3 Universities Stand Out from the Crowd

These institutions market to prospective students who are looking for colleges that align with their personalities and interests, as well as their academic goals.

By: Anne Albanese
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With thousands of higher education options available, it can be challenging for institutions to come across as unique to potential students. Most have similar offerings, but some schools focus marketing efforts on specific audiences or promote exclusive benefits. 

We found three schools that entice potential students by focusing on housing options, a one-of-a-kind curriculum or a specific religion.

1. For Those Seeking Inclusion

Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, offers unique housing choices. Approximately 20% of students live in one of five subject-based houses, not unlike the Hogwarts houses in Harry Potter, which are assigned based upon a year-long intensive writing seminar that students choose and take as freshmen. 

At F&M, all four-year students are required to live in college housing, and these five interest-specific houses allow students to meet people with shared goals.  

  • Bonchek College House residents focus on strong student leadership, community service and social events.
  • Brooks College House residents focus on developing inclusion and diversity, which creates a strong sense of community. 
  • Roschel College House residents focus on personal and professional development. The dormitory was the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified structure on campus. 
  • Ware College House residents focus on pursuing reason and truth while being active agents for good in the world.
  • Weiss College House residents focus on positively impacting the campus through intellectual stimulation.

Different from standard dormitories, a faculty member is assigned to each house along with traditional resident advisors. F&M describes the houses as “dynamic spaces where students and faculty are encouraged to continue conversations begun in the classroom, lab or office.” With 200-250 students in each house, the faculty “dons” help students adjust to the new environment, as well as plan activities and create a close-knit community. 

The houses at F&M provide new students with an immediate sense of belonging because they are surrounded by others with the same interests and values. According to Douglas Adams, associate dean of students at F&M, members are much more emotionally connected to their fellow housemates, providing a friendlier environment.

“These students are looking for a greater connection than is available in a typical dormitory,” said Adams. “These houses offer unique activities and relationships including house activities, house-themed swag and upperclassmen friendships to help freshmen to adjust to their new school.” 

Unique Marketing Tactics

F&M uses specific tactics to educate potential students about its unique offerings, including social media, promotional materials and, previously, a YouTube video series called F&Mtv Cribs. Often, students need information on how the houses, dormitories and off-campus living differ. 

“We educate candidates through a variety of methods,” said Adams. “We include information on how the houses compare to typical dorms on campus tours, and we offer information on our website, as well as promoting activities planned by each house, which are very well attended.” 

Beyond the role of traditional dormitories as sleeping quarters, the F&M houses engage in community service, such as Service Saturdays, to educate the Lancaster region about the college and how it contributes to the community. The most effective communications come directly from the houses through these types of events and the accompanying social media posts.

2. For Those Seeking Widespread Knowledge

As many in the industry have noted, college curriculums tend to be similar across the country. However, St. John’s College with campuses in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, has offered students a unique curriculum since 1937. 

St. John’s College is a non-profit, coed liberal arts institution that does not offer diverse majors. Instead, students who attend St. John’s College are interested in a broad classic education. The curriculum is designed for the development of critical thinking and writing rather than learning specific career skills.

St. John’s students vary demographically, and they bring a variety of interests, ideas and beliefs to classroom discussions. They come from nearly every state, and 15-20% of the students are from abroad. 

The student body continues to be as diverse as the curriculum. Each year, approximately 30% are students of color; 20% are Pell Grant recipients; and 15% are first-generation college students. St. Johns has a large LGBTQ+ community and has students of deep religious faith and no religious faith. 

“All students graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts,” said Ben Baum, vice president of enrollment. “Our students love books and ideas, and they can’t wait to join a community equally as excited to discuss them. Often, our students want a college where they can study across many subjects without being forced to choose a siloed, narrow major.” 

Students take four years of mathematics, two years of ancient Greek, two years of French, three years of laboratory sciences and two years of music. To allow variety within the schedules, students can choose different classes within each discipline and attend bi-weekly seminars, during which they discuss interdisciplinary texts that span the school’s curriculum.

“Students have the shared experience of reading approximately 200 great books spanning 3,000 years of history,” said Baum. “The books are interdisciplinary and include philosophy, literature, politics, law, history, music, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, language and more.”

