How High School Graduates Choose Their Universities

Intake deadlines are close and you haven’t hit your targets. The last campaign you ran drained your budget and all you got was low-quality leads. The problem wasn’t in your execution. It was in your fundamentals.

In this blog post, I tell you how to look at your target audience (graduating high school seniors) in a way that helps you market to them better, get higher-quality applications, and boost your university’s reputation.

how parents help children choose universities


Choosing a university was a daunting task no one prepared me for. My parents didn’t even understand what I was studying.

“Marketing, really?”

…was all they said. They couldn’t help me find a university even if they wanted to.


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Who is your target market?

The market segmentation for universities in UAE is primarily targeted towards students age 18-25 who just got done with their schooling. Data shows that when describing their ideal university, students mainly spoke about ‘accreditation’, ‘ranking’, ‘campus’, ‘extra-curricular activities’, ‘culture’ and ‘international education’ to name a few.

A behavioral segmentation can be used mainly because it targets two things, Firstly, the benefits sought by the consumption of the product/service – in this case, higher education. Secondly, it describes the underlying motive for the consumption.


  • Quality Buyer: Is a student and/or parents who do not look at the cost of the education but rather the quality of education. They are willing to pay any amount. It’s best to use keywords such as ‘accreditation’ ‘ranking’ ‘international education’ ‘renowned’
  • Value Buyer: These are students and/or parents who want good quality of education with a reasonable price tag attached to it. Use keywords such as ‘scholarships’ and ‘financial aid’
  • Leisure Learner: Are those students who place heavy emphasis on culture, environment and experience part of the university life. They seek enjoyable learning experience coupled with an active social life. Using keywords like ‘community’ ‘culture’ ‘experience’ ‘Dubai life’ ‘extra-curricular’ will be more appropriate.


segmentation types of university students


Key factors when choosing a University

  • Proximity to home: Universities should keep in mind to place themselves in urban areas or areas that are easily accessible by public transportation such as busses or metro. They should also keep in mind that the location should have enough parking slots. One of the student grievance was that there weren’t enough parking slots available

“here in knowledge village it’s so difficult to find parking”




  • Influence: 67% of the participants were influenced by word of mouth, which was the most popular method compared to any other promotional media strategies employed by the university. The reason for the success of word-of-mouth media is because referrals from friends and family are a genuine source of information. According to Nielsen 92% of consumers believe in recommendations of their family and friends.


factors influencing students university choice


67% of the participants were influenced by anchoring, that is, information about their current university was the first piece of information they’ve heard of, which along with other factors influenced their decision to study in their respective universities. So, universities should target students while they’re in grades 11 – 12 for anchoring and carry over effects to take place.

  • Course Availability: Different schools provide different programs. For e.g., a friend of mine had his university choice narrowed down to two because he wanted to study Network security.
  • Ranking: UAE or GCC in general does not have a MENA specific ranking system where students can look up the rankings and employability rate and so on. Which is why many fall prey to price heuristics, i.e., high price equals to better quality of education Another issue in Dubai is that there are a lot of universities. Check out whether your university is KHDA/CAA accredited.
  • Financial Aid options: All the factors above are important but at the end of the day cost trumps all. Tuition is about the cost of attending the college, there are other costs such as housing, food, transportation, books etc. Ask yourself, what type of financial aid options are available to you? Scholarships available? What will be your cost once the financial aid/Scholarship is considered?


student funnel university higher education


The Higher Education Funnel

  • Inquiry Generation: At the top of the funnel are all potential students that you want to attract to your university. Prospective students can be divided into 2 categories: those who are aware of the university and those who aren’t. So naturally, you want to create a dialogue with them and engage in a conversation, but mostly communicate how you can solve their problem. Their problem? Getting a successful job 4 years from now. Tell them about the unique benefits of studying in your university.

SEO tactics

  • Converting Inquiries to Applicants: I remember back when I was applying, and I signed up for all the information packages the only people who seemed to call me were University admissions dept. and they were so aggressive in their marketing that I had to lie to each one of them saying I’m studying abroad.
  • Use – Printed marketing collaterals, email marketing, and phone calls

Also make sure the admission process is easy. I remember I got my admission in less than 2 days and it was a hassle-free process.


buyer journey university higher education applicants


  • Financial Yield Tactics: The most relieving part of admissions for me was when I got my scholarship (and no application essay!) because let’s face it university is expensive and even though I’m not paying for it, I couldn’t help but feel guilty for my parents.

Providing scholarships, early bird fees discounts, fee waivers etc is a huge plus point for students and parents.


university referral programs marketing


Key Takeaways

  • Know your target audience and communicate to them on platforms they’re most likely to be on. Don’t expect students to come to you, you have to go to them now.
  • Universities are mostly seen having a flighting advertising schedule that is, they advertise mostly during high school result days and that makes their advertising schedule predictable. Instead, universities should aim for a pulsing advertising schedule. That is, they have a continuous advertising strategy but go peak during result declaration days. Most students start searching for their universities before the examination has taken place and advertising at this point will help your university stay in the consideration set.
  • The changing attitude of students regarding how they see education is different from the previous generation. If universities can frame themselves more as hedonic consumption, i.e., emphasizing more on university life and experience rather than as utilitarian consumption or at least balance both whatever works for you. One student answered 

“This is my perspective in life, I would love to grow up with as many experiences as I can. So, education is definitely one factor but at this age so is experiences, interacting, socializing with one another, overcoming problems that you face outside education.”

Want to understand your prospective students better? Download our FREE guide

Once you have a deep and detailed understanding of your target audience, the decisions you make will be more clear. 

And with digital marketing, clarity is #1 because confused prospects do not buy.

That’s why I’ve created a FREE guide for you called, “creating buyer personas for business.”

Not only will you get the guide, you also get templates you can use to start building your personas immediately.

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Read it, apply it, and if you have any questions, leave a comment below. I’d love to read your feedback.