How Do You Find Your School’s Unique Message? Go Deeper Than Buzzwords

Carnegie Higher Ed Apr 10, 2023 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

At Carnegie, we place ourselves in the shoes of students and dive deep into a client’s competitors’ marketing so that we can give our clients the advantage. As we wade the waters of viewbooks, digital ads, social media posts, videos, and websites, we’ve noticed trends in what higher ed institutions are saying about themselves right now. And we’ve found a lot of those schools using the exact same words.

For example, coming out of the pandemic, most schools messaged a variation of “we support you” and spoke proudly of their “resilient students during these uncertain times.” While messages of student support may always be prolific, we have observed a broad, distinct turn in messaging over the last year.

Popular Higher Ed Buzzwords in 2023

Here are the higher education buzzwords we are now seeing in 2022–2023:

  1. Successful: Many colleges and universities have begun to emphasize how successful their programs are at producing desirable career outcomes and student, alumni, and faculty accomplishments.
  2. World-class: Most research universities claim that they offer a “world-class education,” and many other colleges and universities are following suit.
  3. Transformative: This one is used in various contexts, from the education being transformative, the students having a transformative experience, or being a school that transforms lives, people, places, or communities.
  4. Innovative: Nary a marketing product goes by without a claim of innovative research and teaching methods, buildings, and curriculum.
  5. Supportive: As noted earlier, messages of being a supportive college or university were abundant during and immediately after the pandemic. While claims of being supportive are still prevalent, they seem to be receding in favor of other buzzwords.

Find your unique message

The problem with buzzwords is well-known: as a word becomes overused, it loses its depth of meaning. Marketers tend to be particularly guilty of this linguistic misstep: as a new buzzword gains popularity, they quickly bandy it around until it loses meaning. The fast pace of digital marketing has quickened the meteoric rise and fall in the popularity of buzzwords.

Gen Z is deeply immersed in trends that have a quick moment. Yet, amid all the noise, research shows that Gen Z values authenticity in messaging and a defined brand story. So at Carnegie, we recommend that instead of using the latest buzzwords, a school should do the deep work of understanding who it is and communicate that unique personality and story to future students.

To avoid overreliance on buzzwords, keep these tips in mind:

  • Define your terms. For example, is your school’s education experience truly transformative? That’s fantastic! Define what you mean by “transformative” by getting to the message underlying it. How does “transformative” have a particular meaning at your school?
  • Get concrete and specific. What evidence can you cite that shows transformation is an authentic experience at your school? Or, how does being a world-class institution affect students’ actual, day-to-day experience on campus?
  • Get personal. Tell a story and show the faces of actual students, alumni, or faculty that can bring your message to life and spark a feeling of connection with future students.

Sometimes being part of the crowd is a good thing. When you use words everyone already understands you don’t have to spend time defining what you mean. But, in a crowded market, differentiation is everything and you should take any chance you have to go deeper and create something special.


Contact Carnegie to refine the messaging for your institution. If you’re thinking of a messaging refresh, Carnegie offers best-in-class digital marketing and creative services to help you do just that. Reach out to start a conversation.


This blog is brought to you by Allie Brown and Gia Lineberry, Strategic Writers on Carnegie’s Signature Creative team.

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