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How to Market Your College to High Schoolers: A Year-By-Year Guide

By collegemktgrp | February 10, 2020 | Universities

As a university, there are a lot of different ways to boost enrollment numbers:

But a question that is often overlooked when it comes to enrollment marketing is not how to do it, but when to do it.

The moment when a high schooler starts deciding which college to go to is earlier than you might think. If you can align your college marketing touch points with each student’s step in the decision-making process, you increase the likelihood that they’ll choose your school in the end.

Many students are starting to think about their college journey the summer before their freshman year of high school.

With that in mind, here’s a look at what future college students are thinking about in each year of high school, and how you can start connecting with them early on.

Freshman Year of High School

The beginning of high school is when students start thinking about what they can do to increase the chances of getting into a good college.

The three main ways they think about this are:

  1. Maintaining a high GPA
  2. Taking AP and honors classes
  3. Getting involved in extracurricular activities

Universities can connect with freshmen over these concerns in a few ways:

1. Promote the specific things that make your school unique in ways that might align with students’ extracurricular interests.

If you have a fantastic astronomy program and a state-of-the-art observatory, high schoolers in their school’s astronomy club might take a keen interest in your college.

The same goes for unique sports offerings, clubs, and facilities. Promoting aspects of your school’s history or faculty and alma mater success stories can be an effective way to show what’s possible for people who graduate from your school.

A graduate who has gone on to become a notable politician would be of interest to high schoolers in debate, while a graduate who is now a famous music producer could help you connect with students in band.

2. Make it easy for students to transfer AP credits from high school to your college, and promote how simple it is.

This will appeal to high-performing students who would be a good catch for your university.

The best place for all of this promotion? Social media.

Organized story posts on Instagram, videos on Facebook and YouTube, and posts on Snapchat are an effective way to reach Gen Z.

You can also use audience targeting to get your content in front of the specific types of students you want. For example, a post about your observatory could be promoted to reach high schoolers who are interested in astronomy.

Sophomore Year

In the second year of high school, more and more students are thinking seriously about what they kind of career they might like to pursue.

But they may not know what they should major in, or what college has the best program for the career they’re interested in.

This is the perfect time to be communicating to these students about what your school specializes in and what careers that aligns with.

If you have a an excellent aerospace engineering program that has produced people who now work at NASA or for guys like Elon Musk and Richard Branson, you could create an advertising campaign around it.

But you don’t need to talk about an aerospace engineering degree specifically. Instead, you could show a possibility of the future of aerospace engineering, say a space hotel, with the caption “Want to make this a reality? The University of X is your first step.”

This is also when some students might be interested in visiting college campuses. Consider tours specifically for this younger group of high schoolers, with tour language and promotional materials catered to their priorities.

Remember, these students aren’t necessarily thinking about what they want to study, they’re thinking about who they want to be.

Junior Year

There are two big things that enter into the college equation at this point in the process:

1. Prep for Standardized Tests

  • Many students will take the ACT and/or SAT in their junior year, so this should be part of your consideration in marketing to them at this age.
  • Helping students understand how their scores affect their chance of being accepted to your school is a way to encourage them to prepare and to show that you take academic excellence seriously.
  • High performing students will be more attracted to a school that values their achievements.

2. Choosing a Major

  • By junior year, more students are thinking about the kind of degree they’ll want to major in at college.
  • You can refine your marketing to promote the specific programs that your school is renowned for.
  • Instead of ads showing what a student could do in the far future, show what they could do in just a couple years if they attend your school.
  • For example, a student interested in majoring in botany or plant science might respond to an ad showing a student in a lab coat conducting research in your on-campus greenhouse.

Senior Year

This is go time! Senior year is when students will finalize the list of colleges they most want to go to and start applying.

Seniors have been working hard for the last four years, and now they’re finally to the point where they can imagine what going to college will actually be like. For that reason, this is the best time to really push the aspects of campus life that students can look forward to.

On-campus movies and live music, football games, hanging out on the quad, and the like should all be highlights of your marketing efforts to these students.

And when these students come visit your school, they need to feel like it’s a place where they could fit in and really live the life they see on your promotional materials.

Your tour guides should be welcoming and friendly, and the tour should be sure to take prospective students to the most active parts of campus. The feeling high schoolers get on campus visits plays a surprisingly important role in their college decision.

For most students, this will be the first time they’ve lived away from home — appeal to their excitement for this big life change by showing them what their lives will be like when they come to your school.

October of this year is prime time for applications to start rolling in, so you’ll want to be focusing on marketing to seniors heavily in September, and then keep going! Students will continue applying into January or even later. And they aren’t expected to make their college decision until later in the spring, after they’ve done more visits and attended their local college fair.

Improve Your Enrollment Marketing Today

May 1 is Decision Day, when seniors will commit to their school of choice. If you’ve spent the last 4 years appealing to students during their high school journey, then hopefully they’ll commit to your school.

But your marketing, even if perfectly timed, could be limited if it doesn’t speak specifically to this generation of high schoolers. We’re talking about Gen Z — they have their own concerns, priorities, and outlook on life and college. If you don’t understand them, you can’t effectively market your school to them.

Read our guide on the most effective ways to reach Gen Z to boost enrollment »

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