Breaking Down the 3 Types of Marketing Videos for Engaging Prospective Students


Video continues to be a vital part of every school’s marketing strategy to reach, engage, and convince prospective students. But there are different types of videos that each play a unique role in the buyer journey for prospective students (and their parents). Some videos are great for keeping a school top-of-mind for prospective students just beginning to consider applying, while others can effectively provide an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look for those about to submit applications or accept an offer of admission. That’s why it’s important to make sure your school is employing these various types of videos in your school’s marketing strategy.

Below is a break-down of three important types of videos, what purpose they serve, and why you should integrate them in your digital strategy for reaching and engaging prospective students along the buyer journey.

“Commercial” Videos

The most obvious video type might be the standard commercial, which provides a comprehensive look at the school. These are usually relatively short, ranging from 15 seconds to a minute, and are not usually informative or narrative-based but inspirational and brand-strengthening.

Here are two examples of commercial spots from Evangel University and Trevecca Nazarene University. Both videos use inspirational music and visuals as well as compelling voiceover to draw audiences in. In this commercial from Biola University they drop the voiceover and play up the visuals and crescendoing music, which also works to inspire and compel interest in the school.

Commercial spots are important because they help prospective students who don’t know your school or realize you exist (or to remind those who may have forgotten you do). They often aim to stir viewers on an emotional level, stitching together music and visuals—professors teaching in class, a stadium filled with cheering fans, students laughing in the dorms—to create a general impression of the school. Sometimes they will include prominent stats or awards to convey quality and depth.

Commercials are expensive and time-intensive to produce, but the good news is that one or a couple can suffice. A well-done commercial spot can be placed on your website, played for visiting students during campus tours, and, of course, broadcast to reach thousands or millions of viewers. These videos are valuable for strengthening brand perception as well as keeping your school top-of-mind to prospective students who are in the early stages of exploring schools.

“Spotlight” Videos

Spotlight videos are valuable for prospective students who are interested in more than a surface-level glimpse of your school. They include alumni and student stories, faculty spotlights, and other videos that depict a narrative or educational dive into a given aspect of the school (such as a Q&A video with an admissions counselor, etc.). These usually don’t require the same level of production as a commercial (though they can) but tend to be longer (around three to five minutes).

For two examples, this one from Evangel University and this one from John Brown University both feature students speaking about their experiences. A longer and particularly well-done, narratively engaging spotlight is this one from Azusa Pacific University featuring the football coach on how he drives his student athletes toward excellence. And for a non-higher ed example, one that is both narratively compelling and touching, check out this one from the American Cancer Society.

The aim of the spotlight videos is to specifically address a prospective student’s questions or curiosity. Perhaps you can create a video to show what campus life is like for a student of color? Maybe you can have an athlete discussing how he or she balances studying with athletics? Or maybe you can feature a professor from the mathematics department explaining what makes the department a vigorous and collaborative one for students? The more you can produce the better (though, this of course will depend on your resources and time).

These videos can be narratively focused to paint an emotionally rich image (e.g. a single student’s story), educational to provide information (e.g. a dean talking about the honors program), or a little bit of both. Ultimately, a robust repository of spotlight videos can go a long way in helping students get a better sense of the intricacies of your school.

“User-Generated” Videos

User-generated videos are fairly easy to make and can vary in length depending on the topic. Videos like these can be made using a mere iPhone, allowing for a cheap and quick point-and-shoot approach for creating them. The key to these videos—and what makes them so effective—is that they reveal a behind-the-scenes and authentic look at life on your school’s campus. What is it like to have dinner with friends inside the campus cafeteria? How much homework does the average student have assigned every week? How easy is it to make friends in the dorms and find a sense of community? Questions like these are perfect candidates for user-generated videos.

While these videos require low production and resource costs, they do require significant planning and management, including production oversight by university staff. That’s because the most effective videos in this category are from students themselves, hence the term “user-generated.” In other words, it’s not as effective to have an admissions counselor throw up a quick video about the average student’s day as it is having an actual student do it. This doesn't mean you can’t have faculty or staff make effective behind-the-scenes videos (they can still be valuable), but user-generated content from students themselves is often going to be viewed as more authentic and relatable by prospective students.

This means you will need to find the right students to tell your story on video in a way that is compelling, on-brand, and helpful. For some examples, check out this article that features eight students from King’s College London producing effective videos for both prospective and current students. And for a faith-based example (and one from this side of the Atlantic), Elena Tabor at Point Loma Nazarene University filmed a series of compelling videos about her life at PLNU, from her talking about what it’s like to be a student at PLNU to her compiling what a day in the life of a PLNU student is like for several other students.

If you can find a few students to help with this, then you can produce numerous videos because they are easy and cheap to make. Videos like these can be especially effective for prospective students further in the buyer journey who really want to know the intricate details of a school.

If the “commercial” video lures prospective students in and the “spotlight” video helps them include your school in their short list of schools, then the “user-generated” video can not only help convince them to apply, but help secure that coveted deposit as well.