More colleges and universities are putting branding and marketing at the top of their priority lists in order to stay competitive. They realize that if they’re not online to help prospective students along in the college search, it’s almost like they’re not there at all.

What’s challenging for today’s schools is that this new style of marketing is surfacing at a time when college enrollment is on the decline. College enrollment rates have been falling since 2008 for all students. According to an annual Census Bureau survey, overall college enrollment rates dropped three percentage points from 2008 to 2013, or from 69 to 66 percent.

In response to these lower enrollment rates, colleges and universities have been scrambling to separate themselves from their competitors and secure new students. Competition is on the rise, and finding students that will bring value to each school is tough.

Having to learn a new way to approach students seems to be more work that many higher education institutions just aren’t ready for. Perhaps your college or university hasn’t been ready for it, either. However, it’s imperative that you get ready.

In this article, we are going to discuss why digital marketing is essential and how to facilitate a better rapport between your marketing and admissions departments. If they can work together and build a mutually rewarding relationship, your higher institution can take full advantage of marketing in the digital age.

Digital Marketing & Real Relationships

In order to connect with the right students and separate your higher institution from others that your target audience may be considering, digital marketing is essential. However, you do not have to let digital marketing overtake everything you do.

There is still much value in real relationships, and prospective students are ultimately going to want to connect with a real person somewhere in their path. The key is to balance your marketing and admissions activities so that they complement each other and strengthen enrollment numbers.

Changing the College Application Process

Even though we’re living in a digital age, the college undergraduate process has remained largely the same. Prospects may turn to the internet to do their initial search rather than a book or magazine, but once they make contact with the school, things are relatively the same as they always have been: personal phone calls, campus tours, postcards or magazines in the mail, etc.

Imagine a prospect waiting to receive something in the mail from one college, while another college (that has fully embraced digital) takes front and center. They send a quick email, and the information is in the prospect’s hands.

The school then sends over a link so the prospect can take an interactive tour of the campus. They invite the student to join a webinar where they can meet some of the professors and current students. All the while, the colorful brochure from the other college is making its way in the mail.

Which school do you think will be most likely to connect with the prospect?

Embracing Digital  

Embracing digital technology is not as easy as A-B-C. It requires everyone to work together seamlessly: admissions, marketing and technology. Many schools have found that getting these three departments to work cohesively is not easy, and in return, prospects receive repetitive information or not enough information.

We can’t stress how important proactive planning and communication is if you want a digital marketing strategy to work for your school. Luckily, a few changes can help everyone get on board.

  • All departments must agree to work together to reach one goal, such as increasing student applications or enrollment numbers.

  • Marketing and admissions must be willing to utilize data tracking so that they know how well a campaign is performing.

  • Digital campaigns will not work if they are only amended “after the fact.” All three departments must be on board with analyzing data and making changes regularly.

Benefits of Working Together

The benefits of digital marketing for colleges and universities are extensive. It’s the future, so there’s no reason not to incorporate more digital into your marketing strategy. But beyond that, your school can enjoy the fruits of their labor because they will be able to make better decisions and use budget and staff more wisely. And isn’t this what everyone should want?

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of bridging the gap between the marketing and admissions departments.

  • Save money. If marketing or admissions finds that a particular campaign is not effective, the resources can be directed somewhere else. This is especially useful when targeting certain regions.

  • Save time. Why work harder when you can work smarter? Staff is busy enough answering phone calls, meeting with students, conducting tours and so forth. Let them be the face of your school while digital can be the initial touch point.

  • Immediate feedback. Why wait for feedback from prospective students when you can have it immediately? This allows for proactive changes that won’t waste precious resources.

  • Test ideas. Let your marketing and admissions departments work together to put their ideas into action. Two heads (or departments, in this case) are better than one!

Starting the Conversation

How can you get the conversation started between your marketing and admissions departments? While these changes may be exciting, they can also be overwhelming. Fortunately, there is no need to rush into things. Small changes can have a big impact.

Start the conversation by bringing in worthwhile data. It can be as simple as the number of prospective students visiting your site in a given month to the number of applications being turned in each year. The purpose is to get a better idea of user behavior. What is your target student like? Are you doing a good job communicating in their language? Is your messaging consistent?

Next, define your goals. What you should find is that the goals between your marketing and admissions departments are largely the same. Whether it’s increasing applications, enrollment rates or lead generation forms, both departments should want to see more of how your website affects the admissions process.

Another important step is mapping out a prospective student’s journey. Think about the various touch points they have with your school and if these touch points are positive. Chances are, your website has a lot of improvements that can be made to better move prospects through the funnel.


Aligning your marketing and admissions departments to strengthen your digital marketing strategy is a move that you won’t regret. Many large universities have already made this decision and are reaping the benefits because of it.

Unfortunately, many smaller colleges are struggling to fully execute a digital marketing strategy. If you feel that this is the position you’re in, reach out to one of our digital marketing experts at SEMGeeks. We’d love to help, and we have a strong background working with colleges and universities.