High School Marketing 101
On March 17th 2022, as part of Enrollment Resources’ Partner Webinar series, Lee Doubleday, Director of Operations at the Imagine America Foundation, gave an insightful look into why post-secondary schools need to maximize their marketing and recruitment efforts in the high school market. He touched on the best practices to help get a campaign started, what it requires, and how having a scholarship program helps separate your school from others.
Below is a summary of what Lee taught us, in 3 parts:
- Who the high school student is and how they’re influenced
- Why you should care about high school recruiting
- How to create a 5-step strategy for high school recruitment
Watch the full video now! A summary of the presentation and an AI-generated transcript are also available below the video.
Who the high school student is and how they’re influenced
If you’re like the many schools that work with Imagine America, interested in getting in front of junior and senior level high school students, here are some interesting points to consider:
- They are around 16 to 18 years old.
- 77% have taken at least one course in career technical education at the high school level: something that has changed in the last 10, 12 years
- Of the career tech students, 40% identify as male and 33% identify as female
- Are more likely to be members of student-led organizations like SkillsUSA, DECA, and Future Farmers of America
- They prefer more hands-on learning in the classroom environment
Many of today’s high school seniors have witnessed the generations before them attend traditional colleges only to graduate with no job prospects available in their fields, settling for low-paid, “low-skill” jobs.
As a result, this has led to students applying for scholarships through entities like Imagine America Foundation, adamant in looking for alternate career paths because to them, traditional college seemed both way too expensive and ineffective.
One study done by Big Rentz found that only 16% of this generation believes that an education in the skilled trades can lead to high paying jobs. And we know that’s just simply not true, so there’s an enormous opportunity to educate this new wave of students.
More numbers to consider:
- Only 48% of the high school students graduating in 2020 were interested in a four-year university path
- That was down 23% from earlier that same year
Of the students contemplating a traditional university route;
- 74% said that a career-based education made more sense in today’s economy
- 63% said that the top place to learn is in a hands-on lab
Where do they go to get their post-secondary information? There is one major influencer on a high school student’s decision on where they want to go to school, and it is not a celebrity. After parents, it’s the high school counselor, which is why relationships with counselors are vitally important to your high school recruitment strategy.
Why you should care about high school recruiting
Something that the Imagine America Foundation is seeing: part of the scholarship application requires a high school counselor to nominate a student, which has led to challenges.
Partly due to COVID, there has been a large exodus of experienced high school counselors who retired a little early, ushering in younger, fresh out of college counselors who are either unfamiliar with current technical education, or bring with them preconceived notions of career and technical education. This leaves a very interesting opportunity to educate and talk about career schools, what they do, and to articulate the advantages of helping their students choose a non-traditional college.
“…there has been a large exodus of experienced high school counselors, ushering in younger counselors who are unfamiliar with current technical education…”
In general, high school seniors have seen the generations before them go to traditional colleges and graduate with no job prospects, then being left with heavy student loans. Now more than ever, the demand for skilled workers is dramatically increasing while the baby boomer generation is starting to retire.
It’s a very good time, and a very unique opportunity, to establish relationships with high schools and recruit high school students. It’s not easy – and it’s very worth it.
How to create a strategy for high school recruitment
There is a five-step strategy to help you start establishing relationships with the high schools. In terms of ROI or value for your institution, given the amount of effort career schools need to put in, not many are doing it, which gives you a competitive advantage.
Schools following this five-step strategy could expect:
- to expand by two to three high schools every year
- to be talking to classrooms of 60+ students
- established relationships with counselors and teachers
- your school to be top of mind
If your school can recruit just one to two students every year from nurtured high schools, that translates to a good return on investment.
Step one – do your research.
Start with the catchment areas you already recruit students from. Start near your campus, with the public high schools in your area, and work outward from there. Add in a search for all teacher, counselor, educator, and student-led groups and associations. Who runs them? Can you easily get in contact with the organizers?
Step two – establish partnerships.
You’re going to need partnerships in order to do this.
And not just partnerships with high schools – your school needs partnerships with organizations that will help you create relationships with those high schools.
