ways higher education market research helps you recruit new students.

Understanding students

Market research provides insight into potential students’ motivations, trigger events, academic interests and learning preferences (ie. blended learning, night classes, etc.), as well as basic demographic information. What do the majority of online learners look like? Are they already employed? Do they have young families they care for in addition to attending school? Determining the basic makeup of your audience can help you better tailor your recruitment material. Identifying your audience’s challenges and motivations can help you better tailor your program. Market research is also a valuable tool in predicting future trends.  A recent study of post-traditional college students found that “the number of students graduating high school is declining or is projected to decline […] leading to increased competition among institutions to enroll more post-traditional students in order to maintain or grow absolute enrollment levels.”
This type of information is critical to institutions in meeting their long-term enrollment goals.

Make it personal with market research

Higher Education Marketing Trends

In a 2014 article from the New York Times, “Colleges, Recruiting Even the Imaginary Students,” author Lori Rosza outlines her experience with college marketing as the parent of a high school junior.
“The cynical gamesmanship of the college admissions process really sank in. Students (and sometimes, even more so, their parents) who become starry-eyed when colleges come calling via the mailbox need a gentle but clear reality check: It’s all about the numbers, not about them. Many colleges are chasing the lowest admissions rates, which is the holy grail that they seek to help them climb up the exclusivity ladder,” writes Rosza.
Rosza’s experience was magnified by the fact that a computer glitch had generated recruitment materials for a non-existent student listed at her address. She compared the materials sent to “William,” the imaginary student, and those delivered to her real-life daughter. Was the absence of engineering brochures for her daughter an indication of bias in the program?
Rosza’s observations make one thing clear: marketing matters. It speaks to potential students, and to those invested in their education. Market research helps institutions develop collateral that speaks directly to the students they want to reach.

Keeping up with trends

Post-Traditional Students Report

Market research is available through a variety of avenues.
Focused market research will unearth the largest amount of actionable data. Still, insights can be gained from your social media accounts, SEM campaigns, and even your website traffic.  With a multitude of engagement platforms now available, your institution has many options for making better decisions. In fact, an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education even suggests that some institutions are turning to BuzzFeed to understand prospective student preferences.
“Because it’s in partnership with BuzzFeed, which is pretty much a new way of reaching out to people, I feel like it doesn’t feel school official. It’s not like a school website. Because it’s BuzzFeed, which has all sorts of things on there that appeal to people my age, I thought that it was a really great resource to do that,” said Ana Holley, a student interviewed for the article.
“We’re getting smarter every day, and we’re finding more and more out about our users, our prospective undergraduate students, and how they want to interact with our university,” said Emily Spitale, associate vice president for strategic marketing and communications at Temple University. “More data suggests that digital marketing will play an even bigger role in reaching younger audiences in efforts to hit our admissions goals.”

There are many ways for institutions to connect with potential students–and the options seem to double by the day. By determining what your students need, you can create programs and recruitment strategies that meet those needs. Professional market research is the key to unlocking this information and reaching your enrollment goals.