TikTok for Higher Education: the latest case studies and stats

Is your institution on TikTok yet? Most popular with teens and Gen Z, the app has an ideal demographic for introducing younger audiences to Higher Education and enviable market penetration around the globe.

Featuring upbeat short videos – think seconds, not minutes – accompanied by a great soundtrack, TikTok is known for its addictive scroll-ability, leading to longer sessions and higher engagement than some other social channels.

Tiktok Screenshots

With so many platforms available, marketers need to be selective about where to invest resources. But with a highly engaged demographic, low production costs and targeted ads available, why aren't more universities using TikTok for student recruitment?

Here are some stats and inspiration for your institution.

Four TikTok takeaways that HigherEd marketers need to know

If you’re hoping to make a case for TikTok in your next digital marketing budget, it helps to have the stats at hand.


  • Surpassed only by Facebook and YouTube, TikTok is the world’s third most popular social media app (excluding messaging apps)
  • TikTok was the #1 app download in 2020 and has had 2 billion downloads – it continues to grow in popularity
  • Out of 3.81 billion social media users globally, 33% use the app


  • Most popular with Gen Z, TikTok has an ideal target demographic for education marketers
  • 69% of users are aged 13-23
  • 27% are aged 13-17

Market penetration

  • Market penetration among young people is high – in the US, for example, 49% of teens say they use the app
  • 1 in 6 of the world’s population – 1.29 billion people – are monthly active users (MUAs)


  • TikTok has higher engagement than Instagram and Twitter
  • Users spend an average of 46 minutes a day on the app

Four reasons TikTok can work for HigherEd marketers

It’s authentic

TikTok audiences live for informal, behind-the-scenes-style content, so it can work well for peer-to-peer marketing. With a focus on authenticity and user-generated content, it can be the perfect platform to showcase the on-campus experience and leverage student ambassadors.

It’s cost-effective

Prizing entertainment over production values, TikTok is built for video made and consumed via smartphone. This means you can create content fast and frequently, assessing engagement to iterate and improve your approach as you go.

It’s agile

Creating content on the fly means you can respond to trending topics in real-time. Whether that's the latest meme or something more meaningful, TikTok can put you at the heart of what’s happening and increase exposure to your brand, all at a low cost.

It’s where your audience is

TikTok has a younger user profile than other social networks, with 27% of TikTok users aged 13-17 compared to under 6% of Facebook users. This makes it a great platform for introducing young people to your institution at a time when they’re starting to consider their future.

Four ways to use TikTok for Higher Education marketing

TikTok for Business is the app’s all-in-one advertising tool, supporting marketers to select audiences, create ads and analyze data.

Similar to other social tools, you can create custom audiences based on criteria like gender, age, location and interests. You can also create ‘lookalike’ audiences to reach potential new fans that are similar to the ones you already have. 

TikTok Business

Four ways to get exposure on the app include:   

  • TopView Ads – which display when the user opens their app for the first time that day
  • In-Feed Ads – algorithm-curated posts that show in a user’s personal feed
  • Branded hashtags – exclusive use of a hashtag on the platform
  • Branded effects – which lets users apply your brand stickers etc to their videos

Bigger budget holders can also opt for an exclusive day-long brand takeover.

TikTok in action in Higher Education

Newcastle University has recently enjoyed advertising success using TikTok for Business. One of the UK's leading universities, Newcastle are known for their agility on social media and early adoption of new platforms.

Recognizing the impact of Coronavirus on young people applying to university this year, Newcastle created a personal statement guide to help young people identify and articulate their achievements during a year like no other.  

University of Newcastle Tiktok Examples

Paid Media Manager, Matt Horne, says he’d been keen to test paid promotions on TikTok since their Ad Manager was first launched. So this was the ideal opportunity.

They decided to launch the resource via a suite of In-Feed Ads, with videos featuring student ambassadors and the university’s ever-popular red-brick architecture to maximize their appeal.

The In-Feed Ads appeared natively in users’ feeds, next to other user-generated content from across the community. A call to action at the end of each In-Feed Ad then drove users to a landing page on their website.

The results impressed Newcastle's Paid Media team:

  • 1M+ Impressions
  • 7K+ Clicks
  • 12K+ Likes

The ads reached more than 1.1 million young people in the two weeks they were live and resulted in over 7,000 clicks to visit the personal statement guide download page. ‘Although we don't tend to measure success by impressions, the exposure we've received on the platform has been huge considering the spend,’ said Horne.

"What was most surprising was the CPA on TikTok was competitive when compared with more established channels when it came to direct response lead generation. We're looking forward to running further tests, including more TikTok-specific creative, as the platform matures and develops more features to become an established placement for our digital campaigns."

Leveraging trends – WSU Pullman

WSU Pullman combines current memes, self-deprecating humor, iconic architecture and their campus cougar to great effect. Their simple but much-viewed Halloween TikTok of their mascot haunting campus got 40k+ views. And they’re not scared to hop on the latest trend like their recent album cover TikTok.

WSU Pullman Tiktok Example

Brent Reser, their Social Media Strategist, explains:

"We are using TikTok because that is the platform that prospective students are spending a lot of time on. We want to be able to reach this important audience on a channel that they enjoy and are comfortable with.TikTok is all about trends so the content we produce is based on these. We focus on trends that allow us to showcase our campus because the main message we are pushing right now is that we are planning for a Fall 2021 in-person experience. The trend-inspired content we produce always performs best, usually by a wide margin."

User-generated content – Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University’s first TikTok to go viral was their alumni rehearsing for an annual musical variety show in which they did the roll call section of the musical Hairspray. Whilst their mouthwatering Malibu campus panaroma TikTok, set to the sounds of Vampire Weekend’s Campus, got 78k+ views (we can see why).

Pepperdine University Tiktok Example

Their channel focuses on peer-to-peer content, with the majority of videos currently created by their students. Pepperdine Social Media Strategist, Laura Nickerson, says:

"Our TikTok channel was launched in February 2020 because we saw an opportunity to share our brand messaging with a different audience than our other social media channels, as TikTok’s demographic is younger than other social platforms.
It’s the perfect platform for student voices, and I hope to amplify them as much as possible. I’ve been working to create a group of student creators to help with content style and volume. They’ll be working to highlight campus life, our gorgeous Malibu location, and the unique experience of being a Pepperdine student."

Find out more

For more information, check out our sources:

Are you using TikTok as a marketing channel in your University or College? Have a nice example? We'd love to hear about it.