Skip to Content
Resource Articles //

Emerging Marketing Trends in Higher Education

For colleges and universities, mobile, search, and social media marketing lead the way.

College has changed drastically in recent years. As postsecondary education has moved increasingly online, so have marketing efforts. Gone are the days of enormous print budgets dedicated to glossy brochures sent by snail mail. Prospective students now conduct their college search examining comprehensive, abundant, and timely online content for higher education institutions of interest. Colleges and universities entice tomorrow’s students by engaging with them where they are: on their phones, on social media, and on other unique online platforms.

What trends are emerging in higher education marketing? How are today’s college and university marketers reaching their future students? In short, today’s good colleges utilize robust and wide-ranging strategic marketing plans that might include:

Emerging Marketing Trends in Higher Education

  • Mobile-friendly websites
  • Voice assistant search
  • Focus on search rankings 
  • Video marketing
  • A strong and active social media presence
  • College-specific apps  

Mobile-Friendly Websites

As of 2014, an impressive 60% of all online traffic came from smartphones and tablets.1 Further, a 2017 report by the National Retail Federation found that 75% of Generation Z report that a mobile phone or smartphone is their device of choice, and 25% said they spend more than five hours per day on these devices.2

With prospective students spending so much time on smartphones, mobile-friendly websites are critical for reaching intended audiences. As a 2014 Hanover Research report on higher education trends in marketing explains, “An effective and intuitive website … should be considered the ‘ultimate brand statement’ for an institution.”3 It is vital for marketers to ensure text, photos and other images, and videos on their institution’s website are rigorously tested and look professional and crisp on all electronic devices, including smartphones and tablets.4 They should also prominently highlight a “call to action,” such as applying to the school.3

Voice Assistant Search

As of 2019, an estimated 38% of the U.S. population use a voice assistant.5 While Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant are among the most popular, other options are in development. Currently, voice assistants deliver information derived from the top search result, making a focus on search results more important than ever. If universities want to reach voice assistant users, exceptional search engine optimization is critical.6

Focus on Search Rankings

Search rankings aren’t just important to voice assistants, they’re imperative to reaching all prospective students spending time online. A staggering 93% of online activity begins with using a search engine. Further, search drives traffic to content sites more than any other tactic, beating social media by more than 300%.7

To reach prospective students, higher education marketers should prioritize search engine optimization strategies including creating quality content, paying attention to keywords, and using meta descriptions—website summaries that are captured by search results.6

Video Marketing

More video content is available than ever before, and it is estimated that 85% of all internet users in the U.S. watch video content each month.8 How can higher education leverage video effectively? With storytelling, colleges can make video personal and compelling and give prospective attendees a glimpse of student life. Yearly events—graduations, move-in days, festivals, and speakers—are useful opportunities for generating video content.8 Footage from lectures can be particularly compelling for prospective students and give a deeper and more meaningful look at learning at a possible future college. Once video content becomes available, marketers can repurpose content for posting on the institution’s website, social media channels, video ads, and elsewhere.6

Social Media Presence

With around 3.4 billion social media users online today,6 social media cannot be ignored by higher education marketers. Many consume social media passively and in large quantities, scrolling unconsciously to pass the time. To make an impact, social media must be compelling and creative. University marketers should utilize multiple channels in their social media approaches and invest time and effort in the platforms prospective students are using.

As part of a college’s social media efforts, higher education marketers are increasingly embracing social media influencers. But instead of using celebrities, marketers work with students with social media savvy to promote the school’s brand. Because these influencers are a part of the target audience, they know the zeitgeist and deliver relatable content to prospective students.9

College-Specific Apps

Not losing sight of the proliferation of and students’ reliance on mobile technology, higher education marketers are pushing their mobile and digital marketing strategies a step farther into college-specific apps. With portability, convenience, high-quality graphics, and unique information and features, smartphone and tablet apps are another useful channel for reaching prospective students as well as positioning your higher education institution against its competitors.6

Other Trends

While mobile, search, and social media dominate today’s and tomorrow’s higher education marketing efforts, other trends, social networks, and strategies continue to emerge. Likewise, more established digital marketing efforts like e-mail marketing and blogs continue to thrive. Smart college marketers will continue to study what technologies future students are using and where they’re engaging and adapt this knowledge to intelligent higher education campaigns.

If marketing undergraduate and graduate programs in higher education appeals to you, Walden University, an accredited university with flexible online education options, offers an MS in Higher Education degree program. With a degree specialization in Enrollment Management and Institutional Marketing, Walden’s online master’s program in higher education can prepare you for a career promoting college education and improving student recruitment and retention.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Higher Education degree program online with multiple specializations. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,