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How to Connect With High School Students

How to Connect With High School Students


You’ll want to hear what 250,000 high school students told us about going to college

By Phil Smith, VP Marketing and Communications, and Troy Chaney, Co-Founder, Rally Cap LLC.

Historically, the relationship between high school students and career or specialty educators has been a little bit awkward. The assumption has always been that high school students want to attend traditional, 4-year schools, and that career-oriented education is for those who “won’t make it or don’t want to make it” at a 4-year college.

As it turns out that isn’t true. High school students are indeed interested in career education, and we have the data to back up that assertion.

At Rally Cap LLC we collected data over the past 2015-2016 school year from nearly 250,000 high school students nationwide. The results of that data show a significant opportunity for career or specialty education with regard to recruiting high school students. The interest and the demand is certainly there; the underlying question is how well positioned is your school to capitalize on the opportunity?

What the data told us

To understand the results, it helps to understand how the data was collected. Rally Cap delivered workshops to nearly 250,000 high school students between September and March of last year. These workshops are a combination of an interest inventory and a behavioral survey, which is aimed at helping students identify their strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. From there we help them understand how those factors translate into possible post-secondary paths. The results are derived from an audience that is very diverse across all demographic categories.

Key attributes of the audience

High School Students 1


High School Students 3Headlines from the analysis of the data

  • 64 percent wanted to pursue some sort of higher education or training beyond high school
  • 44 percent said they preferred a hands-on learning environment
  • 43 percent wanted specialized career training

High School Students 2


High School Students 4If you’re saying to yourself: “my school offers that, and that…” you’re not alone. One point and statistic to reiterate; as part of the workshop, students have the ability to choose to be connected with colleges, universities or specialized training schools. Forty-three percent of students ASKED to be connected with schools that were career oriented and provided specific career training.

So what gives? If students are interested, and they want this kind of training, then why aren’t your halls crawling with high school students? To fully understand the opportunity, the whole cycle needs to be looked at and evaluated.

Marketing to high school students

You may have heard your admissions department say that high school students are difficult to get on the phone and reach these days. It’s true, they can be difficult to reach because as we all know, the channels they use to communicate are very different than they used to be. And with the evolution of social platforms that landscape is constantly changing. Our data show that these are the current social media platforms students use most:

High School Students 5

That list will likely look different 12 months from now as a new, hot social channel will bubble up, rocket to unthinkable user levels and then plummet just as fast.

Now before you shift your marketing budget around and devote more to social media, understand that students view these channels as ENTERTAINMENT, not as a marketplace to do business. So success in this area relies on content and genuine interaction that resonates with prospective students in the context of entertainment. That’s challenging because its time consuming, difficult to measure, it can get expensive and it certainly has its risks from a reputation and optics standpoint.

So how do you reach these students? The question might be what message or what medium? The real question is when do I connect?

High School Students 6

This fact of the matter is that too many schools are still fixated on recruiting seniors just as they are about to graduate, which ties in with the point of this article. You sell yourself short not starting a relationship earlier in their decision making cycle.

Another point to consider is that the post high school preparation system is broken. To clarify the average student to counselor ratio is 500:1. Along with that 1 in 5 high schools in the U.S. have NO counselor. And as we all know the fall back is to push students toward community college.

Gone are the days of school counselors sitting in their office simply handing out college applications. Among other things counselors help all students in the areas of academic achievement and personal/social development. Their job is bigger, with more students and little concentration on post secondary preparation.

The point here, is that if specialty and career focused colleges begin to interact earlier in the decision making cycle you can have an impact on both high school administration and the prospective students you aim to serve. I know this goes without saying but very few specialty schools have campaigns in place that nurture students and their key influencers over longer periods of time.

You have to ask yourselves: How can you support or even take the place of the high school counselor? How can you make the decision easier for the student? How can you build trust when there are reputation issues for career focused schools? How can you connect and consistently nurture so that when the time to decide comes you are actually in the mix?

Along with that we have to understand that information overload is rampant. The ability for a student to “sift” through, ask the right questions and uncover the the right path is essential and unfortunately that is very difficult for them to do on their own. Using technology for entertainment is one thing, researching, assessing, and deciding on their future is another.

This directly relates to how specialty and career focused schools market or communicate. In the era of information overload, you must connect over several years in a genuine way, leading them through your recruitment funnel and proving your value.

What high school students care about:

  • Nurture them separately from your other prospective student groups
  • They want to know you care about them as an individual
  • Create campaigns dedicated to motivating students “Its a start not a change”
  • They all want solid choices that match their needs
  • They want the decision to be made easier
  • They want to trust you, give them a reason
  • They care about costs versus perceived return on investment much more than ever before
  • School outcomes and proximity to internships and potential jobs are very important
  • Reputation and trust matter
  • There is more focus on debt and landing a good job than ever before
  • Speak to them in a variety of ways outside of just traditional advertising
  • Regional or localized marketing will have a huge impact

I will leave you with one last statistic. It takes an average of 18 months for a student to decide where to go to college. Think about it, are you trying to marry them on the first date by talking to them only when they are about to graduate?

PHIL SMITH: Notably recognized marketing and communications executive specializing in public relations, internal communication, social media, local and online marketing, community relevance, and analytics. Extensive experience driving customer and employee engagement, developing and executing strategic marketing plans, managing teams and agencies, controlling costs, and maximizing brand awareness, reputation and profitability through quantifiable, integrated marketing, PR and holistic online campaigns. Over the past 21 years I have worked for GE, Starbucks Corp., UMB Financial Corp. Alta Colleges and Rally Cap LLC.

Contact Information: Phil Smith // VP Marketing and Communications // Rally Cap LLC // 303-408-9180 // phil@rallycap.com // Social Media: https://www.linkedin.com/in/smithphillip // http://www.rallycap.com

TROY CHANEY: I have spent my entire career in admissions and marketing for higher education. Dedicated to helping the right colleges and the right students “find” each other. We started Rally Cap in 2007 with the vision of changing the fundamental way colleges and students meet. In a world of mailing lists, index scores and aggregator websites, we offer a better way.

We have a team of professionals in the field that present in high schools across the U.S. We help students identify career paths that might be a good fit for them. From there, we help them identify colleges that can help them achieve those aspirations. We conduct workshops in thousands of high schools every year, and our total audience of high school students is near a quarter of a million students annually.


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