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How Enrolled Students Value and Use Promotional Items


Colleges across the United States partner with Magellan Promotions because we are thought leaders who provide promotional product solutions that address specific marketing needs in higher education. To ensure we continue giving relevant solutions, we commissioned this first-of-its-kind proprietary research to examine how enrolled students reacted to the promotional products they received during the recruitment process.

We partnered with Advantage Research on the study in January 2020. The Senior Research Analyst guiding the project also had significant experience working in university marketing. This perspective informed the research format and helped ensure that the final results would yield valuable insights for admissions professionals. Our research revealed the influence of product marketing on choosing a college, how promotional items affect student opinions of a college, and which promotional products appeal to students.


The survey targeted newer college students, asking them to recall their product marketing experiences, and to share their insights.

  • The 400 respondents were from 298 public and private colleges from 45 states. 55% were first-year students, and 45% were sophomores with 61% female and 39% male.
  • They self-identified their races as 58% white/caucasian, 20% hispanic/latinx, 18% black/african american, and 8% asian, with 6% reporting another race/ethnicity, or preferring no response.
  • 23% of students did not seriously consider another college in their search. 12% considered at least one other school, 23% more than two, 17% more than three, with those percentages dropping to 9% for those considering four or more.
  • Of the top five current or intended majors reported, 23% were related to science, technology, and math, 18% in business, 18% in health professions, 14% in the humanities, and 13% in the arts.
Sample error of ±4.9% for 400 students surveyed.


Imprinted promotional products offer an opportunity for personal engagement that isn’t possible in other marketing channels. As tangible items, they act as physical reminders that people link with their own memories and emotions. The survey asked questions to reveal the power of promotional product marketing, and following are the highlights.


When investigating the influence that promotional items have on the process of choosing a college, 48% of responders said promotional products had at least some influence on their decision about which school to attend. That rate rose to 54% among students attending smaller schools.


Overwhelmingly, students felt positively when they received promotional items from colleges in which they were interested. When students were given the chance to select the words that described how they felt when they received promotional products, “excited” was mentioned 43% of the time. Other popular selected words were: thankful, happy, appreciated, and proud.


The students who reported that promotional products had at
least some influence on their choice of school significantly more often displayed college-specific products on social media and at graduation parties. Almost 50% posted photos of promotional products on social media and 52% displayed college-specific items at high school graduation parties.


As evidenced by these results, students showed us that promotional products are indeed influential and create a positive emotional response. When students display and post promotional products, they are not only promoting the college, they are providing an endorsement. This is important as this generation is so influenced by peers. Thus investing in promotional product marketing as part of an admissions and recruitment strategy means increasing your chances of influencing the audience you are targeting, creating positive connections and providing opportunity for exposure and peer influence.


The survey also provided insights into what products students received during the recruitment process. We paid close attention to the usage of products well after the recruitment stage to measure their appreciation of the products. Below are highlights from the product feedback section.


It’s well known that t-shirts are one of the most popular promotional products given to prospective students. The results of the survey showed t-shirts are clearly still appreciated. 93% of the responders who received a t-shirt said that they wore it.

To show how enjoyed they are, over 80% of respondents are still wearing the shirt they received during the recruitment process. In addition, 50% of the students are still wearing a t-shirt they received from a school that they ended up not attending. To learn about fit preference, we asked female students if they would have preferred to have received a ladies-sized t-shirt. Surprisingly, only 15% said yes.


The category of drinkware continues to be popular due to the improved quality of the product, increased access to water refilling stations, and the desire to reduce single-use plastic consumption. The students confirmed this sentiment as 60% of students are still using a water bottle they received during the recruitment process.


The popularity of stickers has skyrocketed over the past few years. The survey results showed them to be appreciated as 85% of students who received them during the recruitment and enrollment process still use them.

Not surprisingly, students reported the most common places to use stickers included tablets, laptops, water bottles, notebooks, books, and the car. As a result, colleges get to enjoy inexpensive marketing “real estate” on a person’s items and in their personal space.


Other high-performing product categories where students received and continue to use the products well into college at a high percentage are: ceramic mugs, socks, coffee tumblers, pens, markers, and backpacks.


We chose to not ask specific questions about the exact products respondents received because it would be too complicated and impossible to confirm. For example, we did not ask responders to describe the water bottle style or if it was a brand name. The results of the survey can easily be influenced by what product the student received.

The chances of a student appreciating and keeping a product long-term depends on the quality of the item. For example, a student’s likelihood of keeping and using a stiff, inexpensive t-shirt can be different than a student receiving a soft cotton shirt with a cool design. Even without knowing the exact products used, this research shows that students do keep and use promotional products that they receive, even if they ended up attending another institution.

As evidenced by these results, students showed us that promotional product marketing matters in the recruitment process, creates excitement, builds community, establishes a positive emotional connection, and develops additional social influencers. Investing in promotional products will ensure that students, their friends, family, and community, will be exposed continually to your college.

Postage Permits

We are happy to mail using a client’s USPS non-profit number. Here are a few best practices for this to go smoothly. Let our team know up front on the project so we can make sure to get the information we need right away. 

While our mail house does prefer to use their permit number for the mailing, we can use the client’s permit, If using their permit number, ensure there is enough postage to cover the mailing.

The information we need to in order to use a client’s nonprofit number includes the following:

Formatting the Mailing List

Our account team will advise on specific requirements for your project’s mailing list.  We generally recommend these best practices to format the mailing list: