In just a couple of months, most colleges and universities will be wrapping up their spring semesters and graduating another successful group of students, many with jobs and internships already lined up. But it’s never too early to start planning for the fall semester and the back-to-school surge.

As high school juniors and seniors start reaching out to prospective schools, it’s crucial that your higher institution is there to connect with them. However, cutting through the noise (and the competition from summer bonfires, sand volleyball and vacationing) isn’t always easy. These students have to take college seriously at some point, though, and you want to be there when they’re ready.

What Makes Geo-Targeting an Effective Form of College Marketing

Geo-targeting is one way to reach prospective students directly. It works because you’re able to customize your messaging based on a student’s location. This makes the messaging feel warm and direct, like you’re reaching out to the student personally. Plus, you can make the message relevant based on the time, location, weather, etc.

For example, you can invite prospective students to get out of the hot sun and join your school for an ice cream social. Or, you may reach out to students who are looking for something to do over the weekend and invite them to a free school event.

Geo-targeting is a refreshing approach to traditional marketing because it bypasses the need to target students using cookies and other tracking measures. Instead, you can focus your attention on where and how your prospects are spending their time.

How to Make Geo-Targeting Successful

Let’s look at a few examples of how you can be most successful using geo-targeting to reach prospective students.

Know the Location

Examine the geographic location of your campus in detail. It’s amazing how many people live in the same area all of their lives but don’t know the names of streets or how to get to the nearest airport. Take the time to identify the things that make your city great, such as local museums, restaurants or parks. Even the smallest towns have hidden gems.

Also get familiar with the public transportation that is available, as well as the nearest airport. It’s expected that at least some of your students will have family come to visit from time to time. You should also be familiar with the nearest hotels and how quickly they fill up. Parents need to know that they can come and visit their child without a lot of headache.

Talk to Your Students

Your current students are the eyes and ears of your campus, so it’s never a bad idea to speak with them directly. Where do students typically live? Are there a lot of housing options off campus? Do students prefer to return home on the weekends, or is there a lot to do on/around campus?

The purpose of this activity is to get a feel for the types of questions prospective students ask and the answers they’re looking for. If a student wants to know if they can rent an apartment nearby, you want to be able to give them a true idea of where real students are living rather than a generic list of apartment rentals in the area.

Use the Right Lingo

If you don’t talk to students often, you won’t know the words kids are using these days. Adults fall out of the loop quickly, and it’s possible that prospective students are searching for terms that you’re not using in your marketing. These terms may be location-specific or age-specific. Either way, try to use the natural language of your younger audience.

Leverage Outlying Areas

Many colleges and universities are surrounded by cool places that not everyone is aware of. For instance, some larger institutions have buildings for subjects like aviation, agriculture and astronomy located in outlying areas. Students may work or study at these locations, so it makes sense to include them in your marketing. When running your campaigns, check to see which other buildings and facilities may be located in outlying areas, but not necessarily on your main campus.

Experiment with Online Advertising

Just about all social platforms have unique options for geo-targeting prospects. In addition to your AdWords campaign, experiment with paid online advertising on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Using their targeting tools, you can reach out to prospects within a certain area or interest such as art or music. These are great channels to utilize because they allow you to bypass some of the online clutter and reach qualified students directly.

Taking Things a Step Further with Geo-Fencing

You may have heard a thing or two about geo-fencing, which takes the concept of geo-targeting one step further. Geo-fencing puts a virtual fence around a particular location that is defined by the advertiser. If you’re hosting an open house at your school and want to invite local students at the last minute, you can use geo-fencing to identify which areas those students would come from. Geo-fencing is incredibly useful, so don’t pass up the opportunity to use it to increase on-campus participation and engagement.


Geo-targeting has had a positive impact on higher education marketing so far, and we expect this trend to continue. As you compete with more colleges and universities, it’s crucial to make smart use of your advertising budget and reach the students that are most qualified to attend your school. With tools like geo-targeting and geo-fencing, you can effectively reach these students and speak to them in a warm, natural tone. Students don’t want to feel like a number these days. College is an investment, and they need reassurance that it’s worth it.