Data-powered Student Recruitment Strategies for Higher Ed

Unlocking the Power of Social Media for Student Recruitment

It costs $2,795 to recruit an undergraduate student at a private institution and $494 for a public institution according to a 2020 report, a number that is increasing over time. On top of the rising costs, in 2026, the number of high school graduates will peak.

Show Up Where Prospective Students Are

Most students don’t feel like they’re getting information from institutions that is relevant to them. More than 50% of students started their college search before junior year, but only 16% said that the outreach they received was personalized and met their needs. If institutions rely on traditional recruiting strategies, such as using email lists and waiting for students to opt-in to communication, they’re missing out on valuable early touchpoints.

To maintain their recruitment pipeline, institutions need to show up early in the student journey. And, they need to show up where prospective students are. According to a census by Common Sense, 13-18-year-olds spent an average of an hour and twenty-seven minutes on social media daily in 2021.

Social Media and College Recruiting

College recruiters can use social media to build brand awareness by sharing what life is like at the institution. According to RivalIQ’s 2022 Higher Education Social Media Report, the 358 D1 schools studied had 641K posts and 204M engagements with prospective students These schools saw success by showing off their campuses, sports, current students, and alumni through channels like TikTok. Social media can also be used to foster two-way communication between recruiters and prospective students, allowing them to answer questions, provide updates on the recruitment process, and alert students to scholarships.

Use the Data You Have to Target Future Students

But how do you get started? With data. Institutions already have a leg up when it comes to social media. They have student data that can be used as a starting point to understand their target demographic. It’s not only about attracting any student—you want to attract the right-fit students while working towards institutional goals.

What type of student body are you trying to build? What credential programs are new or have seen low attendance in the past? Focus is key when building a strategy that will provide value to your institution. The data from your current students are a great measure of who you should engage with through social media to build that right-fit pipeline.

Using data from your SIS or CRM is an invaluable asset for college recruiters. Data can be pulled to understand current student demographics, whether those are general or specific to a certain degree, credential, or certification program. Your target student audience can be defined by looking at factors such as geographic location, age group, gender, interests, and even pain points—such as financial concerns. Did these students take science APs? Do they volunteer? What are their greatest concerns when it comes to deciding if and where to attend college? Use interests and pain points, as well as demographics, to build out a complete student profile.

What to Include in a Student Profile:

  • Age
  • Geographic location
  • Employment History
  • Family Status
  • Interests
  • Pain Points

Determine Which Social Media Platforms Will Work Best

Different platforms offer different features and audiences, so recruiters must carefully consider which ones will be most effective for their recruitment strategies. For example, Instagram is a great platform for reaching younger students, while LinkedIn can be used to connect with lifetime learners looking for ongoing certification or upskilling programs.

Social Media Platform by Largest Age Group

  • Facebook: 25-34
  • Instagram: 18-34
  • Twitter: 18-29
  • TikTok: 10-19

For more, take a look at these social media demographics to see where your target student spends their time.

Consider the Entire Prospective Student Journey

Once your social media plan is in place, think about the next step. Social media should drive prospective students into the pipeline for continued communication, whether that’s the institution's website, a listserv, or somewhere else. Once students are in the recruiting pipeline, you can put them into your typical nurture program personalized to fit them, which includes email campaigns, texting, chatbots, and other triggered communications.

Plan to Adapt Strategies

Analyzing the results and adjusting strategies is a key component of social media recruiting. Recruiters must measure the success of their campaigns in order to ensure that they are reaching their desired audience. If they aren’t working, consider shifting to more targeted platforms, trying out different types of content, or even completely revising your overall recruitment strategy. Look to social media recruiting best practices for ideas.

Extend the Prospective Student Journey

Recruiting for higher education is changing. With a shift from on-campus tours to virtual and direct mail to digital, recruitment offices have to rethink traditional strategies. Attract right-fit students by showing up where they are—on social media. By extending the prospective student journey, your institution can generate more interest and deliver a better student experience. Use the data you already have to meet them where they are.

Check out 3 higher education recruitment trends to boost enrollment.

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