4 Strategies That Work: Reaching Prospective Traditional Students (and Their Parents)


Prospective traditional students (along with their parents) are flooded with emails, mailers, and all kinds of college marketing collateral, creating a lot of noise for schools to cut through to reach the target demographics. And this volume of marketing to students continues to be on the rise for a number of reasons

When prospective students have to sift through so much content, it becomes increasingly important for schools to develop communication strategies that blend different types of marketing content to stand out from the crowd. Below are four effective strategies for reaching prospective students (and their parents): 


1) Develop high-quality and targeted print pieces.

There is no getting around the need to produce high-quality print pieces, especially when it comes to marketing to students at college fairs or through the mail. Yes, it’s true that your material may get lost in the shuffle, but it’s less likely to get lost if it stands out from the average university flyer because of both quality and content. 

Think about it—a piece with stock photos of students laughing on campus (three under a tree), a bland and uncreative tagline (start here, go anywhere), and five generic bullet points with a call to action—this will essentially look identical to the other 300 pieces of material students are getting in the mail. Producing robust print materials with strong design and photography emphasizing your brand, coupled with detailed and helpful information, is a must. When designed well, print is a still great way to convey the feel of your institution and make an impression on prospective students.

In fact, it can be more effective to send a single high quality print piece that is likely to be read than several low quality forgettable flyers. What would capture a prospect’s eye when they’re sifting through a pile of junk mail? How about sending them a copy of your latest university magazine to reveal high-quality stories about current students and alumni and give prospective students a better sense of your school’s mission?

TIP: print material might be more effective for reaching parents than prospective students (parents are more likely to sift through the mail). Tailor your content to address what is most concerning to parents: paying for school, an overview of campus safety and how your programs are helping students get jobs.


2) Make sure your emails serve as well as sell.

It’s common for the students (and their parents) to quickly become frustrated by a barrage of marketing emails from universities. While it’s important to email prospective students about upcoming student fairs and campus visit events, too much contact that’s concerned only with getting them to attend an event or start an application will quickly become irritating. It’s not enough to merely sell them on your school—you also need to provide value to them.

While it’s important to strategically use email to encourage prospective students to take the next step, a good blend of educational content and marketing content provides better value. When prospective students and their parents see that your institution is willing to serve them without anything guaranteed in return, they are more likely to actually open and read your emails. And, over time, you are more likely to remain top-of-mind when they are ready to actually apply to schools.

TIP: Consider emailing a link to a white paper or printable breaking down the most important things to consider when applying to a college. How about working with your admissions team to offer a free webinar with a counselor to discuss what makes a strong application? Identify how your institution can offer educational and valuable content that relates to your audience’s needs — information that is helpful to them even if they don’t choose your school.


3) Approach social media authentically.

We all know that social media is a prime channel for reaching students. While this is true, it’s also important to socially converse with prospective students in the right way. Students using these platforms are usually looking to be entertained or delighted. Let those two reactions guide your content strategy when using social platforms. In other words, it might be better to leave financial aid information for email or print (especially since that is where parents are most likely to see it), and focus instead on campus life and student experience when using most social media platforms.

TIP: A fantastic way to reach prospective students on these platforms is to recruit the help of current students and have them become your spokespeople. Not only does this lessen the burden of content production in your office (though you will still need to manage and plan for it), but it’s also a much more effective way of engaging prospective students.


Student-curated social content creates an important level of authenticity by having other young people speak in their own words and convey their own thoughts about their experience at your school. Of course, you will want to align yourself with students who can speak both authentically and positively. Examine your current social followers to identify influencers at your school, and work with a few of them to take over certain social media reins (with your guidance).


4) Make your website your staple.

Your website still remains one of the most compelling and important aspects of any communication strategy. It should provide all the information prospective students and their parents can possibly want—info related to academic reputation, faculty quality, cost and financial aid, student life, etc. This is a tall order! It means you need to follow expected best practices for crafting a website and be aware of existing trends.

While your website is important, because many prospective students head there first to check out your school, it’s also the place you should be connecting people with your print, email, and social media campaigns. It’s where you can unpack in greater detail what you’ve provided in your other communication elements. If you’re highlighting the value of your academic honors program in a brochure or email, then a next step could be to invite students to an area on your website where they can see additional info (more student testimonials, career/employer info, faculty quotes, student thesis examples, etc.). The website can also provide a next step to keep them engaged.

TIP: Students come to your website to start their application, apply, and eventually make their deposit. It’s important to make sure that your website clearly connects them with the different phases of their buyer journey. This is especially the case when it comes to prospective students who are furthest in the process (those who have been accepted to your school and are deciding to make a deposit). We’ve seen too many cases where these students are overlooked on the website, causing confusion about their next step.

It may be helpful to have an area of your website (maybe as a hidden page) dedicated to clarifying the practical issues related to submitting a deposit, applying for health insurance, and generating a university email address. But these areas also offer an opportunity to continue to build the value of your school through student testimonials (written or video), opportunities to speak with faculty and staff, and info re-emphasizing things like graduation rate, job placement rate, and other compelling stats. In other words, these areas of your website (often treated as an afterthought) should continue to make a case for your school no matter where prospective students are in the journey.

When reaching today’s traditional students, it takes a dynamic combination of all four of these approaches.

5° Branding is here to help you make the most of your marketing. 

Mike Robinson