Student recruitment: Think outside the box

(Image source:

The university website is often the only port-of-call for high school students who are trying to decide what school to attend. This means that universities and colleges should be taking advantage of this unique opportunity to really sell their brand and showcase what their university has to offer students.

The higher education sector has faced tough challenges in recent times that means they can no longer rely on a solid reputation and the longstanding legacy of a third level education. The seismic shift in the balance of power between higher education institutions and prospective students means that universities are now faced with the challenge of having to sell their brand, just like any business.

An inability to guarantee students employment after graduation and reductions in government funding and grants has resulted in empty seats being an all too familiar sight in universities and colleges around the globe. 

When actively recruiting students, your website should be viewed as the global shop window for your entire brand.  Is your university’s website going to stop prospective students in their tracks, help them visualize what life on your campus would really be like and ultimately motivate them to click that apply now button? The institutions who are hitting the right notes with students and really getting noticed are the colleges and universities who are taking the time to think outside the box. 

Dare to be different –Cardiff University

In 2012, Cardiff University, despite having a solid reputation as one of the UK’s top universities, found that they were struggling to engage with prospective students and ultimately drive interest in attending their university. To combat projected losses of way below the national average, the university decided to make a bold move and design a digital engagement campaign that would create two-way engagement with prospective students and turn prospective leads into applicants.  The key challenge of the campaign was to give students the feeling of knowing the university on a personal level. With this in mind, they created THRIVE.

Thrive: The campaign

A responsive website and a range of accompanying digital channels including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter were designed to gather the maximum amount of momentum, engagement and awareness among prospective students.

One of the aspects of the campaign incorporated tweets and videos from current students about life at Cardiff University. Another interesting aspect of the campaign, was the recruitment of ‘Cardiff Insiders’; a group of students who opened up their Facebook pages to prospective students to give them an idea about campus life as well as sharing experiences and answering questions.

Attracting the best and brightest

One of the main aims of the THRIVE campaign was to attract the brightest students to the university. The ultimate online scholarship competition was created as part of the campaign with the prize being a lifelong scholarship to the university. The competition was completed entirely online and sought to attract top students by having them complete academic challenges set to test even the brightest students.

Thrive: The results

The results of the THRIVE campaign were overwhelming; Over 2500 prospective students signed up within 24 hours of the first email sent and over 1000 subscribers to the facebook page. The THRIVE campaign is an example of an innovative campaign that understood the target audience and knew how to generate interest and excitement about applying to their university. 

Taking a step back to really look at how potential and current students view your institution can help give you a greater insight into what they will respond positively to in a digital marketing campaign.