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For many students, choosing a college or university to attend is associated with joining an illustrious tradition of successful graduates who have leveraged their learning to achieve their dreams. A school’s reputation consists of more than academic excellence and research as recognized by international rankings – the influence that notable alumni can have on prospective students shouldn’t be underestimated.

Graduates that have gone on to make their mark in the world can serve as inspiring role models for present and future students while enhancing their alma mater’s legacy and public visibility. Important alumni achievements like prestigious awards, business success, scientific innovation or entertainment fame may elevate your school’s media attention, rankings (Nobel prizes and Fields medals are attributed a strong weight factor in some listings), and evidence of academic excellence. Famous alumni provide instant credibility to a school’s development potential, even if they graduated a century ago.

university alumni famous marketing

Your school’s brand identity can be defined by how you tell your story, the distinctive characteristics that combine to shape the way you’re perceived. Every education institution has its own unique strengths – innovative courses, an ideal campus location, impressive graduate employment rates, awesome faculty. If you have famous alumni, why not flaunt it?

Featuring Notable Alumni on your School Website

University is a time for exploration, for finding oneself. Many students are eager to identify with trailblazing past graduates and may envision themselves as proudly following their path. Featuring these notable alumni prominently in your marketing communications also demonstrates possible career progressions to the parents of prospective students in impactful ways. Both students and parents want to see real stats and real stories of future outcomes to justify their return on investment.

As your most essential marketing resource, your official website has a tall order to fill, communicating extensive information to a variety of diverse audiences in a manner that’s visually appealing and easily navigated. While alumni generally earn their own dedicated section, it’s less common to find schools that prominently showcase their successful alumni so that prospects can imagine themselves as part of this continuum of greatness.

There are numerous ways that this can be achieved, such as highlighting new alumni accomplishments in a News section, namedropping famous former students under an About tab, or even showing off successes of particular nationalities on the relevant international student recruitment pages.

Here are some of the better “notable alumni” sections out there:

Example: Kenyon College has been rightly celebrated for various aspects of its website design, including easily scanned statistics, compelling visuals and clever layout. Its “After Kenyon” section, featured on the main navigation menu, showcases “Notable Kenyon Alumni” with a scrollable image carousel and a list below divided into five subject categories.

university website marketing

Example: Arts and design colleges tend to be extra colourful and creative in presenting their star graduates, but Ringling College of Art + Design has a particularly impressive alumni success section, easily found under the main menu’s Career Readiness tab. The fluidly scrollable page features great images and write-ups of its Oscar winners, famous artists and CEOs, as well as a summary video linking study to dream jobs, and special sections highlighting its connections to leading employers like Pixar.

college marketing student recruitment alumni

Example: You don’t have to have movie stars, pro athletes and famous inventers to promote your alumni successes. Georgian College features “Inspirational Alumni” under its website’s Community section, including a pioneering First Nations chief, a chief of police, and many thriving entrepreneurs.

college inspiring alumni

Example: I like how Australian creative media college SAE Institute promotes its grad successes as “Alumni Superstars”, under the Showcase section of its website. Each profile can be clicked on to reveal a brief bio and an informative interview, inspiring students to pursue similar heights.

college website marketing

Promoting Famous Alumni in Inbound Marketing Efforts

There is usually a good correlation between the size of a school’s community of successful alumni and its international fame. It’s a ripple effect that expands gradually over time, escalated by the size of the grad’s stardom, until students from around the world become increasingly interested in joining your campus. Inbound marketing similarly expands your influence through the worldwide web by placing valuable and relevant content before targeted audiences, developing connections that inspire prospective students to take the next steps.

Example: Writing about your famous alumni in a search-engine-optimized blog is a great way to connect your prestigious alma mater with your main marketing messages in a compelling story. Lakefield College School’s alumni include the Duke of York and the current King of Spain – not bad for a little boarding school in rural Ontario.

lcs blog inbound marketing school

Include notable accomplishments from alumni in your social media marketing to both inspire engagement (and donations) from your alumni community and demonstrate what current and future students can aspire to. Every channel you’re active on can help spread the word, though certain sites are better for specific goals – for instance, Duke University’s official WeChat account focuses on alumni events in China and regularly showcases famous Chinese Duke alumni.

LinkedIn unfortunately removed its “Notable Alumni” section in its latest update but there are still general career insights available showing where alumni tend to work. Great content is central to an effective Facebook page, optimized with stirring images, an informative ‘About’ section, and call-to-action button like “Sign Up”. Here’s how Georgia State University shared a story about its successful alumni:

facebook gsu alumni promotion

When Alumni Go to the Dark Side

Few university administrations are eager to wade in on political issues when it’s already challenging enough to attempt raising support and money from diverse students and alumni across the political spectrum. However, the surprising result of the last US election has provoked some schools to react and others to remain conspicuously silent.

Leading up to the election, numerous schools voiced concerns about how a Trump presidency could threaten the influx of international students, on which so many depend. Needless to say, their fears have been more than justified – some programs are already showing drops of as much as 30% from 2016 levels. It seems engineering and computer science programs, typically the most reliant on international students, have been hardest hit. Meanwhile, applications to Canadian universities from US students have soared since Trump’s election.

Last year, a record of more than a million international students pursued higher education in the United States. The timing of application decreases thus far, already projected to cost US colleges and universities billions of dollars, suggest that they are a result of anti-immigration rhetoric during the election campaign. It remains to be seen how the travel ban against Muslim-majority countries and other misguided policies will effect student recruitment but hundreds of schools issued statements condemning the action and expressing support for their multicultural communities.

The University of Pennsylvania has no comment about its most famous alumnus, Donald Trump, who graduated from Wharton, Penn’s school of business, and whose children attended the school. Students have been critical of Penn’s leaders for taking Trump’s donations while preventing administrators from publicly commenting on his rise with a gag order. Over 4,000 members of the Wharton community, including at least 30 professors, denounced Trump in an open letter last summer, insisting he “does not represent us”, clearly concerned about the university’s brand reputation.

The president of Trinity Washington University, on the other hand, has been particularly outspoken about one of its famous graduates. “Presidential Counselor Kellyanne Conway, Trinity Class of 1989, has played a large role in facilitating the manipulation of facts and encouraging the grave injustice being perpetrated by the Trump Administration’s war on immigrants among many other issues,” wrote Patricia McGuire recently.

trinity twitter social media reputation

The longtime president of the small Catholic woman’s college has frequently taken to Twitter and her blog to criticize Trump, his “alternative facts” and his administration. While university presidents were once prominent figures in national conversations, it’s uncommon for presidents these days to risk offending potential donors with personal views. For McGuire, it’s not about politics but rather about upholding the truth.

“I don’t go around denouncing our alumnae,” she said, but “I want to be on the record: We don’t condone lying. We can’t say someone is exempt from that.”

It raises interesting issues for higher education marketing – are institutions compelled to denounce (in)famous alumni when silence (or “institutional neutrality”) might imply condoning behaviour that diminishes a university’s core values? When your famous alumni are perceived positively, it’s a great opportunity to showcase your connection to their successes, but when an association with a controversial grad risks your hard-earned reputation and student recruitment potential, it may be necessary to visibly distance yourself.

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How does your school showcase your famous or inspiring alumni?