College versus Program? What Should Marketing Teams Focus On

4 min read

Fran Fitzsimmons

When it comes to choosing a college, there are many factors students take into account. One of the most important decisions is whether to prioritize the university as a whole or focus on individual programs.

Some believe universities should market themselves first and let the quality of their programs speak for themselves. Others think that it's more important for colleges to highlight the individual programs they offer and let students make their own decision about the school as a whole.

But which should college marketing teams be focusing on? The quality of the overall college or the quality of a specific program?

There are pros and cons to both sides. For example, marketing the university as a whole may give students a better sense of what the school has to offer. On the other hand, focusing on individual programs may help students make a more informed decision about which school is right for them.

We conducted a survey of over 20,000 prospective students in April 2022 and asked them, ‘What do you consider first when deciding study options?’

The ‘program’ was voted as the top consideration with 55% saying they looked at it first. This has risen from 43% in the previous year’s survey.

In May, we held a webinar with four higher education experts from the UK, Spain, and the US to dissect the data from our survey and gain an insight into what their respective institutions focus on.

Mark Bennett, Director of Audience and Editorial at FindAUniversity, said: “We are seeing a renewed focus on programs which has come out of pre-pandemic trends. This potentially levels the playing field. You don’t have to be an Ivy League university. What is required is a program-first focus. How can we market students and lead with program detail instead of the institution first?”

Watch of State of Student Recruitment survey:

State of Student Recruitment Deep Dive Banner 13-Jul-04-2022-03-16-18-12-PM

The University of Liverpool has seen an increase in students looking at whether courses are accredited and at the course detail with specific career goals in mind, according to their head of UK recruitment, Christine Todd.

She added, “We are seeing a huge demand for staff with specialist skills in the UK, for example, skills shortages in data science, so we have launched new programs around data science.”

However, elsewhere in Europe, our representative from UCAM Universidad Católica de Murcia, April German, pinpointed the main difficulty many institutions would have with adopting their marketing strategy to focus on program rather than college.

She said: “Having a long list of programs, it is difficult for us to pick one and market it. It becomes a lot more challenging as you not just relying on the brand, but you are now relying on the program.”

In the survey, the second consideration for students was the ‘country’ with 28.4%. The school, college, or institution came third on the list with 16.5%.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to what is most important to the student. If a student is primarily interested in the quality of the program, then it makes sense for colleges to focus on marketing individual programs.

However, if a student is more interested in the overall university experience, then universities should focus on marketing themselves as a whole.

It is about personalizing the student experience to what they expect to see or look first, while also utlizing key industry data in higher education, such as our State of Student Recruitment survey. 

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