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Increase Student Enrollment: Digital Marketing for Higher Education

To succeed in the higher education industry, having a robust marketing strategy is essential for building brand recognition and connecting with students. Check out these proven strategies to improve your digital marketing strategy.

Mike Arnold

Being a higher-ed marketer these days is tough.

You've got to outsmart the algorithms, cut through the noise, AND make some serious enrollment magic happen. Otherwise, students won't be interested, will skip over your posts in seconds, and will want to go elsewhere.

The universities and colleges that succeed these days are the ones that get their digital marketing right.

Traditional brochures and open days just don't cut it anymore—we're talking a whole new digital game here.

The pressure's on, right?

You need to attract prospective students, fill those lecture halls, and prove that your institution is the best investment for their future. But let's be honest, sometimes it feels like you could launch the most awesome social media campaign ever, and it'd still get lost in a sea of student loan memes.

Don't worry—we've got your back. It's time to ditch the outdated playbook and embrace the power of digital marketing for higher education. Think of this as your cheat sheet for transforming your college or university into the one everyone's buzzing about.

Let's turn those "likes" into applications and get your campus thriving.

Understanding the Higher Education Marketing Landscape

Think of the higher ed landscape like a giant party. Everyone's there: universities, community colleges, online programs... They all try to look amazing and convince students to hang out with them.

As a marketer, your job is to ensure your school isn't just at the party—it's the coolest VIP room everyone's lining up to join. That's where digital marketing for higher education becomes seriously powerful, and it's how you get prospective students interested.

Let's break down some of the must-have tools for the job:

  • SEO and PPC (Google Display Network): Think of these as your megaphone. Right keywords and targeted ads get your school seen by the prospective students actually searching for what you offer. No more blending in at the bottom of page 2 of Google. No one goes there.
  • Social Media:  Platforms like Insta and TikTok aren't just fun; they're where current and prospective students hang out in their free time (and during work times, to be honest). Therefore, you need to post here, telling your story, showing off your campus vibes, and humanizing your university to make it relatable.
  • Content is King: Blogs, videos, and even infographics answering student FAQs make you the expert, the authority in the industry, and the go-to place for information. This isn't a sales pitch; it's showing them you understand their needs and that your school is the solution.
  • Email: Yeah, email can be tedious. But done right? It's personalized. Scholarships updates, event invites... This keeps you top-of-mind when they're making BIG decisions. It's like a direct connection to each and every student, one they're checking every single day.
  • Video Power: Forget long-winded campus tours. Short, punchy videos are where it's at. Student testimonials and quick glimpses at events make your school feel real, not some distant idea. People are also far more likely (66%) to watch short-form content these days.


See the difference? It's not just about the tools; it's about using them to build a presence that students can't ignore.

The Top Digital Marketing Strategies For Higher Education (Universities and Colleges)

When it comes to digital marketing for higher education (college, uni, or other education programs), the good news is there are many different higher education marketing strategies out there to help get your institution in front of the people you care about the students. They are looking to better their future, to engage, and to learn.

And on that note, it's quite an interesting comparison between universities and businesses.

When companies market, they're not necessarily sure whether their target audience will actually want to buy their product. They've got to get them excited and entice them in.

Universities and colleges, on the other hand, have students who are actively looking for a place to call home, and they're ready to sign up. All they're interested in is finding the right place for them.

And it's your job to use these higher education digital marketing strategies to prove while your facility is that place.

Let's get into it.

Social Media Mastery: Own the Platforms Where Prospective Students Live

First things first, social media.

Sure, it's a trendy place to be, and you need to be there. 90% of millennials use social media actively, but the problem is every business, college, and other higher education institution and friend is also there, making it a convoluted melting pot of content that's easy to get lost in.

Therefore, if you're looking to succeed when it comes to content marketing on social media, you need to pick your battles.

That means you can't be everywhere on social media and do it well. So, here's the secret: pick the platforms where YOUR students are already hanging out. Here's a quick cheat sheet:

  • TikTok & Snapchat: If your target market is Gen Z, this is your jam. Short, snappy videos rule here – think quick campus tours, funny student life skits, even professors answering FAQs in a quirky way. If you're creating for TikTok, you can post these videos on Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts to maximize the content's mileage.
  • Instagram: Still a visual powerhouse. Stunning campus shots, student takeovers for a day, and even those quote graphics with inspiring messages can get shares and build your brand.
  • LinkedIn: Bit more formal, but PERFECT for alumni stories, higher education and career resources, and showcasing your college's industry connections. This one impresses parents, too!


