Higher Ed Marketing: There’s An App For That

April 4, 2016

Higher Ed Marketing: There’s An App For That

tag higher education | higher education website design | web development
Higher Ed Marketing: There’s An App For That

Time for a tale of two students. Based on their experience, which one do you think will choose you?

Jake is interested in State University. He does his research on an outdated, non-responsive website, where he has to download massive PDFs and wade through a maze of 150 schools and departments to find the major he wants. He’s curious about student life—but all he finds is a student life page that looks like every other one he’s seen. So he searches Twitter for answers, and finds them—good and bad, without any context. He submits a contact form for information, gets a generic reply, requests a campus tour, and gets another impersonal reply. He moves on to the next school on his list. 

Brandon is also interested in State. To start his research, he downloads State’s official mobile app. It has a built-in major/minor finder that starts with interactive questions, and he finds his major right away (and several other majors that sound like good fits ). He watches “day in the life videos” from current students and within 5 minutes, he can picture himself there. He interacts with other interested & accepted students on a forum, and he takes a live campus tour via Periscope.  

Which of these sounds like a better experience? Studies show that 57% of students downloaded a college app to learn about a specific school, so the power of mobile apps in higher education marketing is just waiting to be harnessed. 

Quality user experience is key to this whole conversation, but for this post, let’s hone in on the higher ed marketing power of apps designed specifically for college-seekers.

Make it Official

Many schools have realized the positive potential of official apps, for prospective & current students. Here’s a few examples of great official apps and a few ideas you might try to take it to the next level.

Most official apps have a set of “must-haves,” like the Harvard University home screen shows: 


Cover the major bases- maps, directory, events, admissions (in this case, a link to the admission page), transportation, dining, etc.

Harvard’s layout is straightforward and easy-to-use. The University of North Carolina’s Carolina GO app centered their navigation around action words:  


You can start your navigation by action verb or touch the “hamburger” icon in the top right to see categories.

Beyond the Basics

While you definitely want to cover the major bases, here’s a few ideas that could help take your official app to the next level (or even inspire additional apps).

Prospective and accepted students want to hear from other students about their experience and plans, so why not provide a forum for that? While you probably don’t want to create your own stand-alone Twitter, a simple in-app social network platform could be a good place where you can easily monitor the conversation. Make it easy for prospects and admitted students to connect with their peers and help each other!

You could also provide a place for students to submit short “day in the life” videos—there may be students out there just looking for a place to share their daily lives that might not come forward otherwise, so give them a platform and put out the call! Crowdsourcing is your friend in higher ed marketing, and with some safeguards, before you know it, you could have a robust amount of authentic, student-created videos to show off your campus and student life. 

Make it Personal

Side (but important) note—personalize as much as possible in your app. Let the user login, share pertinent info, and customize their experience. 91% of students said they’d love to receive tailored content from an institution, so take this opportunity to find their interests and go beyond “Dear Prospective Student.”

For example, if you learn that Brandon is a prospective student interested in engineering, offer him admissions-related content front and center, and engineering success stories. Make it easy for him to find his major, or other majors that might be perfect for him. In our work with University of Kentucky, we went with a responsive site, but it could just as easily be an app that could change your admissions & higher ed marketing game.

Campus Tours of the Future

When it comes to campus tours, everybody has a virtual tour, but you could take it a step further and provide schedules and a direct link to Periscope campus tours. While this will take them outside of the app, Periscope is still going strong and with the right preparation, you can offer more tours to students you might not reach otherwise.

Harvard came up with an innovative idea for a campus tour app with a great idea called Pivots—spots around campus where you can see a “pivot” showing older and newer views of buildings, providing context, history, and a fun, interactive experience:


Finally, if you’re feeling empty of app ideas, gather a focus group of 5-10 students that are plugged into the heart of your campus life. Ask them what kind of problems they think an app could solve, and give the top 3 ideas a shot! You’ll probably be surprised what kind of innovations they come up with.

As with all your higher education marketing efforts, the mission is to tell your story and make their choice easier. Apps are another way you can share your story with a tuned-in audience.   

Tell Us What You Think

Have you developed an official app? What parts of it have you found to most helpful in your higher ed marketing? Least helpful? What other types of apps have you developed? Share your thoughts in the comments.