With intense competition for a shrinking number of college-bound students, colleges and universities need creative ways to build interest and amplify excitement consistently, from the earliest stages of recruitment, all the way to the first day of class. Custom merch for college recruitment is a perfect method of achieving those goals.
Throughout the recruitment cycle, there are key moments with great potential to strengthen connections and ignite enthusiasm among prospective students–moments worth celebrating that deserve more than just an email.
For the Admissions team at Iowa State University, embracing those moments starts with the very first impression.
Raising Awareness for an Early Advantage
“Early in the admissions funnel, we’ll send an Iowa State sticker postcard to prospective students entering the funnel. They can add the stickers to their water bottles, laptops, etc.,” said Amanda Ouverson, assistant director of digital marketing. “At this point we’re focused on generating awareness and keeping students interested in the college admission process.”
Pairing the fun and lasting appeal of branded Iowa State stickers with its early outreach is an immediate differentiator. Although many schools send mail early in the funnel, Iowa State grabs attention in the mailbox right away with official university stickers on an interactive, branded piece. By establishing an early and tangible connection with prospective students, the university delivers simple, fun, useful, and lasting merch that keeps the Iowa State brand in front of students (and their social circles) from the first touch.
“We’re really trying to get the university’s name out there for students who aren’t as familiar with Iowa State. We want to highlight all the different opportunities the university offers and share all the amazing research and innovation that happens here,” Ouverson said.
Iowa State also uses merch for college recruitment to foster strong relationships with high school and community college counselors, who can have a significant influence on what college options students see and pursue. To keep Iowa State top of mind among counselors, the university sends an Iowa State note cube–great for counselors to introduce Iowa State to students they know will thrive at the university. Using promo strategically with counselors helps Iowa State keep and grow its prospective student pipeline every cycle.
Accepted: Making the Offer of Admission
As interest turns into applications, and the Iowa State team carefully crafts the next class, the next major milestone presents a great opportunity to create excitement and anticipation with merch–the offer of admission.
As a large university with more than 30,000 students, Iowa State looks for impactful ways to congratulate all of its admitted students. The university includes a clever congratulatory item with each offer of admission, so merch needs to be affordable, easy to mail, and exciting. Items also need to be on-brand, fun, useful, and worth keeping for the journey ahead.
“After a student is offered admission, we follow up with an Iowa State branded keychain, along with a card signifying how the student holds the key to their future, we’re just here to help them reach their destination,” Ouverson said. “It’s a nice way to tie the offer gift in with the message we want to share with students.
The combination of messaging, a fun item, and great news delivers a joyful, multisensory moment for prospective students that creates excitement and builds anticipation for the adventure ahead. And, to keep things fresh, interesting, and relevant for admitted students, Iowa State changes up the promo included with the admission offer every few cycles to reflect the kinds of things prospective students actually want to receive and will use.
As prospective and admitted students and their families consider Iowa State as their future higher education home (it is a big decision after all), the admissions team continues to strengthen relationships and build affinity through a series of Experience Iowa State open house programs.
Integrating simple, cost-effective merch into events makes them more memorable. And, designed strategically, merch helps tell the story of the institution and form tangible connections that inspire optimism about a future at Iowa State. Using welcoming, inviting, and inclusive messaging with versatile products puts the emphasis on the Iowa State community.
“We have about a dozen different styles of buttons that visitors can choose from. They range from college-specific ones to Cyclone mom to Iowa State graduate to an LGBTQIA+ Pride button,” said Ouverson. “It’s a great, cost-effective way to get your brand out there!”
By offering choices of items to choose, Iowa State lets students and families pick what they want to embrace, display, and share from their visit to the campus. Buttons can be used immediately on backpacks, jackets, or shirts, which also helps visiting students spot and connect with others in the admitted student’s community. And it’s also created a kind of new tradition among Iowa State parents.
“We initially ordered the Iowa State graduate button for parents and guests to display their alumni status, but it turns out the parents, even non-ISU alums, were keeping the button and giving it to their student once they graduate from Iowa State,” said Ouverson. “We moderate the Iowa State Parents group on Facebook, which is how we learned this was happening. It’s a fun thing we didn’t anticipate and it’s neat to hear stories like that.”
Celebrating Commitments (and Deposits)
When admitted students finally do make the choice and accept their offer of admission to Iowa State, the university helps students celebrate and share their pride with families, friends, and followers with a thoughtfully curated pack.
Always keeping its audience at the forefront, the Iowa State team combines branded products that resonate with students and are useful before, during, and after their Iowa State adventure.
The package includes a few different items, including a beautifully branded, actually-popular-again fanny pack for a retro fun and practical way to carry Iowa State everywhere. The pack also includes a great tool to help students show their pride.
“Rollabanas–we love those! We see these used a lot on social media. On May 1st, ‘decision day’ students pose with their Iowa State rollabana and share photos to show they are a Cyclone,” Ouverson said. “That’s so fun to see. Early in the pandemic, when the students weren’t in school with their friends, they used the rollabanas to show everyone how excited they were about coming to Iowa State.”
The two-sided rollabana has Iowa State’s well-established #futurecyclone hashtag on one side, giving students a little encouragement to post, share, and celebrate online too. Happy, excited, enthusiastic students sharing their decisions publicly on social media helps create buzz about Iowa State that can persuade other future students to consider applying.
Delivering Exceptional Experiences with merch for college recruitment
Even with several cycles of experience integrating promo, the Iowa State team is always looking for ways to make experiences better for students during the enrollment process. One specific challenge comes when combining multiple products into a manageable and cohesive package. Iowa State worked with Magellan to find a better solution.
“This year we used poly mailers to send our acceptance gifts. It was a seamless process that helped us out with storage space and staff time,” Ouverson explained. “It was very easy to put the package together and the finished product looks amazing – you get this beautiful, cohesive, branded package in the mail and it all combines for a great experience.”
Through several cycles of tweaks, adjustments, improvements and evolutions, Iowa State continues to set the standard for smartly incorporated, strategic promotional product marketing as part of recruitment and enrollment outreach. Year after year, they meet and exceed enrollment goals, and the merch they use for college recruitment is part of that. In Fall of 2021, the university enrolled six percent more new students than the previous year.
“Promotional products are a great way for us to connect with students and let them know we are thinking about them,” Ouverson said. “We love working with Magellan! Cassi, Michael, and the whole team are so friendly and knowledgeable. From the section and quality of products to the competitive pricing and top-notch customer service Magellan always exceeds our expectations.”