Speak Their Language: How To Tailor Your Higher Ed Copy To Appeal To Different Audiences

Luke Hanshaw Mar 28, 2023 Luke Hanshaw Digital Advertising Copywriter Persona The Eclectic and Industrious Pioneer

As a higher education marketer, you know there are big differences between undergrad and grad audiences, and even more nuanced differences between other, smaller segments (like international and adult audiences, for example). Consider these recommendations from the Carnegie Copywriting Team to ensure that your messages to these groups really hit home.

Undergraduate Students

Prospective undergrads may not be sure what they want to major in, but they all want to find a school where they’ll fit in, feel at home, and can build their future. In addition to the academic centric information you send, stand out with specific, non-academic, information, including:

  • Emotional appeals that show the personality of the school and student body
  • Financial information – think scholarships, work-study, internships, etc
  • Career outcomes — e.g. how a particular major will prepare them for a certain field
  • Opportunities to get involved, such as interest-relevant clubs and organizations
  • A sense of place — Where will they live? Who will they live with? What’s the vibe on campus?

Parents of Students

College is a tough transition for students and their parents (or guardians). This audience often is very involved in their student’s choice of school and major—not only because they care about their student’s future, but also because they may be footing some of the bill. Give them the following:

  • Financial information, such as scholarships, work-study opportunities, etc.
  • Career outcomes, including any information about the school’s career services
  • Statistics about campus and/or town safety (low crime rates)
  • Information about their student’s living space (dorms, dining services, health centers, etc.)

Transfer Students

Transfer students are more experienced in the college application process than undergraduate students. Transfering can be intimidating both bureaucratically (transfer of credits and academic progress) and socially (entering an unfamiliar environment). For this reason, balance emotional appeals with practical information by including information like:

  • The number of transfer students at the school or in the program
  • Information about transfer credit policies, articulation agreements, and academic advising
  • Statistics about transfer students (e.g. employment rate, percentage who work full-time)
  • If targeting adult transfer students, information about flexibility (can the student expect to work while enrolled?)
  • Awards and rankings to show that a program is worth a prospect’s time and money

Note: Every student’s experience is different. Some transfer students start their education at a four-year college and then switch to a community college, or the other way around. Not to mention, students transfer for different reasons. For more info about how to appeal to transfer students, see this guide by mStoner and the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, or this Carnegie blog on the importance of transfer-specific web content.

Graduate Students

Graduate students already have a college degree under their belts. In general, they care about making good investments (of time and money) and will respond to clear information about:

  • Impressive program and school rankings
  • Financial information, such as available scholarships, affordability vs. other programs, etc.
  • Length of program and flexibility options (is it full- or part-time? On-campus or online?)
  • Specific program highlights, including research opportunities, networking, and opportunities for professional development

Adult Students

Similar to transfer students, adult students have more life experience than the average undergraduate. Members of this audience are likely juggling commitments such as a job or caring for a family and see earning a degree or certificate as a path to a better life for themselves and their families. Appeal to them with practical information, including:

  • Information about the flexibility of the program (part-time, weekend classes, etc.)
  • Where available, information about the number of adult learners at the school or whether the department is dedicated to adult education
  • Career outcomes — e.g. what support will they receive from career services?
  • Financial information, including affordability information, scholarships, etc.

International Audiences

Prospective international students are considering leaving their home country (and their families and friends) to study abroad in the USA. This is a big and expensive life move, so you will want to make them feel welcome. Here are some topics to cover in your copy:

  • Financial information, including any available financial aid or scholarships offered by the school/department
  • Statistics about the number of international students at the school
  • Awards, rankings, and program-specific accolades that reassure the investment
  • Information about campus life — it may not be possible to visit in person, paint a picture of life at your institution.
  • Events and/or university offices dedicated to welcoming and supporting international students (e.g. a separate international student orientation)

Note: International students are not eligible for Federal Student Aid.

Remember: Audiences Overlap

Keep in mind that many students hold multiple identities. A transfer student could also be an international student, an undergraduate student could also be an adult student. Regardless of the audience you’re writing for, remember that your audience is multicultural and compromises people of various backgrounds, races, ethnicities, abilities, and LGBTQ+ identities. When writing for multicultural audiences, consider that there may be gaps in your own knowledge. Consult APA’s Inclusive Language Guidelines to keep your copy respectful and inclusive.

Good Copy = Real Results

The numbers don’t lie. According to Salesforce, 66% of customers now think companies should understand their needs and expectations and 71% expect personalization.

Simply put — your institution might have the highest ranking programs, the best research opportunities, and one of the strongest alumni networks in the country. But if you’re not giving your audience the information they want and need, they’ll disengage. Identify the audiences you’re writing for and write compelling, focused content that resonates with them. These tips offer a great place to start!

Still needing some help with your content strategy? See how Carnegie is leading the way in higher education marketing! Start a conversation today about how Carnegie can help with your audience specific copy!

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