Over the last 20 years, the enrollment funnel has become a core aspect of higher education marketing strategies, making way for innovation and change in student application behaviors. The conventional funnel for enrollment marketing is not ideal to accommodate the increasing number of high school graduates applying to universities & colleges. 

The modern enrollment marketing funnel is based on the AIDA framework, namely Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. This general AIDA model can be expanded to more ideally fit the enrollment marketer’s toolkit with a little improvisation.

The interest stage, therefore, includes student inquiries, the desired stage includes fee payments, and the action stage then includes onboarding and admissions.

The student recruitment process basically has 3 stages:

  1. Inquiries
  2. Applicants
  3. Admitted students

After these 3 stages of the marketing funnel, you can enroll a student in your university programs.


What is the Enrollment Marketing Funnel?

The enrollment marketing funnel is a hypothetical funnel-shaped concept that defines a student’s journey as they make an enrollment decision. The higher education marketing funnel is distributed in four popular stages mentioned above, including awareness, interest/consideration, desire/application, and action/enrollment.  

The concept is funnel-shaped because at every stage the number of students shrinks, as some take their attention elsewhere, some drop out, and some proceed with enrollment. The higher ed marketing funnel nurtures the student making them aware of popular courses, creating interest within audiences to learn more, this leads to the desire to apply to a school, and finally comes enrollment. 

Enrollment Marketing Funnel Stages

As we discussed above the enrollment marketing funnel is established through four core principles. Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. 


The awareness stage is the first stage where a large audience sample is provided with branded content through social, website pages, and emails. This is the stage of the university marketing funnel where institutions engage their target audiences through unique branded blogs, articles, brochures, emails, videos, and social feeds. 

This stage ensures audiences are educated, providing marketers a chance to re-engage them at later stages of the higher ed marketing funnel.  


Marketers build interest in filtered audiences through former alumni, testimonials, reviews, and other activities offered at the institution. This stage is where enrollment marketers distinguish themselves from the competition allowing students to make a decision based on the unique offering of higher education institutions. 


The desire stage of the enrollment marketing funnel allows marketers to filter through the interested candidates to encourage the enrollment decision. Simplifying the admission process, allowing students to engage with admission officers, and inviting them for a visit to the university solidifies the desire to join. 


The action stage is where the enrollment marketing team onboards the student providing them with a fee payment structure, scholarships, and other incentives to allow them to enroll with the institution. 

Let’s quickly discuss the three stages of the marketing funnel.

Top of the Funnel (TOFU)

The top-of-the-funnel stage is where enrollment teams gather a large number of student profiles. Much like a research stage, this is where marketing teams separate students who will engage and those who will move to other brands.  

TOFU is the stage where marketers have to engage, rather than sell. It’s about nurturing the lead and educating students about different career prospects and courses. Students may not know about the university and its heritage, therefore at this stage enrollment teams should consider investing in meaningful content and engaging social conversations. 

Ebooks, blogs, research papers, and video reviews are great ways to engage prospective students to learn more about the institution. 

Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)

Qualified students who make it to the MOFU stage understand their requirements and issues. A chunk of the TOFU audience is eliminated and those who are interested flow through the funnel as their curiosity builds about the brand. 

The MOFU audience is not yet ready to enroll in your institution so be careful. The audience demands more research and proof to allow them to choose a particular school for their higher education. This is the stage of the higher education marketing funnel to build rapport with the prospect. 

Students should be treated to meaningful content including comparison guides, webinars, videos, and discussions to solidify their interest in your brand. 

Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)

Upon reaching the bottom of the funnel, students are ready to enroll in their respective courses. This audience is fewer than in prior stages, but they have conducted proper research and have enough proof to go ahead with an enrollment decision. 

Enrollment marketers can now engage with these students in person and sell the actual courses and degrees. For BOFU audiences it is critical to share their case studies, consultations, open day visits, providing career opportunities, and other credible information for them to easily make the enrollment decision. 

How to Create Lead Generation Funnel for Your Institution?

Developing the lead generation funnel for your institution requires marketers to accumulate as many student profiles as they can to put through the different Funnel Stages.  

Here are the steps you need to follow to nurture your leads through the whole funnel.

