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Higher Education Marketing

Marketing your School’s Summer Programs

Date posted: May 7, 2014

This is the time of the year when colleges and universities are seeking to increase enrolment in their summer programs, which are a great way to attract students to your institution that might not have otherwise attended in the regular term. Whether it’s getting the attention of international students with a summer program specifically tailored to them, or running a niche summer program in a particular discipline to spark some interest, summer programs can do wonders for attracting new students.

Marketing your university’s summer program can be challenging, as students may be reluctant to stick around and study during the summer when they could be working or enjoying time off. However, on the upside, the commitment required from students is much lower than deciding to pursue an entire degree. This means that with the right student recruitment strategies, students are more apt to take the opportunity to explore a new city and experience all that your university has to offer. In a lot of ways, marketing your school’s summer programming is about marketing an experience, not just a great program or course.

summer marketing materials

Highlight the benefits of experiencing another campus (becoming familiar with potential programs and the associated faculty, resources and networking opportunities) or even an exotic new country (as in John Cabot University’s brochure showcasing their Summer Sessions in Rome). Many universities offer summer camps and special classes for orienting international and transfer students with academic courses, English language training or leadership skill building. If you are trying to attract teenagers to these sessions, you might want to avoid the term “summer school.” “It conjures up the image of kids lined up in rows of desks learning material they didn’t cover during the school year,” opines Ron Fairchild, an education consultant and former director of the Johns Hopkins University Center of Summer Learning, in an interview with US News.

“Many districts are doing away with that old notion of summer school,” he says. “Increasingly we’re seeing schools teaming with other organisations to create programmes parents and kids want. Summer is a season that’s celebrated unlike any other. In popular media, in advertising, [and] in music, it’s associated with freedom. So the last thing you want to do is construct a programme or strategy that takes that away. We don’t want to be seen as the Grinches [who] stole summer vacation; we want kids to get outdoors and see the connection between doing the things they love and learning about those things.”

So how do you best market your summer program to prospective students?

Celebrate your City’s Unique Flair

For most summer programs, leveraging the things that make your college and your city unique is the best way to increase lead generation – show them what experiences you can offer that aren’t available anywhere else.

Example:  McGill University is great at showcasing the unique landmarks and culture of Montreal. The program page for their International Summer Program at the Desautels Faculty of Management includes links to the tourism Quebec website as well as information about the amazing festivals the city has to offer, such as Just For Laughs and the Montreal Jazz Festival.

summer content strategy

McGill leverages Montreal’s famous cultural activities as a way to intrigue students, highlighting its artistic and multicultural nature. Since summer programs are shorter and more intensive, universities are able to market them as a once in a lifetime academic and cultural experience, not just a program. Thus, aspects of the city like its parks, concerts, night life and festivals are just as much a part of the package as the courses they offer.

Put the Spotlight on your Unique Summer Programs

Since summer courses tend to be attended in fewer numbers than regular semester courses, making every effort to showcase what makes your program unique or out of the ordinary is key to attracting students. This push for visibility of your summer programs will also help by making existing students aware of ways they can stick around and take on a speciality summer course instead of moving elsewhere to look for summer work.

If you have a unique program or course that seems to attract more students than others, be sure to set up a dedicated page for that program to increase the scope of its influence. If all of your summer courses are only located in your course calendar and you’re not showcasing the really unique and popular ones, then you’re losing out on valuable leads.

Example: The University of Manitoba highlights their Summer University Advantage program, a summer session geared toward recent high school graduates who want a head-start on their university experience, on their summer sessions website. The program provides students with an introduction to university and campus life and helps to integrate them into the lifestyle before the fall semester hits and everything gets chaotic. By appealing to students who are keen on getting a head start on the school year or just prefer a less hectic and rushed transition, and actively promoting the program, the university attracts students that it may not have otherwise had.

summer content marketing

Using the Power of Student Voices

Because summer sessions can be a bit of a tough sell to students, using testimonials from past students is a great way to convince prospective summer students of the quality of the course, as well as the perks. Instituting a practice of getting students who complete a summer course or program to send their feedback will not only alert you of what may or may not be working in the way you’re structuring your program, but give you excellent testimonials to feature on the university’s website as a way to entice students to stick around during the summer.

Example:  McGill University has a page of student testimonials for their international summer program that all touch on the aspects of the program that the university is already promoting. This not only helps to corroborate how McGill is presenting their program, but adds a dimension of authenticity to the promotion of the program. Including student voices is a much more natural and appealing way of selling aspects of the program, as students are more likely to listen to other students than to copy on the university’s program page.

Promoting an Experience

As previously mentioned, because summer programs offer less commitment than choosing an entire degree, there is much more room to play around with the aspect of promoting programs as fully immersive experiences, and not just summer classes. It’s as much about experiencing a new university and an entirely different cultural landscape as it is about academia. Finding ways to include pieces of the rich culture and entertainment of your city in aspects of your program is essential for creating an experience. Partnering with local festivals or conferences or combining programs with visits to historical sites and cultural landmarks is a great way to add extra incentive for students and a great way to bolster enrolment in the summer term.

Example:  Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta offers students the opportunity to embark on a multitude of great optional trips when studying at the university for its Summer Immersion English Program. Students can choose from great trip packages like the Calgary Stampede package or the Alberta Badlands day trip to get the most out of their experience studying at the university. The university allows students to register for the trips at the same time they register for the program.

website content marketing

While it’s true that summer programs can be a little more challenging to market to students than traditional semester ones, the key is as much visibility as possible on your website. Many universities bury the information about their summer courses deep in the recesses of their site and don’t make it a point to talk about them, much less highlight the benefits, then wonder why enrolment is low. Consider what you can offer students out of the ordinary in a summer program and make these benefits clear in your content strategy and development.

What are some things that your college does to make your summer programs stand out?