Higher Education Advertising: Where Should Colleges Advertise?

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

Posted by: Marketing

For colleges and university programs looking to increase enrollment in today’s market, paid ad campaigns are an excellent way to optimize ROI. The potential avenues for higher education advertising are many. From traditional media (TV, newspaper, radio, billboards, and transit ads) to digital media (search, display, video, and social), colleges have a vast array of options to choose from. Discover how to choose the best advertising venues for your college, university, or higher education program.

VCU - School of Dentistry (2)


We recommend an integrated higher education advertising strategy.

An integrated advertising strategy for college recruitment incorporates traditional campus advertising and digital marketing tactics. By combining tactics from these arenas, you can extend your reach while each part of your marketing campaign amplifies the efforts of the others. 

+ Increase enrollment with an integrated marketing strategy.

Discover your ideal ad venues by developing a detailed buyer persona.

When recruiting college students, 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. 

An important part of developing an effective buyer persona for higher education advertising is considering where and how your target audience spends their time.



“Be where the world is going.” 



  • What does a typical day look like for your target recruit?
  • Where do they go and what do they do?
  • What social media platforms do they use and how do they use them?
  • How do potential students search for schools, programs, or other post-secondary options?

Our Identifying Your Buyers Persona Worksheet will help guide you through this process.

MSSmedia Buyer Persona Worksheet-1




Consider the unique attributes of Generation Z.

As you develop a higher education advertising plan, it’s important to keep in mind that your target audience is composed almost entirely of millennials and members of Gen Z. These sectors of the population differ from older generations in several ways. Their unique characteristics will impact the efficacy of your advertising tactics.  


Millennials and members of Gen Z are digital natives. 

It’s no secret that teenagers and young adults spend a lot of time online, primarily on smartphones, and particularly on social media platforms. Whether you’re recruiting students to your university or a specific major, graduate program, or other campus initiatives, digital advertising is non-negotiable. Consider the following facts.

  •  Millennials spend an average of 211 minutes accessing apps or the internet via smartphone per day.
  • 55% of Gen Z uses their smartphones for five or more hours a day.
  • 26% of Gen Z uses their smartphones for 10 or more hours a day. 
  • Millennials and Gen Z spend almost 4 or 5 hours a day on social media.
  • 54% of Gen-Z says social media influences them more than any other marketing channel.


Gen Z uses media and social media differently than other generations.

While established social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter still have plenty of traffic, teenagers and very young adults are increasingly turning to emerging platforms like Snapchat and TikTok. In fact, the most popular social media sites among teenagers in 2020 were Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram (in that order). YouTube is also hugely popular with Generation Z. 

Here are a few facts to keep in mind when it comes to Snapchat:

  • Snapchat ads are 7x more efficient than TV ads at reaching Gen Z.
  • 72% of Snapchat ad viewers weren’t even reachable by TV ads. 
  • 38% of Snapchat users aren't on Instagram.

TikTok is an excellent way to reach Generation Z:

  • As of July 2020, there were over 90 million monthly active TikTok users in the United States alone.
  • 41% of TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24. 
  • 90% of these users say they use the app daily.

Instagram has huge numbers of young adult users: 

  • Instagram has 1 billion monthly active users globally.
  • 500 million users access Instagram globally per day.
  • 90% of Instagram users are under the age of 35.
  • 62% of Gen-Z checks Instagram daily. 


  • 60% of Gen-Z visits YouTube daily. 
  • Gen Z watches between two and four hours of YouTube and less than an hour of traditional television per day. 

Learn more about how millennials and Gen Z use social media differently with our Social Media Behavior infographic.

MSSmedia Social Media Behavior



Given this information, the best places for colleges to advertise are …



Since colleges cater almost exclusively to Millennial and Gen Z audiences, a digital presence is vital for student recruitment success.  A holistic digital marketing campaign will include display, video, search, and social advertising.

When it comes to social, don’t discount the established platforms. Facebook still has a massive reach, Twitter is an excellent place to reach millennials with a hashtag strategy, and Instagram appeals to both millennials and Generation Z. To best reach and engage the youngest members of your target audience, consider utilizing one or more emerging media platforms as well.

You can’t go wrong with including a well-designed and properly targeted Google search and/or display ad campaign. And YouTube is an excellent platform for higher education advertising as well as highlighting program features, providing virtual campus tours, etc.

MSSmedia PPC 10 Stats That Show Value





Younger generations look for connection - moments that they can discover and share. 

In fact, 79% of millennials believe that participating in events helps them connect better with their friends, communities and the world at large. Given this, and the incredible value of out-of-home (OOH) campaigns, we strongly recommend including traditional media in your higher education advertising efforts.



MSSmedia OOH and DOOH



Build your brand voice and capture revenue through strategically placed outdoor and transit advertising, print advertisements, chalk art, and graffiti. Advertise at local high school events, on campus (where relevant), and on transit routes frequented by your target audience. 

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



Are you interested in learning more about how to create a successful higher education advertising campaign?

See our complete guide: Recruiting Students – A Marketing Plan to Increase College Enrollment





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 MSS Media, Inc. 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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