Create relationships with organizations and council state associations: exhibit at or attend shows where the educators and teachers are going to be. Attend as many as you can to build your database of high school counselors and educators. Build upon your list of attendees and offer something to their schools.
Build partnerships with the employers that hire your graduates – they may wish to come with you to speak about their industries as well as their experience hiring your students. It’s one thing for you to talk about your school, but it’s another thing for a partner you work with to talk about your school; it builds your credibility.
Step three – maintain relationships.
One of the core strengths of career schools is that they are community-based. That connection to the community is part of the differentiation of the sector: the importance of connecting with the community cannot be overstated.
Stay in consistent communication with the partnerships you have created to promote in-person or virtual events. Give them the opportunity to speak about the different things their students are interested in and about the career paths available to them. This deeper understanding will also allow you to smoothly transition and maintain a relationship with the school in the event of staff reorganization.
“Help make their jobs easier.”
Initiate relationships, nurture them over time, support them with things that are of interest to the high school counselors. Help make their jobs easier. Talk to them about your employer relationships, graduation rates, and length of programs (which is another huge ROI for students), that they have the opportunity to graduate faster and start working right away.
Step four – differentiate your school
Always offer something before you ask for anything.
Some career schools offer assistance by sponsoring a FAFSA night – have your financial aid officer set themselves up to help students (and their parents) fill out a FAFSA. This gives an opportunity to ask questions where your school is the one helping. The majority of students may not even be interested in going to your school but the idea is that you are offering something to the high school, to the counselor.
Even if a student isn’t interested in your school right now, there are students that start out in traditional post-secondary/community college where they decide it’s not for them. Your school will be top of mind when they go looking for opportunities. Your school will be remembered for providing value.
Remember, all of this is not a lead generation tactic: it’s relationship PR.
Put together offerings a high school counselor can use:
- Information packets (with your business card, logo, a few laminated pieces of resources) so that the counselors have them right on their desk
- Handouts with statistics, career outlooks, and what it’s like to work in certain industries on all of the different programs your school teaches
- Give branded informational or infographic posters/print-outs to hang up in their office – a really great way to get your foot in the door
- Offer a scholarship program – always a great way to support the community and remain visible
Imagine America Foundation has also seen a large increase in the number of scholarship applications from homeschool associations. There tends to be fewer resources on career and college education than there would be at a traditional high school – help these associations by providing the same information to them as you did for the traditional high schools.
Step five – sponsor events
Sponsoring events is important to creating and maintaining community. Have your school host events at your campus, or sponsor external events. Look to organizations like SkillsUSA where there are regular events and an ongoing need for hosts for the regional and state competitions.
“…create ambassadors at that high school for your career fields…”
Always remember to include homeschool association meetings and events: usually there is no counselor department at homeschool association meetings. Your school could be talking directly with students and their parents about your programs and schools.
Offer free professional development to the teachers, instructors, and shop instructors. Give them learning field trip opportunities and treat their handful of students to a day of discovery and cool experiences. Your school will need to cover all the expenses – the bus ride, insurance, food, etc. – but with consistency and usefulness comes a positive ROI. You’ll create ambassadors at that high school for your career fields.
The number one mistake career schools make is not keeping up with the partnerships. You’re trying to establish relationships with counselors, associations, and high schools, and it is not done overnight. It could take more than a year to establish some really solid relationships where you’re able to go in and recruit students. If you’re able to recruit three, four students every single year from 10 high schools around your campus locations, what would that mean for your school? Is that worth the investment? At the end of a year, two years, three years, that’s where you’ll really see the results.
- look at the state counselor association meetings
- look at the homeschool association meetings
- look at what you currently have within your own building
- give school counselors information they can use
- invite high schools to attend a night where you help students fill out their FAFSA
- invite teachers to come and learn about your campus and the different tools their students could be using
- always be consistent
Your high school recruiting project is a campaign where you’re building a community – not just leads.
~ article summarized from the original work of Lee Doubleday, Director of Operations at the Imagine America Foundation
Take your high school recruiting to the next level with Virtual Adviser’s cost-effective lead generation tool specifically designed to engage high school prospects and help them to explore if career education is right for them. Call Enrollment Resources today at 250-391-9494 or contact us through this website.