Pro Tip: Don't just post, ENGAGE. Respond to comments, go live to answer questions, and use those polls and quizzes. Social media is a two-way street!

Storytelling Sells

The best way to make an impact on SM is to tell a story. Forget boring announcements. Think of your social profiles as chapters in your university's story. Here's how to make it a page-turner:

  • People over programs: Yes, your majors are important, but it's the STUDENT experience that hooks people. Showcase clubs, dorm life, and that awesome volunteering project. Showcase it all.
  • Visuals are EVERYTHING: Could a long-winded description about your fancy new lab EVER compete with a 30-second student testimonial video showing them using the equipment? Nope!
  • Make it a conversation: Ask questions in captions, run polls, invite student-generated content. This shows you're not just broadcasting; you're building a higher education community.


This is where those 'aha!' moments happen. Students don't just see your college; they FEEL what it'd be like to be there. And that's way more powerful than any brochure.

User-Generated Content - The Power of Letting Your Students Do the Talking 

Okay, imagine this: You're scrolling through Insta, and you see a cool pic of your dream college. But here's the thing – it's not some fancy photoshoot. It's a current student snapping their killer dorm setup or the view from their fave study spot.

Does that hit different? You bet it does!

That's user-generated content, and it's digital marketing gold for universities. Here's the breakdown:

  • Hashtag Power-Ups: Pick a catchy hashtag (#[UniversityName]Life maybe?). Get higher education students to share their real experiences – funny, inspiring, whatever. It builds a whole online world around your campus.
  • Testimonials Aren't Just for Brochures: Forget stiff quotes. Get higher education students on video talking about how the profs helped them, the club that changed their life... This is way more persuasive than anything YOU could say.
  • Make It Fun: Contests and Challenges: Photo challenge with a prize? TikTok dance-off using your school song? Gets students involved AND creates a ton of shareable content showcasing your vibe.
  • Amplify, Don't Appropriate: The key is to reshare student stuff on your official pages, WITH CREDIT. This shows you value your higher education students as people, not just for their pics. This gets prospective students excited and wanting to join your community.


Want a real-life example?

A shot from 2020 showcasing #bluehennpride

Check out the University of Delaware's #BlueHenPride hashtag over on X.com. It's a fantastic example of how university students come together to celebrate their uni culture, achievements, and stories, and it certainly draws prospective students in and makes them want to be a part of what's going on. 

All real life students. All real life stories.

Nowthis isn't about pretty graphics or paid search ads. It's about showing prospective students the REAL deal through the eyes of people just like them. That builds trust way faster than any digital marketing campaign ever could.

Brand Building: It's Not Just for Big Companies

Think of your higher institutions like a superhero.

You have a unique power (top-notch research programs, maybe a killer location, great opportunities, resources, and so on). But here's the thing: to really save the day, you need a costume and a catchy name, right?

You need people to "see you flying through the air" and say, "Hey, that's XYZ University," and know precisely how you are.

It's also the same logic as the McDonald's "M," the Audi "circles," The Olympic rings, and all the other logos, brand colors, brand personalities, and more you know throughout your life.

To create this level of engagement through your own university's brand visibility, you need branding. Here's how to create a higher education brand identity that makes students sit up and take notice:

  • Know Your Superpower: What makes your school different - and don't be generic. "Friendly campus" doesn't cut it. Are you the place for cutting-edge STEM? Hands-on internships? That becomes your core message.
  • Look The Part: Your logo, colors, and even the fonts you use say a LOT. Should they feel classic and timeless? Modern and edgy? Make sure it matches your vibe, and use it EVERYWHERE.
  • One Voice, Many Platforms: From your website to a tweet, your 'voice' should always be recognizable. Are you quirky and fun? Super-professional? That consistency builds trust.
  • The Devil's in the Details: Is the website of your higher education institutions stunning, but then students get handed a crummy brochure? That breaks the spell. EVERY touchpoint should reflect your brand.


Here's a tip: Get students involved! A logo design contest or having them pick their favorite tagline gives them ownership of your brand—and that enthusiasm is contagious. It also builds community and shows prospective students you get the community involved and that they have a say.

A strong brand isn't just about looking good. Done right, people FEEL something positive about your school before they even set foot on campus. That's an advantage you can't buy.

Action Item: Think of three words you want people to associate with your higher education school. Does your university website and social media reflect those words? If not, it's time for a refresh.

Student-Centric Digital Marketing: Stop Talking, Start Listening

Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective student for a second, looking for the next higher education opportunity.

You've been on the hunt; maybe you applied for extra information and queried a few places. You're doing research, and you're putting a final list together.

