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Sam ThorsonMay, 4, 20226 min read

Defining New Age Student Search for Higher Education

Student search is a key component to any college or university marketing strategy. Student Search refers to the process of identifying qualified individuals who would be interested in attending your school. The process of identifying and communicating with these students is a practice that dates back for years.

However, there are many examples of institutions incorporating modern marketing and communication technology and strategies to bring a dated strategy into the modern world.

New vs. Old

There are two clear differences between “New-age” student search and what some might call “Traditional” student search. At Epicosity, we define these differences as Qualification and Communication Distribution.

Understanding how these practices work together helps provide clear direction into influencing students to inquire, apply, and enroll. This process also includes responding to and nurturing prospects and monitoring their interest over time.

ONE – Qualification

The Qualification process is the steps taken by the University and the Agency to expedite the recruitment process through data analysis, predictive behavior segmentation, and contact nurturing. Traditionally, the qualification process for a student search campaign was limited to the data gathered from a third-party provider.

Today, student qualification requires an understanding of audiences, geographies, and behaviors. The segmentation and evaluation of these data points create opportunities to target students that are most likely to attend your school.

Epicosity’s Qualification Process Includes:

  • Purchased list segmentation

    The process of breaking down purchased lists into different categories based on geography, age, prospect stage, and more.
  • Inbound Marketing

    This includes highlighting engaging and educational content. This can include gated content or webinar registrations. Utilizing resources such as student content hubs also create opportunities to build on to potential student lists.
  • Predictive Behavior Segmentation

    The term “Predictive Behavior Segmentation” refers to a University’s CRM. Specifically, the way they’ve leveraged lead scoring, workflows, and machine learning to automatically organize and respond to a prospective student whose activity with emails, web pages, and downloadable content indicates a qualified student.
  • Optimization Software Options

    The qualification process can also take advantage of contact optimization software like Cappex, Niche, or virtual campus software like YouVisit.

TWO – Communication Distribution

Communication Distribution involves the strategic approach to delivering personalized messaging to qualified individuals at the most appropriate time through the most appropriate channels. Traditionally, student search campaigns were limited to direct mail, email, or maybe text messaging. These channels would all point back to the school’s website in hopes the potential student would fill out an RFI form.

Today, a modern communication distribution strategy for a student search campaign still involves direct communication channels like mail and email, but also digital personalization through multiple ad platforms.

Epicosity leverages this technology by using:

  • Digital List Targeting

    Platforms like Google Search, Display, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok all allow lists to be uploaded directly to the ad platform. The contacts on these lists can then be served marketing messages through some of the most used digital channels.
  • Look-a-like Audience Targeting

    Purchased and prospect lists are also used in the ad platforms to build “Look-a-like” audiences. These audiences are built using the ad platform’s machine learning capabilities to target individuals that share similar online activity habits and interests as qualified individuals.

How to Maintain an Evergreen Student Search Campaign

Another difference between “New Age” student search and “Traditional” student search is the idea of “Always ON Marketing”. This is the idea that a college or university’s recruitment campaign should always remain on.

Traditional higher ed marketing was heavily influenced by recruitment windows during the year. Today, with the use of digital marketing, we’re able to create a foundation of recruitment messaging that can go out any time a potential student is ready to apply.

Broken out below are examples of how a new age student search campaign can be maintained for a year-round and multiyear focus.

Year-Round Search and Engagement Campaigns

The first step in creating a year-round student search campaign is developing the appropriate messaging for all the stages of the recruitment funnel - (prospect, suspect, applicant, admit, and enrolled). The messaging in each of these stages needs to be influential and offer value.

This can take many shapes, but it involves communication for each stage.

  • Search Engine Marketing 

    multiple ad sets that are specific to the search terms common with the student's stage. These ads would run year long and be continuously optimized by a media specialist.

  • Voice search is prevalent

    One often underappreciated aspect of students' digital behavior is their growing adoption of voice search, whereby queries are spoken, rather than entered manually, into search engines.

  • Workflow Communication

    Within the University's CRM, workflows will be created to maintain regular email communication with potential students. When these individuals advance to the next stage in the recruitment cycle, the workflows will automatically update to coordinate the new communication.

  • Tailor Channel Selection to High School Year

    Engaging students early in their college search is associated with improved enrollment outcomes. One important consideration in this context is that students' preferred information sources can vary by year. Sophomores, for example, are more likely to favor email, while campus visits are particularly important to seniors. You'll want to vary your emphasis on particular communication channels accordingly.

Multiyear Search and Engagement Campaigns

One of the biggest challenges facing higher education marketing is the pursuit of multi-year marketing projects. Often due to budgeting on a fixed contract, project have 12-15 month lifespans before they’re re-evaluated and refreshed or updated.

The reality is that an effective student search campaign doesn’t “end” when the contract is up. Rather, look for year-over-year strategies that build on each other every recruitment cycle. Listed below are key projects that a university or college use to remain on top of the recruitment landscape year after year.

  • Online Authority, Awareness, and UX

    When we look at long-term strategies for universities, many of them involve perception and overall awareness. As it relates to Student Search, a focus on increasing the overall branding for the school as well as optimizing the user experience on the website.

    • Branding - gets brand in front of those that may have never heard of SDSU or considered SDSU before
    • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Effective SEO depends on understanding which words and phrases students most often use to search for schools, and that differs based on whether they are using text-or voice-based search.
    • Growth-Driven Design - Easier use of application process, waive the fees and streamline information that is needed. Get the information they need front and center
  • Community Involvement & Partnerships

    A successful multi-year student search campaign involves strategic partnerships with key communities and businesses.
    • Community Events – This includes the school’s presence in key communities like the local town and other cities that offer opportunities for prospective students. These can include sponsorships with local events, high school clubs, High School Sporting Events, etc.
    • Business & High School Partnerships – This can include sponsorships with area businesses and adding placements within high schools like junior and senior days.

Last Words on “New Age” Student Search

The last thing I’ll say about new age student search is that every school needs to define what this means for them. Take a deep dive look into your current recruitment strategies and ask if you’re incorporating every tactic or project listed above. If you’re not, it might be time to re-evaluate a recruitment strategy that connects with today’s potential students.

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Sam Thorson

Sam specializes in Higher Education marketing strategies. He works hand in hand with university and college admissions and marketing teams to set goals, launch campaigns, and analyze results. With over 7 years of digital, content, and general marketing experience, Sam dedicates himself to connecting modern marketing strategies to higher education institutions.