3 Tips for Leveraging the Application in Higher Education Marketing

In digital marketing, a compelling offer is everything. It can make or break a landing page, improve click-through and conversion rates, and encourage social sharing (among many other things). Yet despite their undeniable importance, offers are regularly undervalued in higher education, where generic, cookie-cutter brochures and mailings are a dime a dozen.

This is particularly true of the application. While not an “offer” in the traditional sense, the application is one of the most valuable tools available in higher education marketing — and one of the least frequently leveraged. With undergraduate students applying to more colleges than ever before, a creative, non-traditional application is one of the best opportunities to set your institution apart. Here are 3 tips for better leveraging your application for greater success in undergraduate enrollment campaigns:

1)      Get Creative — I don’t remember most of my college applications, and why should I? They were all basically the same. Except for Brown University, which I remember posed non-traditional questions and encouraged creative responses. I didn’t get in, but even after the rejection letter came (lengthy ‘woe is me’ post to follow) I held Brown in high regard for the value it placed on its applicants’ diverse perspectives. As Katrina Schwartz of Mind/Shift (an education-focused project of KQED and NPR) reports, “Universities say they’re looking for students who are engaged citizens and independent thinkers … but many of the measures used to determine college admission don’t test for those qualities.” Reimagining the undergraduate application is a great way to start.

2)      Focus on the Student — For undergraduate applicants, “Tell us why you think [COLLEGE NAME HERE] is a good fit for you” is about as enticing as making the bed. Not only do questions like these do nothing to differentiate your institution (see above), but they also commit a cardinal sin of higher education marketing by focusing on the school, not the student. Success in undergraduate enrollment campaigns follows the same rule of Sales 101: it’s all about relationships. By refocusing questions on the student (e.g. “What are some of your personal values, and how does [COLLEGE NAME HERE] align?”) you can use the application to begin forming a more personal relationship.

3)      Supplement the Common Application — In the right circumstances, the Common Application is a great tool for colleges and universities, but it does nothing to differentiate your school. If you’re using the Common Application, consider requiring a supplemental essay. A creative, student-focused essay question is an easy way to ensure your institution stays top of mind among other Common App schools come decision time.