Education may be priceless, but recent research reveals that postsecondary institutions pay between $429 and $623 per enrolled student, per year, on marketing, which totaled a collective spend of $2.2. billion in 2019. When it comes to advertising in higher education, it is no longer a question of whether colleges and universities should be participating, it’s determining which education marketing efforts will best help them achieve their objectives. From inspiring digital marketing campaigns to creative content creation, higher education institutions are raising the bar when it comes to marketing methods. Here’s everything you need to know about marketing to college students today.

What Is Higher Education Marketing?

Higher ed advertising is a huge, competitive market that is vital for colleges and universities to attract students, build cohesive brands and convey their unique messaging and offerings. It’s no secret that education advertising is everywhere big and small — from digital banner ads and print spreads to subway trains, billboards and even NFL commercials. In fact, commercial advertising is one of the prevalent recruiting tactics for prospective college students used by postsecondary institutions. To remain competitive in marketing to college students today, colleges and universities must artfully blend creativity with cause and deploy campaigns where potential students are spending their time.

Marketing Is Vital for Colleges and Universities

Why is marketing higher education more important now than ever? A variety of circumstances have led to the ever-evolving industry we see today, including a steep ongoing decline in enrollment heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and rising competition from online education programs and alternative postsecondary offerings. When it comes to competing for students, higher education advertising is the differentiator that is often the catalyst that transforms potential students into active campus participants and inspires passive audiences to become lifelong brand champions.

Traditional Advertising vs. Digital Advertising

What exactly is the difference between traditional advertising and digital advertising? While they both strive to share your institution’s core message in a way that resonates with your target audiences, they utilize different channels for doing so. Traditional marketing uses traditional media, such as magazines, newspapers, TV ads and billboards, while digital marketing harnesses digital media, from email and social media to websites and search engine optimization.

Pros & Cons of Traditional Advertising

To determine if and when traditional advertising should be used for your institution’s higher education ads, consider these opportunities and challenges.


Builds rapport with the local community: While the need to market outside of local markets is still necessary, tapping into an education institution’s own backyard has never been more important as prospective students navigate the current economic recession and the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Billboards, local TV commercials and newspapers are traditional promotional techniques that universities can utilize to connect with local audiences.

Strengthens credibility: Even in today’s increasingly digital world, there is no denying the power of physical advertising. Considered more trustworthy, established and reliable, print media and printed materials also require more financial resources and planning, which shows target audiences that your institution is stable, growing and successful.

Increases impressions: While digital ads must run multiple times before leaving a lasting impression on target audiences, print ads offer much better and longer impressions. Brochures, flyers and TV commercials also have a longer shelf life for marketing campaign budgets.

Targets a range of audiences: Colleges and universities have a spectrum of target audiences to market to — prospective students, current students, alumni, professors, staff and more. When they need to be reached all at once, traditional marketing is often the best approach to cast a wide net.


Higher costs: Traditional marketing efforts are more expensive than digital — plain and simple.

No flexibility: Fliers, newspaper ads and sponsored print content also don’t allow flexibility for changes or customization to target a more niche market.

Limited space: Traditional marketing mediums offer less space and time than digital offerings for institutions to tell their story and reveal their call to action.

Declining interest: Audiences are losing interest in traditional media and aren’t internalizing banners, billboards and newspaper ads like they once did.

Pros & Cons of Digital Advertising

To determine if and when digital advertising should be used for your next higher education advertising campaign, consider these opportunities and challenges:


More cost-effective: A well-strategized digital marketing campaign can reach the right customers at a much lower cost than traditional marketing methods.

Target niche audiences: Digital marketing’s data capabilities can help your institution focus marketing efforts and create hyper-specific segmentation schemes, pinpointing specific segments and even individual consumers.

Leverage real-time analytics: There’s no guesswork in online advertising campaigns. At all times you have access to expenses, analytics, reach, engagement and lead generation. You can always adjust spend, keywords and dates as your digital marketing campaigns unfold.

Boost audience engagement: With social media marketing and other digital marketing efforts, opportunities for audience engagement are limitless. A simple click can lead to a treasure trove of videos, landing pages, resources and calls to action to boost your brand presence.

Variety of format offerings: From banner and text ads and social media video ads to QR codes, text links, affiliate marketing and sponsored content, there’s no shortage of options for digital higher education ads.


Limited space for ads: Digital ads often need to be short and snappy — there’s only so much space available. Your vision might need to be tweaked to fit word count and space limits.

Declining ad-clicks: As with traditional advertising metrics, click-through rates for digital ads are declining. With increasing competition for digital ad space, some audiences are becoming immune to digital ads.

Complaints and feedback: While real-time digital interaction with target audiences is a tremendous opportunity in digital advertising, it can also promote online reviews and audience complaints, making it important to have a reputation management plan in place to handle the two-way interface.

What Type of Advertising Should You Choose for Higher Education?

While there are strong pros and cons to both traditional and digital advertising, colleges and universities must strategically leverage both to remain competitive in today’s higher education landscape. While traditional public relations remains powerful, prospective students are often leading the adoption of emerging technologies, and higher education leaders must adapt to those changes too. For example, with nearly 95% of adults aged between 18 and 34 following brands through social networks, colleges and universities must quickly engage with new and existing social media platforms, utilize video campaigns and invest in influencer relations to effectively reach their marketing goals.

