The competition to grab prospective student attention is greater than ever.

Colleges and universities counted more first-year students this fall than in past years, and undergraduate enrolment is expected to rise by 8% (from 15.9 million to 17.1 million students) by 2030.

Therefore, marketing campaigns that tell authentic stories and provide depth with a strong message beneath the catchy hook become more relatable.

Today’s students (particularly Gen-Z) are more interested in belonging to an inclusive, and supportive community.

So, with a new generation heading to college and universities, marketing campaigns should communicate boldly, confidently, and precisely.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this, but you can achieve your goals with data-driven campaigns.

In this post, we’ve explored the best marketing campaigns for universities you must implement to engage prospective students and drive results.

15 Best University Marketing Campaigns to Attract Attention & Drive Interest

These 15 strategies will guide your institution in attracting prospective students, fostering a vibrant community, and showcasing your unique strengths and values.

  1. Make an Impact With the Power of Authenticity in Branding
  2. Position Your Institution as the Top Choice
  3. Ride the QR Code Trend for the Right Level of Engagement
  4. Increase Student Accessibility With Financial Aid Visibility
  5. Nurturing Resilience in Challenging Times
  6. Game-Changing Influence of Sports Marketing
  7. Achieve Global Reach With the Power of Individuality and Diversity
  8. User-Generated Content Drives Higher Engagement
  9. Inject Storytelling into Your Capital Campaigns
  10. Inspiring Students to Pursue their Interests and Dream
  11. Develop  a Sense of Community Among Prospective Students
  12. Showcase the Life-Changing Impact of Your University
  13. Encourage the Brightest and the Best to Widen the Pool of Applicants
  14. Location as a Competitive Edge to Attract Students
  15. Leverage Festivity and Occasions to Grab Attention

1. Make an Impact With the Power of Authenticity in Branding

The desire for authentic connections is growing.

In this hyper-connected world, students search for credible, trustworthy universities that deliver authentic experiences.

Authenticity is achieved when universities engage deeply with prospective students, build connections, and make them feel heard.

So, how often do you see a university embodying authenticity in its brand message? 

The Indian Tech ‘Go for IT’ campaign showed ownership of who they are to clear up confusion in the market. The university realized that with ‘Tech’ in its name, people might be confused about the type of degrees and institutions it represented.

The campaign highlighted their connection to technology, emphasizing that ‘Tech is Everything’ and ‘Tech is in Our Name.’

This authenticity helped it stand out in the market and make a meaningful impact by communicating its unique value proposition to its audience.

 Indian Tech ‘Go for IT’ campaign

Source: Indiana Tech

2. Position Your Institution as the Top Choice

When university marketing is done well, prospective students think of it as the university first when they decide to enroll.

Let’s face it: higher education is a crowded industry.

To maintain a position in the minds of students and parents, you need to promote rankings and relevant accreditation to reinforce your institution’s credibility.

It’s not a matter of what you do, but rather how you do it. You must tell your target audience why you are the best and what sets you apart.

Imperial College London’s recent brand campaign, ‘What The Future, ’ brought fresh air to the high-value institution.

The campaign centered on the idea that Imperial is the institution that understands the future, and its ranking conveys this message to prospective students.

Imperial College London's recent brand campaign

Source: ICL

Moreover, the institution advertised on social media via paid ads to promote the campaign, keeping Imperial’s reputation for outstanding education in mind, alongside their deserved prominence.

Imperial College London's

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3. Ride the QR Code Trend for the Right Level of Engagement

QR Codes are scannable barcodes that direct users to a website or take a specific course of action. They bridge the gap between an institution’s physical and digital experiences.

This technology gives marketers a quick and easy way to connect with prospective students and drive engagement.

This might include links to:

  • Virtual campus tours
  • Video testimonials
  • Application portals
  • Social media profiles

allowing them to explore the university’s offerings and culture.

QR codes facilitate data tracking and analysis, allowing institutions to monitor the touchpoints throughout the funnel.

For example, the Bristol University campaign adopted a QR code approach. The University integrated QR codes into the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge’s shape.

This unique advertisement capitalizes on the bridge’s visual appeal and leverages QR code technology to engage viewers.

It helped prospects scan the QR code, connecting them to relevant university information, such as campus tours, program details, or student testimonials.

This creative blend of local landmarks and modern technology grabs attention, highlighting the institution’s connection to the vibrant city of Bristol.

Bristol University campaign adopted a QR code approach

Source: Bristol University

4. Increase Student Accessibility With Financial Aid Visibility

According to a new EY study, less than a third of Gen Z (31%) feel financially secure, with more than half (52%) saying they are very or extremely worried about not having enough money.