Imagine what it would be like to sort through this information. You've got an inbox flooded with college brochures. Leaflets with the same photo of the front of the college, dark blue color scheme, the crest in the corner.

Are you excited? Probably not.

Generic stuff about "excellence" or "bright futures" gets ignored way faster than that funny meme your friend sent, and if you're doing the same as everyone else in this, let's be honest, bland and traditional manner, are you going to stand out?

Of course not. So what can you do about it?

Here's the secret: Students don't want to be marketed at. They want to feel understood. That's the power of student-centric digital marketing.

Get Inside Their Heads

What keeps them up at night? Money worries? Picking a major? Feeling lost on a huge campus? THIS is where your content starts – not listing your programs but showing you get the challenges.

  • Speak Their Language: Forget the jargon. If your social channels sound like a textbook, you've lost them. Can you answer their FAQs in a TikTok instead of a long webpage? That's a win.
  • It's a Two-Way Street: Comments, polls, even AMA sessions with advisors... this shows you're not just broadcasting info; you want their input. That builds trust.


Host Events That Don't Suck

Webinars aren't exciting. Webinars on landing their dream internship? Packed. Student meet-ups focused on niche interests? Way more fun than generic open days.

Pro-Tip: Actually SURVEY your students! Ask what type of events they'd attend and what topics they care about. You might be surprised!

When students feel like you see them as individuals, not just enrolment numbers, they trust you. And it's not just about getting them in the door – they become alumni who spread the word, donate, that's the lifelong value.

Action Item: Look at your last 3 social posts. Did they teach students something valuable, OR were they just about your school? Time to rebalance!

Video Marketing: Stop Boring Them, Start Wowing Them

Let's be real - most college videos are snooze-fests. Long speeches, the classic ambient backing track that sounds like a dentist waiting room or call hold music, the slow campus pans... no wonder students swipe past and back to the meme compilations.

But done right, video is incredibly powerful. Here's how to get it right:

Platforms Matter: TikTok isn't for formal announcements; it's for quick hits of fun – a prof doing a meme-inspired explainer or a 15-second dorm tour set to trending music. Insta Reels can be a bit more polished but still snappy. YouTube Reels is a bit of everything. Share value (which can still be entertainment). That's the trick.

  • Show, Don't Tell: Instead of a talking head about your study abroad program, cut to a student having a fantastic experience in another country. Emotions sell way better than facts. That's storytelling at its finest.
  • Stories are EVERYTHING: An alum getting their dream job thanks to a prof's help? That short video is more persuasive than any stats you could quote.

Again, and I'm stressing this again because it can never be understated - real-world experiences win. Think;

  • Campus Challenges: Super simple. Students compete to film the funniest study spot and the best dining hall hack. It's hilarious and shareable, making your school look like a fun place to be.
  • Virtual Open Day 2.0: Use Reels to break it DOWN – one for the science labs, one with student testimonials, etc. Makes it digestible, and those share buttons get clicked.

Oh, and don't believe that the cost of video content production is too high - you don't need fancy gear! A student with a smartphone and good editing skills can be more effective than a pricey production crew.

Action Item: Can you take ONE piece of existing content (a flyer, a webpage) and turn it into a short, punchy video? Start small, and see the response!

Data Isn't Scary, It's Your Digital Marketing Sidekick

If you're NOT a numbers person, the word 'analytics' might make you want to hide. But here's the thing: Data is actually your friend, making sure the hours you spend on digital marketing aren't wasted.

And with the rise of AI and the increasing pace of digital marketing, if you're not using data to make grounded decisions, you'll be left behind the higher education marketers who are.

Think of it like this:

  • Stop Guessing, Start Knowing: Data tells what students respond to. That funny meme you weren't sure about? If it gets tons of shares, you know you're on the right track.
  • No More Wasted Effort: See a fancy ad campaign flopping? Analytics let you ditch it FAST and put that money towards something that WORKS.
  • Proof is Power: When showing your boss (or the board) results, you need numbers. Being able to say "this campaign doubled our inquiries" is way more convincing than, "well, people seemed to like it..."


Metrics That Matter (and What They Tell You)

Don't risk getting caught up with vanity metrics. It doesn't matter if you have 100k followers on Instagram if only 100 people click through to your higher education website. It's way better to have 50k followers and 25,000 website click-throughs.

