How Digital Marketing is Increasing College Enrollment

Higher ed institutions are paying more attention to branding and marketing than ever before. They know they have to if they want to be competitive and encourage qualified leads to apply at their school. But it’s not just any advertising that colleges and universities are investing in. Many are shifting their focus toward building brands that differentiate from the competition. It’s their hope that by establishing a brand presence, prospective students will have positive feelings toward their school and want to be a part of it.

While this is definitely the right attitude to have, many schools are falling short on how their marketing efforts are executed. Some have their marketing departments work on branding campaigns but are then removed from day-to-day promotions. Others have their marketing departments fill the role of being an internal agency. In either case, there is a sense that the admissions departments are doing the real labor of recruiting students and driving revenue while marketing drives the creative aspect and campaigns.

The environment you want to create is one where marketing and admissions work together. Consider it branding your enrollment. Let’s take a look.

How Most Schools Handle the Enrollment Process

If you think about your current undergraduate enrollment process, it probably goes something like this.

Students can visit your website for information on student life and academic programs. They can even complete an online inquiry form to learn more about your school, or sign up for your emails to stay in the loop. But the process of engagement is still largely the same as it used to be. If students want to interact with your school, they can do so through old channels such as campus tours and snail mail.

Well, isn’t that boring.

By fully integrating digital marketing into the admissions process, you can allow for more visibility into the funnel and more informed investments of time and money. You will certainly be reinventing the admissions process. But isn’t this what you’re trying to accomplish? A higher institution that is separate from the rest?

The Benefits to Higher Ed Digital Marketing

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits to implementing more digital channels to track and influence prospective students.

  • Incorporate web personalization. Website personalization allows you to build a profile of a site visitor based on the content they view and other factors. For instance, if a visitor checks out the psychology degree section of your website, you can assume they are interested in this area of study. You can then start personalizing their experience on your website.

  • Uncover the stealth applicant. A stealth applicant is someone who applies to your school but never fills out a request for more information or visits your campus. Digital marketing allows you to watch these leads on your website and the types of content they interact with. Your teams can then use lead scoring to determine which visitors are most likely to apply.

Why Working Together is Important

When marketing and admissions work together, they are able to make better decisions and allocate resources appropriately. The obvious benefits to working together include:

  • Save money. If a program or region is not performing well, resources can be redirected to more productive programs or regions.

  • Save time. With better data, staff can prioritize their emails and one-on-one phone calls with prospects.

  • Immediate feedback. Rather than having to wait for feedback, schools can get it right away. This helps both teams make real-time decisions that improve the outcomes of campaigns.

  • Test ideas. When collaborating, ideas can be tested and impact can be measured.

Working Your Way to a Digital Admissions Process

As you make the shift to a digital admissions process, keep these tips in mind.

  • Choose a common business goal. Both marketing and admissions departments need to agree on a common goal. This goal should be to reach students and generate revenue. It should also have a clearly defined metric, such as increasing student applications by 5 percent.

  • Establish tracking data. Marketing and admissions need to know the impact of a recruitment campaign. While knowing how many clicks the campaign generated is important, it’s also helpful to know how many applicants were created.

  • Analyze data more frequently. Shifting to digital marketing means that you will have more data to sort through. Both groups need to analyze the data more frequently and change things in real time, not after the fact.

The purpose is to have both departments partner together to learn more about the target customer and ensure that they don’t fall behind in enrollment numbers.

Making the Switch: Ideas to Get You Started

Getting your marketing and admissions departments to work together may not be as easy as suggesting it. There are many things to consider that will change the way these teams function. For instance, the two groups will need to socialize, exchange information and share ideas. It’s a new way of thinking and working, and both departments need to be on the same page.

Here are a few tips for making the switch at your own school.

  • Present data. Start with the data you already have available from your analytics. Use this information to begin identifying user behavior and how it affects decision making.

  • Educate admissions. Have your marketing team set up conversion goals on campus visit forms, lead generation forms and applications. This way, your admissions team can start quantifying the impact of your website on the admissions funnel.

  • Map the student journey. Talk to students about their research and decision-making process. The goal is to understand which content is most important at the various points in the admissions funnel. Your website can then be updated with the right content.

  • Ask for data. Request data from the admissions and IT departments and try to tie it into your website.


Marketing and admissions working together is a new concept, but it’s imperative for success. This new arrangement will require admissions to be more flexible and real-time based, and marketing to be more goal-focused and efficient at using data. When the two work together in a collaborative fashion, magic happens.