For millions of aspiring students, financial aid is essential, and universities must make education accessible by adding visibility to resources offered to prospective students.

For example, email students interested in research about the postgraduate research scholarship opportunities.

The Queen’s University Belfast launched a social media marketing campaign, particularly for postgraduate recruitment and research communication.

The ads are targeted to reach and appeal to those most likely to respond.

As the hiring of Master’s grads increased to 78% in 2023, the Queen’s University Belfast aimed to put engaging content out to the right audience at the right time.

Queen’s University Belfast launched a social media marketing campaign,
Queen’s University Belfast launched a social media marketing campaign,

Source: Queen’s University Belfast 

5. Nurturing Resilience in Challenging Times

Resilience is the ability to bounce back. Demonstrating resilience isn’t just about surviving adversity; it’s about thriving in the face of it.

For universities, showcasing resilience is about emerging stronger and more capable than before.

Since the pandemic, prospective students have sought institutions that provide a stable and supportive environment, even in uncertain times.

Reinforcing the value of effort, celebrating the steps along the way, and encouraging sustained dedication inspire resilience and help students develop the ability to overcome challenging experiences.

For example, Michigan University’s ‘Those Who Go Blue’ is a way for Michigan Athletics to encourage fans to unite, band, and celebrate their Michigan fandom during the pandemic.

This campaign is designed as a call to action for fans (Those Who) to unite using a storied rally cry (Go Blue), even without traditional in-person events.

Through inspiring messages, uplifting stories, and virtual experiences, the campaign kept the university top-of-mind and reinforced its brand values of resilience, unity, and spirit.

Michigan University’s ‘Those Who Go Blue’

Source: University of Michigan Athletics 

6. Game-Changing Influence of Sports Marketing

Without a doubt, sports can move masses, unite people, and reach large audiences. 

The feelings and passion that sport awakens make it a very effective tool when implementing marketing strategies.

It is the perfect tool for delivering purpose, and when adopted correctly, it will become a unique selling point (USP) that builds a solid foundation for the institution’s future.

The NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey for the 2021-22 school year revealed a significant increase in sports participation, with 7 million participants across various sports.

Therefore, universities are constantly looking for new ways to innovate and meet the needs of modern sports fans.

Clemson University is renowned for its sporting excellence. Recently, the University launched a dynamic marketing campaign on Facebook to promote its gymnastics season.

The campaign featured captivating visuals and engaging content, showcasing the team’s skills and upcoming events.

With compelling copy and a clear call-to-action, the ads aimed to attract attention, generate excitement, and drive attendance to gymnastics season, further enhancing Clemson’s reputation for athletic excellence.

Source: Clemson Athletics

7. Achieve Global Reach With the Power of Individuality and Diversity

Diversity is important and should be championed by institutions. It helps you achieve global reach and impact by becoming relatable to a broader audience.

Inclusivity-driven marketing empowers students to be themselves and encourages them to enroll in your campus.

Therefore, you must develop inclusive messaging highlighting the unique contributions of students and faculty from diverse backgrounds. 

Moreover, social media campaigns must raise diversity awareness and draw attention from various perspectives.

Eastern Michigan University’s (EMU) ‘The Power and Potential of Individuality and Diversity’ campaign highlighted the university’s strategic initiatives and showcased a supportive environment for students from diverse backgrounds.

With innovative academic strategies and a focus on cultural diversity, this campaign emphasizes inclusivity and community engagement.

Eastern Michigan University's (EMU)

Source: Eastern Michigan University

8. User-Generated Content Drives Higher Engagement

Allowing your audience to participate in the conversation is one of the most influential and successful forms of marketing for universities today.

Every university provides a unique student experience.

Creatively sharing this through student stories will set you apart from competitors. It will enable you to build a community and emphasize co-creation.

UC San Diego’s user-generated content campaign capitalized on the phenomenon known as Scrippshenge, where the sunset aligns perfectly with the pier columns at the university’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. 

Without UGC, the institution’s marketing team would have had to send someone to the pier to capture the perfect shot.

This campaign leverages UGC to showcase unique events and engage with the university community.

UC San Diego's user-generated content campaign

Source: Instagram

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9. Inject Storytelling into Your Capital Campaigns

No doubt, capital campaigns are immensely useful to these institutions.

Personal anecdotes, heartfelt testimonials, and specific case studies bring the campaign to life, tapping the emotions and creating a connection.

Sharing authentic stories humanizes the campaign, making it relatable and inspiring others to contribute. Storytelling reinforces the belief that the donations are making a significant difference.

