Personas in Higher Education

Personas in Higher Education


Personas in Higher Ed

In recent years, the use of personas has become a common practice embraced by leading companies in the corporate sector.  Like the corporate sector, Higher Education can benefit from the use of personas to facilitate customer acquisition – in this case, student acquisition – as part of recruitment, marketing, and enrollment initiatives.

Colleges and universities also have opportunities to use personas in contexts beyond traditional new-customer/student marketing. Persona-based messaging can be used to maximize enrolled student success and to facilitate engagement with alumni.

How are personas defined?

In Higher Education, there is an opportunity to gather information from a group that is very close at hand – current students. One-on-one discussions, focus groups, and surveys of current students can be easy and inexpensive ways to collect input on personas.

Existing historical and pre-college data can also be very useful. For instance, analysis of socio-economic demographics, academic testing performance, high school grades, and other known information about students who were a great match for the school can provide important insights into characteristics that are common among successful students.  Additional persona input can be culled from data sources as diverse as web site click patterns, EFC calculators, and admissions applications.

Recommended approach:  Start simple

One advantage often enjoyed by colleges and universities is that distinctions between different student types are often a well-established at the institution. Most schools are already keenly aware of characteristics and behavioral patterns among student subgroups such as:

  • First Generation Students
  • International Students
  • Student Athletes
  • Military Veterans
  • Adult Learners
  • Students interested in particular programs or majors
  • Parents
  • Other characteristics that might be used to define personas are:
  • Interest in individual campus locations (e.g., main campus vs. satellites)
  • Online Learners
  • High school counselors
  • Successful Alumni

These recognized groupings can be a great starting point for an institution interested in taking a persona-based approach to student engagement. By starting with some of these groups, a school can be assured that the personas are relevant and commonly understood across staff and faculty. If necessary, the groups can be expanded in the future as staff members acquire experience and understanding of how persona campaigns can be used most advantageously at the institution.


Personas can play a valuable role in Higher Education. Like the corporate sector, higher education can benefit by incorporating them in marketing outreach and acquisition of new students.

Personas can also be used to significantly impact enrolled student retention, as well as alumni engagement.  The use of personas in a mobile environment can be particularly effective, enabling schools to engage prospective, current, and graduated students via their mobile devices.

This post is excerpted from a report published by Engage2Serve, Inc., a provider of software and solutions to Higher Education. The Engage2Serve campus app and lifecycle CRM systems contain functionality that allows schools to create unique Success Pathways, delivered through an engaging mobile app. Learn more at


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