Don't get lost on the metrics that don't bring value to your decision-making process. Focus instead on metrics like:

  • Engagement (likes, shares, etc.): Are people even noticing you, or are you just shouting into the void?
  • Conversion (filling out forms, etc.): Is your content turning interest into action? If not, something needs tweaking.
  • Click-Throughs: This shows if your headlines and CTAs are grabbing attention.
  • Bounce Rate: Are people landing on your site and then leaving? Tells you if something's wrong with the page design or content.

What's more, you can use Google search data to see which of your pages are doing well, which pages and topics you can double down on, and which needs improvements.

Pro-Tip: Most popular social media platforms and website builders have built-in analytics. Google Analytics exists, too, meaning you don't have to be a data scientist to find basic, useful stuff! If you want to invest in external digital marketing tools, then you have that option, but the integrated features should be enough to get you started,

The truth is that data makes you more confident. You'll stop doing random stuff and simply guessing what content to create and what to put out there, hoping it sticks, and instead, you'll start using proven digital marketing strategies that get results.

Action Item: Log in to your social accounts. Find the analytics. Start with one metric (maybe engagement rate) and track it over a week – you might be surprised by what you learn!

SEO: Stop Hiding, Start Getting Found

SEO is the key to helping you increase search engine visibility - aka. Having your website and content ranking as high as possible on search platforms like Google (the Google Display Network specifically), Bing, and DuckDuckGo. Put it this way, only 0.78% of people click on the second page of Google.

What does this mean?

Well, students head to Google and type "Best IT university in the US" and see who ranks at the top. If you're not in the top ten search engine results, you're not getting a look in. To get into that top ten, that's where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comes in.

Here's the breakdown:

  • Mobiles Matter: If your site looks terrible on a phone, Google doesn't care how great your degree programs are. Make sure it's mobile-friendly, or you've lost before the game starts. 58% of internet traffic is mobile, so people are likely searching for you on their devices.
  • Don't Be a Snail: Websites that load slowly get penalized heavily. The average bounce rate of a website loading in 1 -3 seconds is 30%. Bump that up by one second and your bounce rate is 90%. Faster is better. Test your site speed, and ditch anything slowing things down (huge images are a usual culprit!).
  • Security = Trust: Ever see that "not secure" warning besides a URL? Ever get your browser telling you not to proceed to this website because it's not safe? Instant turn-off for students AND search engines. Make sure your site has HTTPS.
  • Backlinks are Like Popularity Votes: Getting other relevant sites to link to yours boosts your ranking. Think guest blogs on higher education sites or partnering with alumni businesses. Get yourself in all the directories where possible.
  • Keywords are Key (But Don't Be Spammy): What are students ACTUALLY typing into Google? Those are your keywords. Tools like Google Search Trends and keyword planner can help. However, just stuffing keywords into boring text won't work. Your web pages and blog posts should answer common student questions in an engaging way – that's what ranks higher.


Pro-Tip: Don't try to rank for everything. Pick a few niche programs or offerings and focus your SEO there – it's better to rank #1 for a few things than be buried for everything.

Don't forget that SEO is a long game, but it pays off big time. Imagine students finding YOU organically (organic traffic) instead of you always having to chase them with digital ads through Google display advertising or social media advertising.

Action Item: Google your main program offering + your location. Are you on the first page? If not, time to get to work using the higher education marketing strategies above.

Your Alumni Are Your Secret Weapon (Are You Using Them?)

One of the most major concerns with modern digital marketing for higher education is the fact that consumers, in this case prospective students, have become far more savvy with who and what they trust.

They see a higher ed marketing message, know it's a marketing message, and will make decisions fully aware that something is being sold to them.

Therefore, students see your fancy ads, but do they really believe them?

As we've covered above, the best digital marketing strategy is to use real life case studies of real world results. These are fact-driven, real, and far more relatable.

This means to reach prospective students, they need to be shown someone just like them (already enrolled students) who graduated and is now KILLING IT in their field? That's way more powerful when it comes to messaging.

I'm sure you already have a range of success stories in mind, but it's your job to turn them into something comprehensive.

And here's how to turn alumni success into digital marketing gold:

  • Inspire, Don't Brag: Those stories aren't just about how great YOUR school is; they show the potential in your STUDENTS – that's what's inspiring.
  • Show the Journey: It's not just about the CEO now. How did a mentorship program with your faculty help them? That's the kind of detail that resonates.
  • Make Them Stars: Forget stiff newsletters. Give alumni their own social media spotlights, quick video interviews, and anything shareable and relatable.
  • Get Them Involved (It's a Win-Win)
  • Surveys = Story Fuel: Regular check-ins give you new achievements to showcase AND keep alumni feeling valued.
  • Events that Matter: Not just drink socials. Can alumni do career panels for current students? That builds immense goodwill.


