Looking for the most effective way to recruit students to your college or university? With so many college and university options out there these days, recruitment has become a huge priority for higher education. That's where storytelling comes in.
By telling your college story, you can break through to prospective students. The college story is the single most unique aspect of your institution.
Stories create an emotional connection between the audience and storyteller, and they compel action, like applying to your school.
According to Jerome Bruner, cognitive psychologist, messages delivered as stories can be up to 22x more memorable.
My college story
Tucked away on top of a hill in one of the most historical places in Massachusetts, Bentley University offers a picturesque New England campus.
To an 18-year-old who grew up playing ice hockey in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and an aspiring entrepreneur, a New England business school provided so many opportunities.
As the first one in my family to go to college, I was determined to make the most of it.
The moment I arrived on campus and looked out over the landscape from the new technology center, I knew Bentley University would be where I'd spend the next four years.
The business program was top-notch, the campus was incredible, and when I traveled up the road to Boston, I marveled at the number of young people roaming the clean, beautiful city. It drew me in.
I remember hearing about a 98% job placement for Bentley graduates. My tour guide, a junior at the time, talked about the opportunity for internships, how great the professors were, and all of the fun activities with which students could get involved.
I could close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to be a student at Bentley.
I was sold on the Bentley story, a story that I could easily make my own.
The next four years were some of the greatest years of my life. I think back to that process and the stories that were shared with me, and I cannot imagine having gone to any other school.
I completed four internships while at Bentley. Within a month of graduating, I had my first job. I was on my way to living my dreams.
What is a college story?
A college story is simply a narrative focused on the essence of your school.
A college story gives students a taste of your college culture and conveys what it’s like to be a student at at your school.
There is so much that goes on at colleges and universities that you will never be short on content.
Start by figuring out what differentiates your college from its competition, then craft college stories with that in mind.
When it comes to figuring out what other aspects of your college to focus your story on, here are a few areas to consider:
- Culture - What’s it like to be a student at your college or university? Describe your college culture in your college story so prospective students can visualize what it would be like should they choose to attend your school.
- Programs - What can students expect from your college courses? How are they structured? What’s the average class size? Answering these questions about your programs, as well as providing students with course descriptions, can help separate your programs from competitors’.
- Campus - A campus can sell students. It did for me. The campus section of a story is primed for visuals. Show students what your campus looks like, from its vibrant outdoor spaces to its dorms.
- Student Life - One of the biggest selling points for prospective students is student life. For many incoming freshman, this will be the first time they are away from home for an extended period of time. It’s critical they get a picture of what life as a student at your college or university will be like.
- Athletics - Does your school have high-level athletics programs? Are Saturday football games an amazing experience? Maybe you have a well-known coach coaching one of your teams. Highlight how students can get involved with your athletics programs in your college story.
- Local Activities - A big selling point for me at Bentley University was that it was just a short drive away from Boston. Prospective students want to know what there is to do outside of the college just as much as they want to know what there is to do within the college.
- Job Placement - Last, but certainly not least, is job placement. For many prospective students, getting a college degree is the first step in securing that first job. If your college has exemplary job placement stats, be sure to explain that in your college story. Recruit students by setting them on a path to their dream job.
How to tell a great college story to recruit students
When it comes to telling a great college story, keep it short. You don’t have to stuff every last bit of information about your college, the campus, your programs, etc. into one story.
Tell multiple college stories to reel students in.
In today’s society, where people are inundated with information and more people are consuming content on-the-go, it’s especially important to write short-form stories for students.
With each concise story, always be thinking in terms of conversion rates. One story should convert a prospective student just enough to get them to consume your next story.
Each successive story furthers their interest in your school, driving them to the next best action.
When creating short stories to recruit students, you want to start with a story that captivates prospective students and shows them all of the possibilities your college provides. This short story captures their attention and converts them into considering attending your college.
The next short story can focus on your campus and programs. The goal of that story is to convert students into making the decision to schedule a visit.
From there, tap into your college tour guides to tell your college story by sharing their experience there.
These current students can become your college influencers.
49% of people say they rely on recommendations from influencers when making purchase decisions. (Twitter and Annalect, 2016)
At the end of the day, that’s what you’re asking prospective students to do: purchase your college program over your competitors.
Components of a captivating college story
If you want to know how to recruit students with storytelling, pay close attention to the following components.
Recruit students with captivating imagery
Before written language was created, ancient people told stories through imagery. Compelling images can captivate an audience, transporting them directly into a scene.
Share photos of campus; students learning in classrooms and cheering their teams on at sporting events; the library and dining hall; etc.
Weave imagery into your college story to help prospective students visualize their life at your school.
Share current student testimonials
It’s extremely important for students nowadays to hear what college life is like at your school from those who actually attend, not just from the marketing department.
It’s critical for colleges to leverage existing students as ambassadors and influencers of prospective students.
Prospective students want authenticity. Hearing about your school from current students is much more effective than any description you can type up.
Recruit students using videos from professors talking about your programs
According to Wordstream.com, 1/3 of online activity is spent watching videos. Video content is taking over. It’s quick, easy to consume, and requires the least amount of effort for the consumer.
Incorporate video stories from professors, the dean, or even current students to help you tell your college story.
Let prospective students see and hear from your advocates instead of just reading about them.
Help prospective students understand your college culture
Is your school focused on athletics? Push that forward to recruit students interested in joining a team.
Is it all about academics? Does your culture promote the balance between the two? Say that.
Whatever your culture is, share it with prospective students. It might not appeal to everyone, but if you do a good job at projecting your college culture, it’ll appeal to the right students.
At the end of the day, you want to recruit students and secure as many applications as possible.
How to effectively share your college story to recruit students
We live in a digital world where more and more people are accessing content from their mobile phone.
Tell a digital college story, and be sure that it’s optimized for mobile.
By removing the friction from story consumption, you will give yourself a better chance of your story being heard.
I can’t remember how many printed college brochures I received during my junior and senior years of high school, but it was a ton.
Looking back, I can’t imagine how much was spent on print costs alone.
If direct mail is your current student recruitment strategy, that’s okay, but send a one-pager with a call-to-action to visit a website or include a mobile code that students can text to receive a link to your mobile-first story.
Digital stories offer college marketers a myriad of benefits: increased interactivity and engagement opportunities for the consumer; reduced print costs; easy consumption through the right marketing channels; and tracking and analytics.
More than that, digital stories are much easier to update than a story printed on a brochure.
If you are looking to tell your college story, and want to make sure it’s optimized for mobile, consider using the STORYSOFT digital storytelling platform.
Our all-in-one solution lets college marketers create compelling digital experiences that tell their college story to prospective students while providing all of the analytics and campaign tracking features that let college marketers track ROI.