Students who don’t have a specific industry in mind but enjoy critical thinking tend to be successful at St. John’s College. They must be open to a varied curriculum that requires participation in every class and does not provide individualized training for specific careers. 

“We know St. John’s isn’t for every student,” said Baum. “But it’s the perfect fit for the right ones.”

For those who find it a perfect fit, the opportunities for graduate and advanced degrees are as varied as the student demographics. Graduates work in business, public service, healthcare education and STEM. Broadcast and print media are also popular careers, as well as art and design. Notably, 100% of the alumni who have pursued a law degree have been accepted into their law schools of choice since 2012. 

Unique Marketing Tactics

Because of its curriculum and structure, St. John’s seeks a very specific applicant. Using the same promotional programs as typical higher education institutions is too expensive to gather a population of 250 students per year. Although students may first become acquainted with the school through alumni, teachers or admissions professionals, many are recruited through a unique marketing system. 

Rather than sending out a college publication, the admissions department will send out a copy of Plato’s “Meno.” This provides potential students with a glimpse of St. John’s classics orientation. In addition, all recruitment documents are written in the style of authors who are part of the curriculum.

“Instead of just sending emails about the college, we send emails that look like they come ‘from’ authors in our curriculum,” explained Baum.

3. For Those Seeking Religion

Brigham Young University is focused on religion and was “founded, supported and guided” by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). BYU administrators are trying to reach a variety of different audiences, most of whom are part of the LDS religion.  

“Helping students to develop their full divine potential is central to both our teaching and our scholarship,” said Todd Hollingshead, BYU’s media relations and information manager. “As the flagship higher education institution of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU strives to emit a unique light for the benefit of the world.”

Like most institutions, BYU tries to reach the general public with its unique message and to produce changemakers in the world. The university offers strong academics and research, but it is widely known for its religious affiliation. To increase reach, administrators regularly communicate with potential employers, prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty and staff. 

“We want those who shape the culture of organizations and communities to know BYU better and understand how we seek to help all of God’s children because that is what Jesus Christ would have us do,” added Hollingshead. 

Unique Marketing Tactics

Unlike Franklin and Marshall and St. John’s College, BYU is more well-known to its target audience. However, this does not mean that the university foregoes marketing campaigns. If anything, the school has utilized farther-reaching and more diverse tactics than the other institutions on this list.

BYU shares its unique message through a variety of common channels. It markets through platforms on which LDS students are listening to music and podcasts and watching streamed videos and YouTube. 

  • For potential employers, LinkedIn, airports, news and informational websites and billboards have been effective and received industry accolades. 
  • For potential and current students, the school posts ads and sponsored content on YouTube, Spotify, Pandora and YouTube Music. Music is a large part of the Mormon faith, and BYU uses its two well-known a capella groups, BYU Vocal Point and BYU Noteworthy, to reach its target audience through performances.  
  • To increase alumni and faculty engagement, BYU developed a television channel called BYUtv. Video advertisements for the university take place during breaks of the General Conference, which are live appearances of global faith leaders. The school also advertises in local magazines throughout Utah and in BYU’s alumni magazine, Y Magazine.

Using the campaign “For the Benefit of the World,” BYU not only secured the eyes and ears of potential students and their families at Salt Lake City International Airport and Provo Municipal Airport but also received an award for creative excellence from the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals.

Although there are many schools with great brand recognition, Brigham Young University, Franklin and Marshall University and St. John’s College all offer unique environments. Students who attend these schools have a one-of-a-kind experience.

Students may have difficulty determining which institution may be the best fit, but schools that offer unique benefits—more importantly, market those differences to their potential students— will stand alone. A top recruiting method for any higher education institution is to distinguish what makes your institution unique.

Anne Albanese

Anne Albanese

Reporter

Anne Young Albanese has more than 30 years of experience in journalism and public relations, covering technology, healthcare, education, travel and leisure and family programs. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and Good Housekeeping. Young earned a BA from Lehigh University in psychology, an MS in communications from Iona College and an MBA from the University of Wisconsin. Young has experience teaching writing and communication law classes at the University of Connecticut in Stamford.


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