Step 1 – Understand your student journey

Step 2 – Recruiter travel 

Step 3 – Traditional marketing 

Step 4 – Acquire leads using Digital Marketing channels

Step 5 – Email marketing campaigns 

Step 6 – Nurture your acquired Leads

Step 7 – Offering virtual tours 

Step 8 – Push success stories  

Step 9 – Send Viewbooks via Direct mail 

Step 10 –  Email marketing campaigns 

Step 11 – Offer Personalized Campus visits or night stays

Step 12 – Offer career path guidance or consultations   

Step 13 –  Offer Financial aid counseling

Step 14 – Offer Dedicated academic support

Step 15 – Offer ways to communicate with existing students 

Top of Funnel (TOFU)

Step 1 – Understand your student journey for a successful lead generation sales funnel

In the first stage, marketers map out the entire student journey when looking for higher studies. From researching institutions, and reviewing rankings, to downloading brochures from websites, every aspect of the student journey is mapped to ensure compliance with enrollment marketing objectives. 

Step 2 – Recruiter travel 

Enrollment and admissions teams must then travel and engage with students in exhibitions, school fairs, and conferences to ensure they have relevant student personas to include in their marketing funnels. 

Step 3 – Traditional marketing 

To achieve strategic marketing objectives, enrollment teams must also participate in traditional marketing initiatives like below-the-line events and press releases. Developing email and direct mail lists, conducting workshops, creating catalogs, and conducting niche SEO are some of the popular ways enrollment marketers accumulate audiences. 

Step 4 – Acquire leads using Digital Marketing channels

In the final TOFU stage, enrollment marketers are required to focus a chunk of their efforts on acquiring leads through digital marketing channels such as PPC, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, and Content Marketing for universities

Pay-Per-Click (PPC):

Pay-per-click campaigns are a very effective way to engage students since most relevant ads appear on top of organic searches. Executing PPC campaigns to filter audiences into lists is essential since it is bound to direct huge traffic to landing pages. 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) :

Achieving a higher organic rank on relevant targeted keywords is essential to acquiring students who are selective and looking for unique experiences. While most PPC traffic is mostly unqualified, Organic traffic is more relevant and qualified to be considered for the higher-ed marketing funnel. Relevant traffic keywords help in lead generation for universities.

Professional higher education SEO firm provides a completely driven strategy where your get relevant traffic by Tofu. Mofu and Bofu.

With 49% of marketers reporting that organic search has the best ROI of any marketing channel,

investing in SEO for higher ed is an outstanding way to grow your brand.
Are you a university looking to bring in the best and brightest students? If so, top ranking and organic search results are your ticket to success.

Our team of SEO experts at Think Orion can help you bridge the gap between the traditional higher education model and the new digital learning opportunities.


Social Media Marketing:

The influx of social platforms and the interest of students on these platforms signals to marketers that a large audience resides there. Social media marketing offers enrollment teams a direct link to prospective students. Sharing interesting content and surveys can easily provide marketers with a massive list of prospects to include in their funnels.  

Content Marketing :

The interesting aspect of acquiring prospective students through content is that they are already qualified for the final decision and understand their pain points. Leads generated through informative content marketing campaigns are there because of the interest in particular aspects of an institution and its courses. 

Middle of Funnel (MOFU)

Step 5 – Email marketing campaigns 

Email marketing is essential to the MOFU stage allowing marketers to re-engage with their most relevant and interested audiences. This is a great chance for marketing teams to develop specific campaigns for different personas and share guides, ebooks, whitepapers, and comparisons of institutions using email marketing tips.

Step 6 – Nurture your acquired Leads: Answering queries, Hosting live AMA sessions, Webinars 

The sixth stage of the university marketing funnel is where enrollment marketers nurture leads filtered through the TOFU stage. Admission officers and marketers alike answer important questions, host live-to-ask-me-anything sessions, and conduct webinars that highlight important topics like career paths, high-earning industries, and credible courses for different personas. 

Step 7 – Offering virtual tours 

Through modern technology, enrollment marketers can develop virtual tours for the student journey allowing them to take a real-life experience online. Not only do students get to see the academic part of life, but also experience the complementing features of joining a certain school. 

