Higher education institutions used to have it easy when it came to their student audience. The average college student was an 18-year-old high school graduate entering college for a traditional four-year experience. Marketing to these students focused on things like the quality of the dorms, fitness centers and cafeteria food.

The modern student is much less traditional. Higher institutions are finding that many of their newer students are older and balancing an education with raising a family and working a full-time job. Pointing out cozy dorm rooms and weekend activities isn’t going to appeal to their lifestyle. Rather, these students want to know things like whether their credits will transfer, how quickly they can achieve their degree and the flexibility of your program.

Many institutions have adjusted their message to appeal to the non-traditional student. They have become more efficient and creative at delivering immediate responses to these students. However, with so many colleges and universities catering to adult students, prospects have gotten more selective with the messages they listen to. Whether you choose to sell or serve makes a big difference.

As you look for ways to connect with the non-traditional student, these suggestions will prove helpful.

Let adult prospects know you’re thinking of them.

Many higher institutions quickly put together a non-traditional program because they are mostly focused on the typical student experience. However, older students are good at researching what they want, so incomplete information can turn a prospect away.

Let the non-traditional student know that you’re thinking of them. Show them that you are aware of their unique needs, such as balancing a higher education with work and family. To meet these needs, you might want to highlight your accelerated program that can be completed in 1 year or convenient evening and weekend classes.

Not only should your website contain useful information, but also it should provide a adult user-friendly experience. Adult prospects shouldn’t have to dig for information. Present content in helpful drop-down menus and use current adult students to provide video testimonials. Post blog content written by non-traditional students. Show these prospects how they would fit in at your institution.

Get your website ranked through SEO.

Getting on the top of the search results is hard to do on your own. Your key pages must be written for SEO, and that requires help from a professional. A higher education SEO expert will perform the necessary keyword research to determine which terms and phrases your audience is searching for. These keywords can then be used in your content to drive targeted traffic to your website.

Search engine optimization is more than just keywords, of course. A professional can also help with other aspects of SEO that will improve your organic rankings. SEO involves many techniques and strategies that go far beyond adding metatags and keywords. A well-thought-out strategy is essential to proper placement and relevant traffic.

Use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

It’s tempting to manage prospect information on your own, especially with a smaller institution. Yet to efficiently reach out to prospective students with a personalized message, a CRM system is helpful.

A CRM allows you to collect information about your prospective students and organize it for the purpose of automating tasks. With this level of organization, it’s possible to send out immediate messages such as welcome emails.

By creating a drip email campaign, you can use your email messages to develop relationships with prospective students and provide them with the right information at the right time. A CRM tool also allows you to track interactions so you can better understand what’s working.

Provide adult prospects with self-service tools.

The purpose of self-services is to give non-traditional prospects the tools and information they need to be in control of their journey. Using these tools, prospects have the ability to research their options and educate themselves without being bombarded by advertisements.

Some of the best self-services include video testimonials, live chats, unfiltered social media conversations and transfer credit calculators. Offer these services at various parts of the journey so that prospects can gather up the necessary information to make an informed and balanced decision.

Train admissions counselors to work with adult students.

There is no substitute for a caring, understanding admissions counselor. Adults re-entering the educational field have unique needs compared to younger students. They often worry about balancing school with their family and career. They may feel unsure about whether they have what it takes to go back to school.

Demonstrate that you are sensitive to these needs and have put together a program that aligns with a busy adult lifestyle. With this approach, you’re selling your school but also serving the non-traditional student. Ideally, your institution should have admissions counselors that are trained to speak directly with adult prospects.


As more students fall into the non-traditional category, it only makes sense that higher institutions rethink their programs and services offered to these students. Adult students are a great group to have, as they are focused on getting a degree as quickly and economically as possible. The best way to market to this group is to provide relevant, useful information, ease fears about obtaining a higher education and show prospects that you are sensitive to their needs.