Ideas, insights and inspirations.

With the impending 2025 demographic decline expected to reduce the pool of college-bound undergraduate students, colleges and universities are proactively investing in the establishment and expansion of graduate programs as a means to diversify their revenue streams.

Our clients have requested a playbook for effectively recruiting and expanding graduate student enrollment. Drawing from over 25 years of experience in significantly increasing enrollment for graduate programs across more than 50 colleges and universities, we’ve gleaned two key insights: First, students can’t buy your programs or buy-into your university unless they can find you; Second, you simply can’t bore students into enrolling at your university; you must inspire them. To achieve success in recruiting graduate students, universities must begin with a well-curated portfolio of programs, assess the environment, and orchestrate multi-channel marketing strategies, on-the-ground engagement, and follow-up contact tactics.


Launch new, unique, sought-after graduate programs in areas where your college possesses an undeniable competitive edge. Resist the urge to launch new programs that merely mimic others. Achieving success with generic offerings is far more challenging. Not only are distinctive programs more likely to rank higher on Google’s first page, but students are also willing to journey across regions, countries, and even continents to enroll in them.

Adapting to meet students where they are could involve providing 4+1 accelerated program bundles in collaboration with undergraduate majors, offering dual-degree programs, and furnishing online and hybrid options.


Assess the university’s position by thoroughly immersing yourself in the college environment, market dynamics, and competitive data. You must:

  1. Analyze admissions funnel trends
  2. Conduct SWOT analysis
  3. Compare against competitors
  4. Define right-fit student profiles and personas
  5. Evaluate potential demand
  6. Know your brand
  7. Understand what the market values (brand reputation, ROI, alumni stories, faculty expertise, etc.)


Fish where the fish are. Because digital now leads traditional advertising, invest majority of your marketing budget in digital marketing. For smaller budgets, consider investing 90% in digital; for intermediate budgets, allocate 80%; and for larger budgets, designate 70% towards digital marketing strategies.

1. Website: The Ultimate Conversion Machine. The website is the #1 lead and application generation tool for graduate programs.

Inform your website strategy with insights from market research. Allow your website strategy to drive the development of information architecture, content, design and development. 

Ensure that your website is optimized for search engines. Incorporate insights from a Keyword Guide to inform its content. Integrate best practices in search engine optimization (SEO) into every aspect of your website.

Make it beautiful.  Wow prospects. Merchandise hope.

If your design template and CMS limitations prevent you from elevating the website user experience, consider developing a new microsite or landing pages for all your mission-critical graduate programs.

Carefully track prospect journey and conversion performance.

2. Paid Advertising: Hunt like sharks. Don’t feed like whales. Implement innovative paid advertising approaches tailored to the preferences of right-fit students including micro-segments, look-alikes, A/B testing, machine learning, big-data algorithms and affinity groups.

Guide prospects towards captivating landing pages infused with brand identity, high-quality storytelling, and key differentiators. Embed brand essence, return on investment (ROI) insights, and compelling facts into the creative content.

Monitor the prospect journey and campaign performance meticulously.

Beyond paid advertising, embrace inverted admissions funnel strategies and tactics to expand outreach.

3. Inbound/SEO Marketing: Get Found on Google Page 1. Harness the power of SEO and your content marketing strategy to establish dominance on search engines.

Begin by crafting a comprehensive Keyword Guide containing keyword clusters, frequently asked questions, and natural language queries. Implement strategic foundational SEO tactics and consistently produce high-quality, shareable, inclusive content to attain and maintain page one rankings on Google search results pages.

Showcase compelling alumni stories, infographics, ROI statistics, videos, quizzes, contests, across your website and social media platforms.

Ensure that the content displayed in search engine results is compelling and enticing.

Continuously monitor your search engine rankings and website traffic to identify top-performing content and adjust your focus accordingly.

Keep three key points in mind. Firstly, studies indicate that organic Google rankings are highly trusted, capturing over 90% of click share and generating nearly two-thirds of inquiries. These organic inquiries often result in long-term relationships with universities and exhibit lower attrition rates. Secondly, leads originating from organic Google rankings outperform those from paid advertising by threefold. Thirdly, the most desirable prospects prefer to stumble upon their chosen college through “accidental finds” on the first page of Google and through word-of-mouth on social media.

4. Conduct email marketing campaigns: Email marketing achieves optimal results when targeting house lists, undergraduate alumni lists, and through joint marketing campaigns with related niche organizations. It’s crucial to meticulously monitor the prospect journey and campaign performance.

5. Influence ranking and rating agencies. While colleges often maintain a complex relationship with college rankings, prospective students generally lean towards attending the highest-ranked colleges within their financial reach. Forward-thinking colleges strategically impact these rankings by establishing committees dedicated to actively influencing factors such as peer perception, student satisfaction, placement rates, and salary data.

6. Create a rising tide with traditional media.If your budget allows, consider investing in billboards, targeted print publications, digital radio, and NPR advertising. These avenues can create a synergistic effect, boosting the performance of your digital advertising campaigns.

