A pyramid set against a sky with stars.
Enrollment Insights Blog

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Enrollment Marketing

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A pyramid set against the sky with stars.

A conversation this spring with Sean Whitten (Director of Communications and Marketing at John Paul II High School) sparked a reframing of the college search and how to think about it and prioritize enrollment marketing. It led to an analogy of addressing students’ needs and concerns through Maslow’s Hierarchy. Basic needs must be addressed and ultimately we want students to be meeting their highest level need for self-actualization. So what do the levels look like when reframed for enrollment marketing? 

Basic Prospective Student Needs

Starting at the base of the pyramid are the basic needs, as Maslow puts it: physiological needs and safety. The same exists for students. Students want a comfortable place to stay and good food options. For some students, this may be their first stable home and consistent opportunity to eat. These are the needs, but of course, many students want more than just the basics and expect more from their food and housing. 

Safety and Attainability

Safety has consistently been a top priority for students and parents in Niche surveys, and it goes beyond just physical safety. Students need to feel physically safe of course, but they also want to be safe to ask questions, voice opinions, and be themselves. This level of Maslow’s Hierarchy also refers to employment and security of resources, so providing for student employment, safe and comfortable housing, and a variety of food is important. How this is shown through enrollment marketing can be as simple as video tours and student highlights of their meal options around campus. Showcasing campus employment and research or internship opportunities can blend into the job and graduate school placement rates and highlight where those are.

Finding Their Place

Finding connections, making friends, and growing their families are important to students. This is especially true if they’re going to college a long distance away, for the most part, they’ve been very close to their family and even closer for the past two and a half years. They have a need to connect, and the role of a counselor is to be a connector and help them build stickiness and points of affinity. Their admissions counselor should not be their only point of contact. Connect them to current students, other prospective students, financial aid staff, academic advisors or faculty, student life, athletics, fine arts, performing arts, or other areas of campus that are relevant to their interests. Use current students in campaigns and across social media to talk about the community they’ve found.

Have They Made the Right Choice?

Students have esteem needs, and in the framework of search, this is ensuring that they feel confident in their decision and that they have made the right choice for themselves. The recruiting and relationship building can’t stop once the deposit is in. Use reviews and stories to help them build affinity and reassure them of their choice. Connect them to other students having the same questions and going through the same process so that they build a cohort. Keep making them feel special with relevant information; at this point you should know a great deal about them and their hopes or fears. Make sure they know exactly how they will achieve their goals and who to talk to on campus. Address any fears or things that may prevent them from enrolling or thriving. This is where remarketing can serve to stay in front of your known audience with relevant information and exciting photos and videos. Don’t let them fall out of love with you if you move on to the next class of students.

Enrolling and Retaining: Self Actualization

Once students enroll they need to feel accepted, have a sense of belonging, and ultimately fulfill their potential at their college. If they don’t feel this after making their decision it can lead to melt, transferring, or even not graduating at all. Throughout the recruitment process and after their decision is made there are opportunities to connect students with resources and people on campus who can help them make more connections. Provide avenues for them to feed back into your flywheel with stories, reviews, and the ability to engage with students who are where they were in the past. 

By reframing how you think of communicating to students based on their needs, you may find that you can more effectively build nurture communications and address student concerns early on. Review your current outreach and see how you align and build relationships with students.

Prior to coming to Niche in 2019 Will served 9 years at Manchester University in roles as an Admissions Counselor, Associate Director for Admissions Operations, Social Media Coordinator, and ultimately as Digital Strategist. Will surfaces tactical insights from user behavior and surveys to help higher ed build recruitment strategies. In addition to the Enrollment Insights blog, webinars, and podcast; Will is a frequent conference speaker and podcast guest. He has presented at NACAC, AACRAO-SEM, AMA Higher Ed, CASE V, EduWeb, and EMA. Will's work has been featured in Forbes, Inside Higher Ed, CNBC, CNN, the LA Times, and The New York Times among other outlets.