Pro Tip: Tap into recent grads too. Students relate to someone a few years ahead, finding their first job, etc. Highlight the struggles they fought through and how they overcame them. Show how your facility helped; don't just list off facts.

Using this approach is very effective in multiple ways. It fosters a sense of community while the Alumni become proud ambassadors, which attracts top students, who then become successful alumni… see how that cycle works?

Action Item: Do you have a way to easily track alumni accomplishments? A simple form or LinkedIn group can go a long way!

Forget Boring – Make Enrollment EXCITING

Let's face it: most enrollment promos are about as thrilling as a textbook. At least they are these days when you're thinking about them in the traditional sense. Time to change that with digital marketing strategies that get students buzzing!

  • FOMO is Your Friend: Early bird discounts aren't just practical. They create urgency ("Only 20 spots left at this price!"). Make them FUN rewards, too, not just money off.
  • Your Students = Your Sales Team: Word of mouth is powerful. Referral programs turn every student into a marketer. Prize could be cool merch, not just gift cards – make them WANT to show off.
  • Experience Sells: Can't visit in person? A VR tour isn't a gimmick; it lets them get a feel for the campus, even if it is miles away. Great for international students!
  • Social Media Challenge: You don't just want selfies of people at the events. Get prospective students and attendees sharing why they PICKED you, using a hashtag that's unique and fits your branding. Remember, user-generated content builds hype.
  • Make it a Game: Boring enrollment checklist? Nope. Turn it into an app quest with points, badges, etc. Suddenly, it's less of a chore; it's more like leveling up.


Pro-Tip: Partner with a student group! They know what'll feel cool, not cringe. Listen to them and actually onboard their feedback. Give them some creative control, and the results will be way better.

This is a great digital marketing strategy for higher education. It turns enrollment from a drag into something positive—an event that's sure to surprise and engage prospective students who have become used to bland entrees. That energy is contagious, making your school THE place to be.

Action Item: Think of one upcoming enrollment period. How can you add a fun or in other ways unique and engaging element? Even a small thing makes a difference!

Your Digital Marketing Masterplan: It Doesn't Have to Be Scary

Okay, if the phrase "digital marketing plan" makes you want to take a nap, I get it. But it's way less complicated than you think. Here's the breakdown:

  • Start with WHY: What exactly are you trying to achieve? More apps? Transfers? Your goals determine everything else you do. Have complete clarity on what your goal as a marketer is, and you'll quickly know what strategies are best to focus on.
  • Know Your Audience: Never just blast out generic content. Always have a purpose. Always have an aim Are you targeting first-years, or international grads? Messages should feel like they're just for them. It's better to post nothing than content with no sense of direction.
  • Be Everywhere (The Right Way): Social, email, even some old-school stuff like flyers... but each one needs a specific purpose, not just random posts.


It's Not Over Once You Launch

Whatever higher education strategies you choose to work with, you never just post content and leave it. You need to keep an eye on it, keep working on it, see what works and what doesn't, and identify areas of your work where you need to pivot and make changes.

It's this kind of proactive approach that ensures you never have dead content sitting in your name, and everything is tweaked to perfection in a way that actively helps you achieve your goals.

  • Check Those Stats: Most platforms have analytics built-in. Are people engaging? If not, something needs to change.
  • Students Know Best: Surveys aren't just for AFTER they enroll. Ask what content they want to see and where they hang out online...
  • Change is Good: What worked last year might flop now. Don't get stuck doing the same thing just because you always have.


Pro Tip: Break your plan into small chunks. "Boost enrollment" is overwhelming. "Run a successful TikTok campaign by [date]" is something you can actually DO. SMART goals are your friend here.

When you take time to develop a good plan, you take the stress out of digital marketing. You're not scrambling; you're following a roadmap that gets results.

Action Item: Do you even HAVE a basic plan written down? If not, start with 3 goals and 3 ways to reach each. That's the start!

The Future of Higher Education Marketing

Today's students live online. To reach them, your college or university needs to do more than just exist in the digital world – you need to own it. That's where these cutting-edge marketing campaigns and strategies come in:

  • Video is KING: Show off-campus life, student stories, and anything shareable and engaging.
  • SEO = Findability: Get found on Google so students aren't choosing your competitors.
  • Alumni Are Influencers: Their success stories are more powerful than any ad you could buy.
  • Enrollment Should Be FUN: Gamification, early-bird offers... make it exciting, not a chore.


It's not just about digital display ads and websites. It's about truly understanding your student's needs and meeting them with content that feels personal and relevant.

Ready to take action?

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