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Student Recruitment Strategies: How to Increase Enrollment at Your School

How can you increase student recruitment at your school? It’s the million-dollar question for higher education institutions around the world and there isn’t a simple answer, especially in the current circumstances.

Student recruitment is more challenging than ever. There’s the ongoing global pandemic and its continued unpredictability to contend with, which makes any kind of long-term planning difficult. With some schools in the US once again having to move their teaching online in the short term, being able to market the full college experience is again being compromised.

The longer-term impact is also being felt. HR Dive has reported that hopes for a boom in student recruitment during this admissions cycle haven’t materialised as hoped. In fact, just 2% of students who graduated from high school in 2020 and didn’t attend college ended up enrolling a year later. With all of this in mind, it’s clear there’s work to be done in 2022.

Here, we share our take. Read on for top trends, tips, and tried-and-tested tactics for moving the dial on your student recruitment strategy.



01. Create a great first impression

First impressions matter, especially in the competitive world of higher education. But what does the first touchpoint for a prospect look like at your school? If they go on your website, is it clear and well-designed? Can they find the information they need quickly and easily?

If they meet your team at a high school fair, do you have your best people there to meet them? How do you capture their data – is it using pen and paper or is it a completely digital process? And afterwards, how quickly do you send your follow-up communications to students?

This is a generation that has high expectations. If you can’t meet those expectations as well as your competitors, prospects may be at risk of having their heads turned by other schools, and disengaging.

It’s worth evaluating what those first touch points look like for prospective students at your school. Is there anything you can do to enhance the experience and make it even more user-friendly?


02. Tell your story

Sharing the story of your school plays a hugely important part in any recruitment strategy. It’s not just about rankings and awards. While these things are all important, of course, it’s about creating that emotional hook. It’s about bringing to life the kind of experience students can have and enabling them to picture themselves at your school.

One of the most important rules of storytelling is to show, not tell. It’s important that you bring to life what studying at your university looks like. What is the first week at school usually like? How are the dorms? What kind of careers can you go into after graduating? What is it like to live in the city – where are the best bars and restaurants and cafes?

This is where your student ambassadors can really play a role. According to research, 92% of consumers trust online content from peers more than any other form of brand messaging. Collaborate with your student ambassadors to create personal, fun, and informative content that will build trust and enhance your conversions.


03. Use the platforms students are using

Meeting students where they are on the platforms they’re using really is a crucial component of any student recruitment strategy. You may have the best system in the world, but if it’s not one that prospective students use then it’s not going to deliver for you. It’s not realistic to expect them to adapt, instead, you have to adapt! Here’s why…

You want to create as low-friction an experience for prospects as possible. However, when you ask students to sign up to a platform that they don’t use, that’s a little bit of friction. When you ask them to download an app they don’t have, that’s another friction. Unfortunately, too many of these micro-blockers may lead to them checking out and disengaging.

Why not check out our case study with Sam Houston State University? They swapped out a platform with low adoption for text messaging – and saw much higher engagement. Not only that, but they can also now make sure that their on-the-day communications are read by attendees!

Courtney Chastine
"We previously used a check-in app called Guidebook for our events, but we saw very low usage by our attendees. We started texting students through Gecko, which has been a lifesaver. It allows us to have really quick communication with our guests."
Courtney Chastine
Director of Visitor Services

04. Meet current expectations

There was a trending post on LinkedIn about QR codes recently. It said they’re having the biggest comeback ever, and it’s true. They’re in restaurants and bars. They’re on TV shows. And they can be at your events, too. Instead of pen and paper, students can simply scan a QR code.

These are the kind of digital experiences that the current generation have come to know and expect. And, particularly in a safety-conscious world where we’re having to live alongside the Coronavirus pandemic, a smooth and seamless hands-free experience can only be a benefit.

However, the benefit isn’t only for students. It will also help your staff, a huge amount. Capturing data through a QR code means that all your data is usable. No more handwriting that you can’t read. It also means that you don’t have to waste time manually importing data into your CRM. That means your follow-up communication can go out asap.


05. Solve their problems for them

What kind of challenges are your prospects facing? What are the blockers that may be preventing them from applying to your school? Do they have questions about financial aid? Are they worried about fitting in? Do they know what courses you actually offer?

The thing is, you might not be aware of these challenges. Unless students are picking up the phone and telling you (which is highly unlikely) you might not even know. However, if you can track what they’re interacting with on your website, in emails, and in chat conversations, then you can analyze that data and use it to inform your content.

UCI explained how their integration between Gecko and Slate means they have a clear timeline of prospect interactions. They use this timeline to identify problems prospects may be facing. They can then support their application journey by sharing details of upcoming workshops and events.

