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4 Steps to Creating More Accurate Student Personas

The first step in creating an inbound marketing plan for your college or university should always be to start with an accurate student persona (a semi-fictional representation of your ideal student). You probably already have an idea of the type of student that is the best fit for your institution, but it is important to create highly specific profiles for the student personas you wish to target for recruitment.

Note: This article was originally published on the Pepperland Marketing Blog, and has been republished here with permission.

In this article you’ll learn how to:

  • Utilize the information that you already have and gather more
  • Put it all together to create more accurate student personas.

Consider the following steps to start building the foundation for your institution’s personalized higher education marketing strategy.

Step 1. Utilize Your Database

Take advantage of the information you already have to draw some conclusions about the current student population. Understanding how students find and consume your content can lend some valuable insights as to how prospective students will interact with your content as well. Be sure to look for details such as the popularity of a specific degree, social media use, demographic information, and other important trends in the data. Identify groups within your databases with common characteristics and develop an understanding of how these traits might translate into behavior.

Remember that your current students are perfect examples of prior leads that were successfully carried through the marketing funnel and converted into customers. The groups within this population should ideally be representative of the student personas your are creating and targeting with your marketing strategy.

Step 2. Ask Pointed Questions

When gathering new information, use web form fields to capture important persona information such as:


Find out where your potential students are coming from. Take the opportunity to learn about the activities they were involved with in high school, the activities they wish to partake in during college, and other hobbies or interests they might have. These interests and inclinations might intertwine with their degree paths and give you an idea of what to highlight in your marketing strategy.

Geographic Area

The geographic location of prospective students can play an important role in different student personas. For example, international students and those who live far away from the college or university will have different wants and needs than those who live nearby. Those who live close might already be familiar with the school, whereas others may not be. In addition, long distance and international students might not have the opportunity to visit the campus, meaning that they will require more lead nurturing during the conversion process.


Although age falls under the standard category of demographics, it has a lot of implications in the realm of education which can help to differentiate student personas. In higher education, age often separates undergraduates from graduate students and PhD candidates. Furthermore, age can also help to indicate which stage of life a person is currently in, such as being a young adult versus an empty nester. Depending on these different factors, people will have different needs which should be addressed when formulating your marketing strategy.

Financial Barriers

Discovering how a potential student plans to pay for college can reveal details about their past, their future goals and, ultimately, what they need from their school. Certain information about costs and financial aid will directly apply to some of these students and not at all to others, so it’s important to consider general trends and those specific to your school.

Step 3. Involve Your Admissions Counselors

The admissions team can provide valuable insights about the kind of applicants that the school most ideally wants to pursue, the types of prospective learners they interact with the most, and other trends among inquiries and applicants. The information the team reports on should be a good gauge of the people who have moved or are moving through the first stages of the marketing and enrollment funnel. Common characteristics among these people are traits that should definitely be included in your student personas. The admissions team can even help you define characteristics that must be excluded from the student personas in order to avoid attracting unqualified leads.

Step 4. Don’t Ignore Your Alumni Persona

The last thing that you want is to portray your higher education institution as a money-grabbing revolving door. For this reason, you must be careful not to neglect your institution’s alumni when you are creating your student personas. Alumni represent the continued success of their alma mater and can be a powerful asset to your marketing efforts. The bridge between an alumni and their former school is, itself, effective marketing that can yield mentorship opportunities for current students, links to industry, and monetary donations.

Getting Specific

When attempting to better define your student persona, it can be surprising to realize how much information you already have. The key is to combine what you know about an ideal student population in order to market in the most effective, optimized fashion possible. Involving your admissions team and creating more targeted form fields can really help to build a comprehensive idea of your current and past students.

Check your methodology against the four steps outlined here to be sure that your ideal student persona process is firing on all cylinders!