Think back to the days when you had to choose a college. Did the schools you looked at share a lot of similarities? Was it difficult to make a decision? Were there times when you got the schools confused?

Higher institutions often struggle with differentiation. If you look around at their marketing, you’ll see that many mimic each other visually and verbally. There are many theories for why this happens. First, it’s difficult to capture the complexity of a university in one simple statement. Also, higher institutions are often afraid of going too outside the box and then damaging their reputation. Sticking with a familiar tagline is “safe.”

It’s also worth noting that it’s hard to come up with fresh, new concepts for higher education marketing. With so many groups to appeal to and deadlines to meet, it’s faster and easier to stick with what works. Unfortunately, “what works” is the same as everyone else.

Differentiators to Attract Students

It’s understandable why colleges and universities don’t want to stray too far, but when was the last time that being the same was memorable? There are always going to be stories of campaigns gone wrong, but what about the ones that have gone right? Imagine if you could attract attention to your own college or university and boost enrollment as a result? Wouldn’t your efforts be worth it?

Let’s look at some of the ways that you can differentiate your college marketing from other schools without going overboard.


Cost is a major factor when choosing a college. Some schools tend to take the “value” approach – our education comes at an excellent value – but this isn’t enough to distinguish yourself.

Instead, be open and honest about pricing. Let students and their families know exactly what they can expect to pay out each semester. Be clear about options for scholarships, grants, and other robust financial aid packages. Your pricing should be competitive, with savings along the way (i.e. application waivers).

Course Delivery

Students come in all shapes and sizes. Appeal to all of them by offering varied course formats such as online, on campus, hybrid, and nights or weekends. Be flexible in accepting transfer credits, and consider accepting prior work experience as well.

Campus Amenities

Most students don’t choose a college based on its programs only. They look for other features that will round out their academic experience such as small class sizes, personal attention, high-end dormitories, and healthy food options. Take a deep look at the amenities your school offers and ways you can improve.

Targeted Students

It’s possible that your school will do best working with a highly specific group of students. For example, you might want to target individuals who work in public service or nonprofit sectors. Or, you might want to grow your population of first-generation college students or working adults. When you know which students to hone in on, you can tailor your messaging and financial aid packages.

Career Opportunities

Prospective students need the reassurance that they can find a job after graduation. Instill confidence in prospects by highlighting employer partnerships and other career opportunities. You might even want to enhance job prospects by incorporating internships and international study abroad programs into your curriculum.

Don’t let the fear of being different hold your university back. Being different can be a good thing, and it can help students make an easier decision as to whether or not your school is the right fit.