By creating dedicated pages for each campaign objective, institutions can easily share the message, get people interested, and give detailed information about the projects and aims behind fundraising efforts.

The ‘Forever UND’ Campaign for the University of North Dakota focuses on four key areas: capital projects, student scholarships, faculty research, and programs and priority needs.

By promoting the campaign’s goals and impact, UND effectively communicates its commitment to excellence, innovation, and student success.

UND' Campaign for the University of North Dakota

Source: UND

10. Inspiring Students to Pursue their Interests and Dream

Inspiration is very personal, and different students may be motivated by different factors.

Universities must showcase the opportunities and resources available to students to pursue their interests and dreams.

It can be done through compelling storytelling campaigns that highlight the journeys of current students or alumni who have followed their passions and achieved success.

London Metropolitan University’s ‘Do Something You Love’ campaign promoted the university’s welcoming and flexible attitude.

The social media campaign included unique stories that would resonate with different people, reducing the pressure of picking the perfect university.

London Metropolitan University’s

Source: LMU

11. Develop  a Sense of Community Among Prospective Students

Conceptualize your campus as a community. A sense of community enables students to feel valued, connected, and authentic. 

A sense of fit and peer-to-peer connection is imperative for all students, specifically those traveling from across the world, to join your university.

This will particularly impact students who may be hesitant about joining a new academic environment or navigating cultural differences. 

La Salle University’s new brand campaign, ‘Known for More,’ celebrates the institution’s rich history and community.

The campaign highlights La Salle’s close-knit campus community and its connection to the vibrant city of Philadelphia and the broader global network.

The campaign invites students to explore their interests, ask questions, and pursue their passions, making them feel valued and respected.

Facebook Ads

Source: La Salle University

12. Showcase the Life-Changing Impact of Your University Through Student Success Stories

Student success stories represent positive transformation, appealing to prospective students seeking education and a meaningful and impactful experience.

Showcasing real-life stories of students whose university experience has transformed their lives establishes emotional connections with the audience.

Prospective students are more likely to choose a university that demonstrates a track record of producing graduates who make significant contributions to society or excel in their chosen fields.

The Illinois Institute of Technology launched its ‘You, Elevated’ campaign, showcasing its position as a leading tech-focused institution and highlighting students who have found success through their experiences at the University.

The campaign illustrates how the institution has elevated their lives and is a powerful example of the transformative power of education.

Source: IIT

13. Encourage the Brightest and the Best to Widen the Pool of Applicants

To continue to attract thriving minds to the University, there’s never been a better time to support students from underrepresented backgrounds.

It ensures that opportunities for higher education are more equitable and accessible to individuals from underrepresented or marginalized communities.

The ‘Get In’ campaign by Cambridge University addresses the perception that the university is inaccessible to certain communities and provides financial support to encourage members of underrepresented ethnic minority communities to apply and enroll.

The campaign is designed to be scalable, with the vision of supporting every student with the talent to attend Cambridge.

'Get In' campaign by Cambridge University

Source: Cambridge

14. Use Campus Location as a Competitive Edge to Attract Students

The city’s culture where a college or university is located will likely impact the student experience.

The best way to get a feel for an institution is to visit and understand its relationship with its surrounding city.

You must use compelling imagery, testimonials, and narratives to convey the excitement and energy of city life and the opportunities it offers for prospective students.

The University of Westminster’s ‘#LONDONISOURCAMPUS’ campaign engages its audience via its social media channels, incorporating the city’s landmarks, attractions, and events.

University of Westminster's ‘#LONDONISOURCAMPUS’ campaign

15. Leverage Festivity and Occasions to Grab Attention

The festive period provides universities with the perfect opportunity to get creative. 

Festivities and occasions are a great way to communicate your university’s personality in a fun, engaging, and valuable way. After all, university life isn’t just about academic acumen.

It increases brand visibility, engagement, and recall as individuals are more receptive to messages that resonate with the festive spirit.

For example, the University of Maryland’s year-end Christmas campaign video spreads a warm message about diversity and togetherness, featuring students singing and scenes of campus life. 

The video also includes a heartfelt message from the university’s leaders. It’s a simple yet touching way for the university to connect with its community during the holiday season.

University of Maryland's year-end Christmas campaign video

Source: YouTube

Conclusion

Marketing campaigns don’t just happen spontaneously. They require time, effort, and an objective to create and execute campaigns that drive inquiries, increase applications, and drive enrollments.

Each campaign discussed in this blog exemplifies universities’ innovative approaches to attract, engage, and retain students while enhancing their institutional reputation and visibility.

As higher education continues to evolve, institutions must utilize creative storytelling, data-driven insights, and digital platforms to enhance their value proposition.