What Are the Digital Advertising Trends in Higher Education This 2023?

As we continue to move into 2023, a variety of higher education marketing trends are emerging and gaining momentum — from the importance of having a fast and mobile-focused website that offers a phenomenal user experience to creating engaging distant-learning content.

Rely More on Your Proprietary Data for Ad Targeting

Exact match keywords are no longer exact, daily budgets can be doubled and higher search volume thresholds are some of the recent changes in digital marketing. From less search query data than before and sweeping social media privacy changes, higher education marketers should be prepared to have less access to tactical data from ad networks.

Incorporate Short-Form Video into Your Higher Ed Marketing Strategy

Every successful education marketing strategy today must include video. From virtual campus tours to promoting notable professors and campus leaders and answering your institution’s most searched questions, the opportunities for video marketing are powerful.

Embrace YouTube for Content Marketing

A chance to meet consumers where they are, there is tremendous potential for content marketing through YouTube today. A recent study reveals 27% of prospective teen students cited YouTube videos as a major influence in making an enrollment decision. From extending brand awareness, increasing SEO performance, and supporting other digital marketing campaigns, YouTube shouldn’t be excluded from your education marketing efforts in 2023.

Utilize Responsive Ads

Responsive ads will continue to be an effective marketing tool for higher education brand communications in 2023. According to Google’s data, on average, advertisers see 10% more conversions at a similar cost per action (CPA) when using multiple headlines, descriptions, and images with responsive display ads. Higher education communicators should consider incorporating responsive ad units to drive leads and increase conversion rates this year.

Incorporate Inquiries into Lookalike Audiences

The potential for lookalike audience models will continue as a leading 2023 trend for marketing higher education. Informed by uploading data sets from a CRM to social media platforms, targeting users that mirror the attributes of your current audience base can extend reach and acquire new, relevant leads.

The Benefits of Digital Advertising in Higher Education

The question is no longer whether online engagement is necessary. Instead, it’s finding the best strategy to help you achieve your marketing goals. Here are some of the many reasons to incorporate a robust digital advertising component into your overall higher education marketing strategy.

Far-Reaching Brand Awareness

Whether the objective is brand awareness, enrollment, lead generation or audience expansion, digital marketing can amplify your brand further. As the post-pandemic landscape reveals a greater need for digital offerings and online learning, digital advertising has even more potential to tell your institution’s story through the click of a button.

Cost-Effective Compared to Traditional Marketing

There’s no denying the cost benefits of digital marketing when compared to the steep prices of print ads, billboards and brochures.

Personalized Marketing Approach

With a data-driven digital marketing strategy, colleges and universities can personalize each advertising campaign to their desired target audience with the ability to edit, pivot and extend as needed.

Higher Conversion Rates

Another tremendous benefit of digital marketing is the ability to offer a next step of value compared to traditional advertising. From digital video, social media ads or banner ads, higher education prospects can instantly engage with a call to action, access more information and more.

Alternative Communication Tool

For the higher education industry, elevating online presence is both an effective marketing strategy and communication channel for existing and prospective audiences. In other words, digital marketing can work overtime to gain new students, nurture current ones and connect alumni and other brand champions.

Trackable and Modifiable

There is no need to wonder if a digital advertising campaign is working. With access to a spectrum of real-time metrics, higher education marketers can experiment, gain insight, adjust their strategy and measure analytics throughout every step of the campaign.

FAQs About Advertising in Higher Education

How Can Social Media be Used in Higher Education?

Social media marketing can help higher education institutions engage with their audiences, target prospective college students, increase their visibility and strengthen their brand reputation. From giving your latest digital marketing campaign greater reach to discovering the preferences of your target audience or protecting a hard-earned reputation, social media marketing is a valuable tool to utilize.

Why Partner with a Higher Ed Advertising Agency?

Higher education leaders and marketers know creative and strategic education marketing efforts have never been more critical to their bottom lines. As education marketing trends change rapidly, it’s invaluable to partner with a team of industry experts with a proven track record of planning and executing education marketing strategies that resonate with prospective students, build brand affinity and get results.

How to Choose a Higher Education Advertising Agency?

Identifying the right partner to help your institution develop an effective education marketing strategy requires setting your objectives, creating a budget, researching and meeting with leading agencies, and having conversations about both your current education marketing efforts and future marketing goals. The best education marketing agency for you will be able to thread your institution’s mission and vision through compelling content creation and effective digital marketing channels to achieve your marketing objectives.

Ready to Level Up Your Higher Education Advertising Game?

Attracting driven students is essential to the financial health of colleges and universities and their missions of producing tomorrow’s leaders across the spectrum of human endeavor — which is why effective higher education advertising requires a long-term, evolving and personalized strategy.

Ready to partner with a higher education PR agency and leader in strategic communications to help your college or university achieve results? As an award-winning content marketing and public relations agency, Communications Strategy Group (CSG®) understands how to best elevate your institution’s brand, translate its unique offerings into compelling storytelling, harness the latest marketing trends and technologies and effectively resonate with your target audiences.

Contact us today to discover how CSG can help your institution become a juggernaut in higher ed advertising.