Every year, the U.S. News & World Report (USNWR) releases its rankings of the best higher education institutions in the United States. These rankings are the most influential of their kind in the U.S., with many colleges competing for the top spots to show off their graduation and retention rates, academic reputation, and other indicators of institutional excellence. As the USNWR rankings have grown in popularity and acceptance over the years, they have had a significant impact on college admissions; an increase of one rank on the list leads to a 1% increase in school applications on average.
For students, the USNWR rankings continue to be a major factor for high school students in the midst of the college search and selection process; making the top 25 list results in an average increase of 6-10% in applications. College selection not only impacts students’ academic success while in school, it also has far-reaching implications for quality of life and health after graduation, making it crucial for students to select the schools with the features that matter most to them.
For higher education institutions, a positive USNWR ranking increases matriculation rates and boosts schools’ reputation, admissions volume, and placement in the higher education world. However, it is not enough for institutions to appear in the top rankings. To really leverage the benefits of a competitive USNWR ranking, schools must promote their ranking status with strategic outreach to potential students. The following three steps can help higher education institutions publicize their achievement, reaching as many prospective students as effectively as possible.
Showcase the Ranking on Your Website
Schools that have earned a top ranking in the USNWR report should promote it throughout their website. Colleges that rank in the top half of a given category and have the budget needed can purchase a “U.S. News ranked” badge for their website and online content, making sure to feature it on their awards and recognition pages. Schools can use their awards page to go more in-depth on the factors that influenced their high rankings: for example, Summa Health System-Akron Campus displays the main badge along with four supplementary badges that demonstrate its high performance in four areas of medical care. While the badge is a distinguishing visual feature, not all schools want to spend upwards of $700 to use it. Institutions that choose to not purchase the badge should instead feature rankings prominently on its awards page and homepage, so it is the first feature that prospective students and guardians see upon visiting the site.
Promote the Ranking in Marketing Materials
High-ranking institutions should publicize their success through marketing materials like press releases, which can garner additional publicity if picked up by a news source. USNWR offers unique advertisement opportunities on its website to top-ranking schools, like showcasing schools’ campus buildings, student life, and other attributes; more than 1,000 institutions host photos on the USNWR website to give students and parents a feel for their schools. Schools can include their ranking as part of their email marketing efforts, prominently displaying the ranking and detailing the different factors that led to the recognition. For example, if a particular academic program was a major factor in the final decision, the school can highlight the various features and faculty that make the program a success. In addition, institutions with active blogs should devote a post to their ranking. Blogs are cost-efficient ways to publicize achievements and can be promoted on social media, extending outreach without budgetary constraints.
Reach Gen Z Where They Are — Online
Generation Z (Gen Z), comprising people born between 1995-2012, is the most digitally savvy generation yet—making it vital for admissions offices to understand how to effectively market to them online. Forty-five percent of teens say they are online “almost constantly,” particularly on social media websites, making applications such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter prime locations for marketing outreach. Schools should take advantage of Gen Z’s frequent presence on social media by promoting their ranking and any supplementary resources, like blogs or press releases, on the platforms where Gen Z congregates. Gen Z prioritizes visual social media content, preferring photos and videos to marketing that relies only on the written word—50% of Gen Zers say they “can’t live without YouTube”. Schools should take advantage of this preference by considering video marketing, such as creating a YouTube video that highlights their strengths and the factors that led to their ranking success. In addition, institutions should be sure to supplement any text-based social media posts with images related to the ranking, such as contributing faculty and academic programs. Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than those without images; centering a social media post around an image related to the ranking will garner much more interest from prospective students than text-only posts.