College Recruitment: Identifying Your Target Audience

Topics: Marketing Toolkit, Millennials + Gen Z, Digital Media, Higher Ed Marketing, Media + Advertising, Campus Media

Posted by: Marketing

As a student recruitment professional, identifying your target audience probably seems pretty straightforward. You’re marketing your school or program to high school and/or college students (and their parents), end of story. Or is it? The best way to successfully engage with any audience is to understand who they are and what they want, so it’s important to get this right. When you take the time to identify buyers’ personas for your intended audience, you’ll have a more complete picture of who they are and how to reach them efficiently and effectively.

Four students walking down a hallway

Identifying target audience personas is one of the first steps in our proven plan for creating a successful enrollment campaign.


+ Learn what an effective student recruitment marketing campaign consists of.


What are target market personas and why do they matter?

Also known as buyer personas, target market personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers based on data and research. The deep understanding of your customer base that you gain in the development process drives everything from content creation and the advertising channels you use to sales follow up and institutional/program priorities. Because of this, developing comprehensive buyer personas not only will help you attract larger amounts of better qualified leads, it can also assist in retaining your existing student population through graduation.


“The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.”


The best and most effective buyer personas are based on both market research and insights gleaned from currently enrolled students and qualified applicants.


To drive user engagement further and faster, you must explore what makes your ideal customers tick.

There are a number of factors to take into account as you identify your target buyer persona.

  1. PERSONAL BACKGROUND - What are the demographics of your ideal student enrollee? Where are they at in their education? What is their likely career path?

  2. THEIR COMPANY (or school, in this case) - Does your target pupil attend high school? Are they an undergraduate at your university? Are the schools you’re trying to attract students from geared towards a specific type of learner? Do those institutions largely serve a specific subset of the population?

  3. THEIR ROLE  - What does your target audience’s typical day look like? Do they have responsibilities outside of school? Where do they spend their time?

  4. THEIR CHALLENGES - What problems are students in your target market looking to solve with a college education or higher ed associated program? Is budget an issue? What about housing and transportation?

  5. THEIR GOALS - What objectives are your target students looking to fulfill? Do they want to graduate quickly to move into the workforce? Are they looking for a well-rounded education? Are they likely to pursue additional schooling? Is building relationships with like-minded students and professors important to them? What amenities and activities will they find enticing?

  6. HOW THEY LEARN - What type of messaging will catch your audience’s attention and drive them to take action? What information do you need to provide and in what format?

  7. SHOPPING PREFERENCES - How are your target enrollees likely to conduct their higher education search? Will they notice campus advertising? If they’ll be searching online, which type of digital advertising will best attract their attention? 


+ See the top 5 campus advertising strategies for college recruitment.


We’ve developed a worksheet that will help guide you through the process of identifying your target audience.

Worksheet Thumbnail - Buyers Persona


+ Get the buyer persona identification worksheet.


When identifying target audience personas, marketing directors must seek to understand Gen Z and millennials.

The vast majority of consumers applying to colleges and their associated programs will be millennials and members of Generation Z. This is particularly important for student recruitment professionals to keep in mind as they work to identify target market personas. Here are some facts worth noting about these younger demographics.

  • Millennials and members of Gen Z are digital natives. They’re typically very active on all social media platforms and are on top of digital trends. 

  • Gone are the ways of older generations who used phones sparingly. It is no secret that college students spend a lot of time on their phones. 71% of millennials use social media daily on their mobile devices. 

MSSmedia Mobile Activities


+ See the complete Important Stats on Mobile Internet infographic.


  • Coupons aren’t just the province of older generations. Members of younger generations love them too. In fact, 88% of millennials say that obtaining a promotion or discount would encourage them to make a purchase. 

  • Millennials and Gen Z-ers look for connection, moments that they can discover and share. In fact, 69% of millennials believe that participating in events helps them connect better with their friends, communities and the world at large.


+ Learn more about how to engage millennials and Gen Z when advertising. 


  • Generation Z and millennial audiences tend to be less receptive to "standard" advertising tricks. They might not pay any attention to a print advertisement when out and about if it doesn't catch their eye. These younger generations also value authenticity far more than previous generations, especially in their ads. So make sure you feature diversity and communicate authentically if you want to win with these audiences.

  • Although Generation Z and other Millennial audiences spend a lot of time on social media, when they are ready to purchase, they go to Google. Don't forget to include a Google Strategy in your digital marketing plans.


+ Learn how digital marketing tactics drive successful college recruitment. 


Would you like to learn more about how to create a successful student enrollment campaign?




Here at MSS Media, Inc., we’ve been providing Education, Government, Real Estate & Lifestyle clients with succinct, optimized, and successful marketing solutions for more than 15 years. Consider MSSmedia a full-service, one-stop shop for all your Media and Public Relations needs. Your goals are our motivation. And our mission is to propel your message, further and faster, to achieve the outcomes you’re looking for. If you found this blog post helpful, please share!

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