7. Paid digital radio: Digital radio advertising with Pandora, SoundCloud and Spotify are effective at reaching Gen-Z and Millennials. 

8. Traditional advertising: Budget permitting, to remind prospects, use traditional advertising such as billboards, posters, flyers and signs at bus stops and public places. Don’t waste your precious marketing dollars on newspapers, but if you have generous budgets, consider running regional radio, TV and NPR ads.

In today’s world, where attention is scarce amidst busy schedules, traditional advertising can only succeed with truly innovative, breakthrough creative that grabs attention and compels people to pause and take notice.

Each of these strategies, whether paid, earned, or owned media, is effective on its own, but they are even more powerful when combined.


1. Hold webinars and foster campus visits. The fundamental aspects of engaging with potential students start with webinars and campus visits. These meetings and interactions with faculty, students, and alumni offer prospective students the insights and experiences necessary to decide if a college aligns with their academic and personal aspirations. Typically, prospects who participate in these events demonstrate a significantly higher application and enrollment rate compared to those who engage through other channels.

2. Attend industry conferences and events. Attend conferences and events where prospective students and influencers gather. Given that similar individuals tend to attract one another, make a point to attend inclusion-focused conferences accompanied with your diverse faculty, staff, and alumni.

3. Use your grad certificates and CE programs graduates as feeders. They sustain relationships and create future referral streams for graduate programs.

4. Send email and text reminders to incomplete applications. Occasionally, all it requires is a gentle reminder to guide prospects across the threshold.

5. Create partnerships with undergraduate program feeders – regionally, nationally and globally. Cultivate strong connections with dependable undergraduate program chairs within your university and across other institutions. A consistent influx of students from these channels forms a sturdy base for universities to expand individualized recruitment efforts.

6. Recruit international students. With more than one million international students anticipated to arrive in the US by 2023, the competition intensifies to draw in the most talented and financially secure international students. Entice overseas students through international scholarship competitions, targeted international SEO and paid advertising, country-specific social media engagement, dedicated international websites, informative sessions tailored to specific regions, utilization of platforms like WhatsApp, and showcasing your international faculty prominently.

7. Care and feeding of partnerships with regional and national employers. They create a steady stream of referrals for your programs. Partner on marketing events, present jointly, and produce co-branded stories.

Moreover, through facilitating corporate projects, capstones, and speakers, universities enable students to yield returns on their investment by acquiring practical experience, honing job-specific skills, accessing quality job opportunities, and broadening their networks. Establish a reputation as a pathway to corporate America, nonprofits, and government agencies.


Without a robust follow-up system for inquiries and applications, all your marketing investments will go to waste.

1. Follow-up with inquiries on a timely basis. Be prompt in your responses and maintain a personal touch. Invite friends and colleagues to act as undercover evaluators for your programs and gather feedback on their experiences.

2. Let the faculty, directors and chairs be the face of the programs. In contrast to undergraduate programs, it’s the program faculty, directors, and chairs who best represent the graduate programs, while admissions teams guide applicants through the application process. Nobody can advocate for enrollment better than they can.

Whenever feasible, enlist the faculty, program directors, and chairs to personally reach out to high-value leads, extending beyond accepted students. When faculty and program chairs personally engage with promising prospects/applicants, delving into their motivations, aspirations, and ambitions, it serves as a force multiplier: surprising them and fostering brand affinity. Furthermore, when the insights gleaned from these interactions are shared with marketing, it enhances the effectiveness of messaging.

3. Utilize a personalized contact strategy for every stage of the admissions funnel to maximize yield. Understand the requirements of prospects and influencers at each phase of the admissions funnel and fulfill them accordingly. Dedicate equal focus to communication and follow-up procedures for admission yield as you do for lead generation and nurturing. Compensate for decreased interaction with stealth applicants by elevating engagement at every interaction point. 

4. Employ a unique contact strategy for applications to prevent melt.  The application is the new lead. Handle admitted students with the same level of attention as you would leads. Employ drip campaigns, accepted student days, early orientations, and welcome receptions to engage them effectively.

5. Leverage an appropriate CRM system. Numerous effective systems are available in the market: Slate, Salesforce, Element451, HubSpot, Ellucian Recruit, and Full Fabric Foundation. Opt for the one that aligns with your organization’s budget and support needs.

Keep two key points in mind. First, a flawed inquiry and application follow-up procedure reflects negatively on the entire brand. Second, don’t let automation hinder personalized and prompt follow-up, as there are no substitutes for traditional, human-centered relationship building.


Achieving successful recruitment requires collaboration between you and your agency partner. Make it a point to meet regularly to exchange insights gathered from new market research, ongoing discussions, upcoming enrollment challenges, and assessments of lead quality. Engage with your agency to understand what strategies are proving effective and where adjustments may be needed. Encourage them to share any valuable insights gained from their work with other clients and any innovative ideas discovered through market analyses. Consistent dialogue and mutual support between you and your agency foster enhanced performance outcomes.

If you are seeking an enrollment marketing agency to grow your graduate enrollment, consider partnering with us.

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