Step 8 – Push success stories   

Testimonials and reviews of former alumni is probably the ice breaker that gets students to choose a particular institution for higher studies. At this stage, students are looking for certified proof of success and accomplishment attained through a degree program. 

Both written and video success stories are excellent ideas to engage audiences in this stage of their journey to make a final decision. 

Step 9 – Send Viewbooks via Direct mail 

At the end of the MOFU stage, marketers should consider sending hardcopy content through brochures, mail, and other documentation to solidify student interest. This is the final stage where the students will make their decision to join or move on. 

Content should not sell at this stage, but rather inform students about good opportunities, good living standards, excellent faculty, and facilities at the institution. 

Bottom of Funnel (BOFU)

Step 10 –  Email marketing campaigns 

As students filter through to the BOFU stage, it is now time for higher education marketing teams to start engaging them with newsletters, emails, direct mail and updates about their institution. Engaging students by showing them daily life at the university can trigger immediate responses while filtering out those who are interested in other colleges.   

Step 11 – Offer Personalized Campus visits or night stays

At the BOFU stage, it is highly recommended to invite students for open days at the university to engage them directly, while giving them a real-time preview of life on campus. 

Step 12 – Offer career path guidance or consultations   

Admission officers can directly interact to make their pitch and provide students with the correct pathways to achieve their career goals. This is the stage when the student makes a decision, admission officers must bring their A-game to ensure students are convinced and satisfied with their presentations. 

Step 13 –  Offer Financial aid counseling

Enrollment officers should provide necessary information about scholarships and financial aid to 

prospects who require it. This is an essential tactic to ensure students can make the decision to join, instead of going elsewhere based on financial issues. 

Step 14 – Offer Dedicated academic support

To ensure students enroll after a long complex campaign, it is invaluable to provide them with dedicated academic support. In case students need to complete prerequisites or assistance from faculty members, marketers must ensure they are facilitating them in every way. 

Step 15 – Offer ways to communicate with existing students 

It’s a brilliant opportunity, to let alumni interact with prospective students to answer their queries and provide them with real-life proof of success. Providing access to student portals and communities can have a positive impact on the final decision of the student based on their experiences. 

Useful Tips to improve your Higher Ed Enrollment Funnel

Be creative while telling your program stories

It is imperative to be creative and engage students with stories of success and accomplishment. Many universities even pride themselves on their history while others find it more relevant to engage students through extracurricular activities and state-of-the-art activities. 

Work on building a student persona to target the right audience

Creating student personas is essential to target the right audiences even as they are filtered through the stages of the marketing funnel. Understanding the relevance of each persona and what motivates them is critical to the success of complex funnel campaigns. 

Build Effective Landing pages to increase conversion rates

Effective landing pages with relevant and valuable content are a prerequisite for successful digital enrollment marketing. Developing engaging pages with website design for higher ed and essential content is a must for the enrollment marketing funnel. A higher ed landing page should be designed to attract and inform prospective students about the educational institution’s programs, campus life, and admission requirements.

Keep track of Enrollment ROI

It is crucial for enrollment marketing teams to keep sight of their ROI. The sum of their efforts is generally reflected in the ROI achieved from different marketing and branding initiatives for higher education. Marketing managers must ensure their ROI is on track while gauging the success of campaigns. In case the ROI is falling, marketers can then improvise and change the way they engage with target personas. 

Give time to know nurture your enrollment leads

It is very important to give your leads time and nurture them on a routine basis before they convert to leads. Delivering regular updates, newsletters, testimonials, and other content to let them make a positive decision without hard selling is critical. A hard sell performed at the wrong stage of the funnel can cause a lead to exit the funnel abruptly.  


Developing an enrollment marketing funnel is a must for quality student acquisition in the modern world. With an increasing number of students, universities & colleges are bound to build strategic higher education funnels for better leads consistently. 

Think Orion as an ed tech marketing agency, assisting many online ed tech platforms, after the pandemic, the universities created their LMS to attract the maximum number of international students and target the students through the tech platforms.

We hope you enjoyed this edition of our blog. For more interesting reads about enrollment, and marketing trends for education institutes stay tuned to our blog, and do remember to sign up to our social feeds for the latest publications.