Generating High-Intent Higher Education Prospects: Best Practices

Each year, millions of Americans, including both graduating high school seniors and adults returning to school, enroll in higher education programs. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) estimated that 19.9 million students attended colleges and universities in fall 2019, and the Center originally predicted a slight increase for 2020 enrollment. However, as uncertainty persists for many prospective students due to COVID-19 concerns, more higher education institutions may be creating or expanding lead generation campaigns designed to help generate interest. The best practices highlighted below will help set your prospective student-focused lead generation campaigns up for success.


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Careful preparation is essential for any successful lead generation campaign. Developing and following through on a well-thought out plan can be the pathway to success, resulting in a growing, engaged pool of prospective students.

  • Determine what media channels work best for your campaign: Seek out channels that can produce motivated prospects. Paid search, email and social media advertising can be key components of successful higher education lead generation campaigns. Depending on your campaign goals, third-party partners can produce data leads, inbound phone calls or click traffic to the landing page of your choice. 
  • Determine what success looks like: Identify KPIs (key performance indicators) that will be tracked and measured throughout the campaign. When working with third parties, be clear about campaign goals and how success will be measured up front. Core KPIs in many prospective student-focused higher education lead generation campaigns are application rates, enrollment rates and start rates. Contact rates and transfer rates can be used as early indicators to assess lead quality, as inquiries generated from third-party partners can take up to 90 days to convert into enrollments.
  • Prepare your infrastructure: Make sure your call center is appropriately staffed to handle increased capacity as volume picks up. Depending on the type of campaign, if all creative assets and tracking are prepared for launch, third-party higher education lead generation campaign set up can take as little as one to two weeks, so it is crucial to have all infrastructure elements in place up front.


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With many colleges and universities to choose from, schools with the most engaging creative, that are able to successfully differentiate their offerings, are likely to find success in generating hand-raisers among prospective students.

  • Compliance is key: In addition to higher education-specific regulations, make sure that campaigns are in compliance with regulations like TCPA and CCPA. Ensure that your campaigns are compliant by obtaining express written consent to contact consumers by phone or text. Consider using a third party to help track and produce proof of compliance, if needed.
  • Know your audience: Determine who your target audience is, and develop creative that speaks to them. Mine your data to create ideal profiles based on your most successful student segments. Focus on areas of differentiation to highlight unique offerings and stand out from the competition. 
  • Use seasonality to your advantage: Interest in higher education often spikes in January and August. Leverage seasonally-appropriate “New Year, New You” and “Back to School” messaging to capitalize on increased interest. In the current era of social distancing and uncertainty regarding potential campus reopenings, make sure your messaging, including any automated emails, are updated as needed to reflect current conditions.


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In order to maximize yield from higher education lead generation campaigns, institutions need to be strategic with their outreach plans. 

  • Timely follow up is essential: With many schools potentially vying for attention from the same pool of prospective students, following up with interested prospects as close to real time as possible is crucial. The first call, email or communication should occur within minutes of inquiry receipt. Be realistic about your capacity for prompt follow up, and set caps with third-party partners as needed to keep lead flow in check to ensure immediate outreach. 
  • Don’t rely solely on phone calls: Establish a robust outreach workflow that includes more than calling. A well-planned email cadence can be highly effective for prospective student-focused campaigns. A waterfall approach with a welcome email, follow ups, and more personalized content tends to perform better than one-size-fits-all “canned” messaging. SMS can also be a useful tool to engage prospects and set appointments with admissions team members.


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As with any marketing campaign, monitoring results and making adjustments based on outcomes is essential for higher education prospect lead generation campaigns, as incremental improvements over time drive growth and profitability.

  • Test and iterate creative: Test various headlines, copy and images to determine what creative mix is resonating best with your target audience. Iterate to improve creative performance throughout the campaign lifecycle.
  • Share data with third-party partners: Empower your partners to optimize by providing them with outcome data as closely to real time as possible, ideally daily, enabling them to make adjustments to quickly and effectively improve campaign performance.

Are You Looking To Connect With Prospective High-Intent College Students At Scale?

DMS EducationTM is a thought leader in education and martech-enabled digital media distribution. Through our support of traditional and for-profit colleges, trade schools, community colleges, boot camps, continuing education providers, OPMs and agencies, we have seen it all. Led by industry veterans and dating back to our founding in 2002, DMS Education provides predictable, scalable and reliable education marketing.

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About the Author

Digital Media Solutions

Digital Media Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: DMS) is a leading provider of technology and digital performance marketing solutions leveraging innovative, performance-driven brand and marketplace solutions to connect consumers and advertisers. DMS proprietary technology solutions, significant proprietary media distribution and data-driven processes help large brands steadily acquire more customers. For more information visit https://digitalmediasolutions.com.

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