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14 Most Creative Ways Colleges Are Attracting New Applicants

by Staff Writers

These days, higher ed marketing and promotion has become a multimillion dollar business, and colleges are doing everything they can to bring in new applicants and promote the image of their school both in the United States and around the world. Some universities have even come up with pretty creative ways to lure in students, setting themselves apart from other institutions. Here are some of the latest and often most effective ways colleges are attracting new applicants to their programs.

  1. Alternative campus tours. Rather than have prospective students and their parents simply walk around campuses with guides, more schools are turning to tours that will help them to stand out and stick in the mind of visitors. For example, Alfred University has invested in a seven-person bike that can be pedaled around campus. Other schools have opted for good old-fashioned single person bikes, bus tours, golf carts or those with GPS guides.

  2. Virtual college fairs. Can’t make it out to a school to check it out? No worries, schools are willing to come to students using modern technology. Online fairs like CollegeWeekLive help connect colleges with prospective applicants, with over 100 schools participating and maintaining their own virtual booths, where students and parents can ask questions and see what the campus has to offer. Think only small colleges are in on the virtual fair game? Big names like MIT, Tufts and U of Virginia have all gone online to recruit students.

  3. Being more selective. As strange as it may seem, being more selective, or at least appearing so, is a way that some top-tier schools are hoping to draw in more applicants. They may not be so far off base, as there is an undeniable cachet that comes along with attending certain school. Some, like Harvard and Princeton, have stopped participating in early acceptance programs. If students want to go there, they’ll have to really wait it out. Additionally, elite schools go after students they know they won’t accept to boost the number of applicants and reduce their acceptance letters. Cruel as it may seem, exclusivity sells, as these schools have seen record numbers of prospects applying.

  4. Individualized education. Some schools are reaching out to students who might not have thought college was an option for them, like those with autism spectrum disorders. By offering support programs, schools like Marshall and Boston University are able to bring in a more diverse assortment of students, many of whom do quite well in college when provided with professional support. As of 2011, only a handful of schools are offering these kinds of programs, but the numbers could increase in the coming years in response to the growing numbers of youngsters being diagnosed with the condition.

  5. Free technology. Nothing draws in students like the word "free," and that’s just want many colleges out there are counting on. Many schools are now offering free iPads with enrollment. While the costs are more than likely deferred through other charges to students, college kids don’t want to be without the latest tech. Of course, it’s more than just a bit to bolster enrollment, as many schools – like the Illinois Institute of Technology – plan to create apps and find ways to use them in the classroom. Even for students who already own an iPad, this tech-friendly attitude might be a selling point in itself.

  6. Creating dream dorm rooms. At some schools, the dorms are little bigger than a walk-in closet, requiring students to jam themselves, a roommate and all their stuff into a super tiny space. Some colleges are using improved living spaces that are bigger and more modern as a selling point to prospects. Dorm rooms may feature free cable and high-speed internet, air conditioning, brand new furniture and private bathrooms– a bit different from the traditional experience.

  7. Tuition freezes. Rising costs of tuition have left many students with questions about how they’re going to finance their educations, often resorting to taking out tens of thousands of dollars worth of loans. Some colleges are capitalizing on nationwide tuition increases to draw in students, promising not to raise prices for students during their time in school. While it might mean lost profits, it can also mean that more choose the school and follow through to graduation – things all colleges are looking to improve.

  8. Modern architecture. New buildings and state of the art facilities have always been a draw for students when looking at colleges. For some schools, it has become a selling point. If students can go to a great campus with tiny, outdated classrooms or one with brand new, big classrooms, their choice may be simple. Major renovations don’t come cheaply, as Yale (for example) is building a new $180 million business school to compete with Harvard, but can reap benefits for years to come in larger enrollments and higher rankings.

  9. Going green. Green and sustainable are two of the biggest buzzwords when it comes to business these days, and colleges are no exception when it comes to using the eco craze to market their programs. By adding LEED buildings, green technology, recycling programs, organic cafeteria food and even more environmentally-focused majors, schools are drawing in students who care about the future of the planet as much as their own.

  10. Reaching out through social media. There are few schools out there today who haven’t leveraged the social media market as a way to connect with students. It’s simple to do, effective and relatively inexpensive — a perfect combo for campuses looking to connect. Online forums, videos and even Twitter accounts are being used by colleges of all sizes to push their programs and boost enrollment.

  11. New degree programs. While offering majors that aren’t yet standard fare at other schools can be risk, it can also be one that pays off when more students enroll and the school becomes known for its program of study. For instance, degree programs in Environmental Science and Policy aren’t offered at many places, but with the green craze right now, places like Florida State University are capitalizing to great success.

  12. Interesting and amazing extracurriculars. Choosing a college isn’t always just about what academics a school has to offer. Social life is also a major factor and schools know it. That’s why many are playing up the unique extracurriculars offered on campus. For example, Penn State hosts an annual Quidditch tournament drawing in a large and surprisingly diverse crowd of students. Why should this matter? Prospects want to attend schools where they know they’ll have fun and find like-minded individuals.

  13. Building a bigger brand. Colleges want their name to mean something when students tell people they went there, and brand building is the best and fastest way to get there. Colleges have been focusing a lot of time and energy in past years defining who they are and what they stand for, in traditional forums as well as online. Building sports teams, creating cutting edge facilities and working to improve their standings in rankings, colleges these days are as much about business as a corporation. While many might object to that philosophy, it’s paying off for schools, helping them bring in record numbers of applications.

  14. Changing class formats. Whether they’re trying to appeal to students who work full time or just want a schedule that’s a little different from the standard, some schools are mixing things up as a way to bring in newbies. Each is going about it in a different way, with some cramming a semester’s worth of material into a few weekends and others simply adding a few minutes onto classes to shorten the semester. For students who want to quickly finish a degree or are trying to balance work and courses, these shortened schedules can be a real draw.