They said, “The integration means we can solve problems without students having to open their mouths – we can get all the information we need from their timeline. It gives us the ability to reach out to prospects and anticipate their needs before they articulate it.”


meaure the ROI of Gecko


06. Create a sense of belonging

Institutions are dealing with huge volumes of prospects every single day. However, students don’t care about how many other people are applying. They care about their experience.

Prospects definitely don’t want to feel like they’re just a number to you; they want a personal experience that makes them feel seen and valued. So how do you create those personable, human connections? In other words: how do you create the feels?

It needs to be about regular, personal, and authentic engagement throughout the recruitment cycle. California University of Pennsylvania does an incredible job of leveraging call campaigns, which allows prospects to connect with current students at the school. These peer-to-peer telephone calls enable more meaningful and candid conversations.

Toni Hartley, Director of Communications and Education Pathways, said, “It’s all about relationship-building with prospective students and making them feel that this university is authentic and cares about them as a person, as opposed to a number.”


07. Don’t underestimate the power of speed

When it comes to student engagement in 2020, there’s a real need for speed. Our SVP for North America, Todd Tribble, experienced this for himself when he accompanied his daughter to a number of Visit Days in the US recently. It was the school that had a quick and efficient digital strategy that cut through and won the engagement battle. 

He explains, “We were only 15 steps away from the welcome table when, ping, my daughter received a text from them with a welcome to campus message, map, details on talks about the major she’s interested in. They immediately captured her. And whose sweatshirt is she wearing the following week? In comparison, the other school falls away.”

You may think that sending out follow-up communications a few days after your event is perfectly OK. However, with this generation, the clock is ticking. If everyone else gets theirs out ahead of you, you may find yourself being left behind by the competition.


08. Widen your access

Not every prospective student is your ‘typical’ student. Some students may work full-time, some may have caring responsibilities, and some students may not have access to technology during the day.

And that’s even before we get to international students or out of state students, who may be in completely different time zones to you! How do you respond to them quickly and get their inquiries answered?

More institutions are recognising that only being able to answer inquiries within core office hours is hurting their recruitment strategy. And while you can’t have people in the office 24/7, you CAN have technology that will make you available to prospective students at times that suit them, whether that’s in the evening, weekend, or middle of the night.

Being more inclusive and accessible to prospective students is something that’s really important to UCI and that’s why they’ve utilized the Gecko chat module to support them. Isabella Collas, Admissions Counselor at UCI, explained how their chatbot enabled them to widen their breath of access

Isabella Collas
“Our mission is to serve our diverse communities. Rather than just saying we want to support these communities, we wanted to put support systems in place that enable us to deliver. The Gecko chatbot has been a big part of that.”
Isabella Collas
Admissions Counselor

09. Leverage smart automations

You probably have a team of people that go to all your outreach events, right? Your recruitment events, high school fairs, college fairs, and so on. However, if they’re travelling from event to event, when are they able to actually import the data so that you can send out communications to the leads that you’ve gathered? There’s very little time, right?

Instead of putting pressure on your staff to import captured data after long days at conferences and events, it’s much smarter to hand it over to technology. Durham University told us how they set up automated workflows that triggered when they captured new leads at events. What that means is that the technology can do all the hard work for them.

Ben Hodgkiss, Systems Development Manager at Durham, told us: “To just be able to say, ‘It’s all done, all the data is there in the CRM’, really takes the pressure off our teams in busy times. They have the confidence to know that Gecko’s going to do it for them.”

10. Be ready to adapt

One of the things the pandemic showed everyone is that being agile and adaptive is crucial to survival. When lockdown first hit, a lot of institutions weren’t running virtual events at all. Virtual events had perhaps been perceived as being of lower value and so face-to-face events had always been prioritized, whether that was in-country or on campus.

However, when their hand was forced, the potential of virtual was truly unlocked! Now we’ve all discovered that, when they’re done right, online events can open your institution up to a whole new audience.

For example, students that couldn’t get to your campus before because of work, family, or financial reasons can now attend quickly and easily. Students who may still be undecided may find themselves tempted by the ease of access virtual events offer, giving you a real opportunity to showcase what studying at your school could be like.

The University of St Andrews saw this with their online recruitment events. They told us, “We wondered, by going online, would we get greater engagement from other parts of the world? The answer to that was a resounding yes. There have been three or four times as many international students coming to our events as they have previously.

Ben Hodgkiss
“To just be able to say, ‘It’s all done, all the data is there in the CRM’, really takes the pressure off our teams in busy times. They have the confidence to know that Gecko’s going to do it for them.”
Ben Hodgkiss
Systems Development Manager, Durham University