Higher Education

How to Create Higher Education Facebook Ads That Drive Results

Melissa Rodriguez
Published on Oct 17, 2019

How to Create Higher Education Facebook Ads That Drive Results

If you’re in charge of marketing at a college or a university, then you know the challenge in front of you.

According to a recent study, university enrollments have dropped for the past 8 straight years. No upswing is predicted to happen until 2023.

One big reason: the sheer variety of educational outlets. As more for-profit institutions break into the market, many public and non-profit schools are running against stiff competition.

To stay competitive, many successful colleges and universities are taking a page from the for-profit playbook:

  • More student-centric messaging
  • Higher focus on customer service
  • Better use of data to inform business decisions

In other words, these institutions are getting serious about marketing. A recent study by Gartner Research shows an average of 18.5% of revenue generated is being invested in marketing.

But in the face of declining enrollments and increased competition, these institutions need methods that are inexpensive AND show a high return on investment (ROI) off the bat.

Enter social media marketing — more specifically, Facebook advertising. 

If you are part of an institution looking to expand their Facebook reach to prospective and current students, follow these best practices for higher education Facebook ads.

Table of Contents
The Biggest Challenge: Standing Out
Higher Education Facebook Ads Targeting Options
Make Higher Education Facebook Ad Types Work For You
Higher Education Facebook Ads Best Practices
Facebook Advertising Trends to Watch

The Biggest Challenge: Standing Out

Most students want the same thing from an institution: a good reputation, strong academics, and an experience they’ll remember forever. With most institutions touting those same points over and over again, it can be a challenge to stand out.

Institutions used to rely heavily on direct mail campaigns or other traditional channels that spoke to a large group of people. But a great benefit of social media marketing is the ability to speak directly to the individual viewing the ad.

People on social media - whether they’re interacting with friends or with brands - are looking for a connection. A Learning House survey shows students prefer to attend institutions with connections to their community and local employers. Even students taking online courses tend to pick schools within 50 miles from their home.

Why Facebook is great for higher education marketing

Despite some concerns over privacy and bad press in recent months, Facebook is still the king of social networks. With about 2.7 billion users, it has the largest user base.

Contrary to popular belief, there are still plenty of high school students on Facebook. Generation Z continues to use Facebook to learn about topics they’re interested in, like prospective colleges and universities. This is why just about every college or university has a Facebook presence.

But the real magic lies in its robust advertising platform. Many schools run ads to:

  • Reach prospective students deciding on a place to go
  • Promote upcoming events for students, alumni and non-students
  • Raise brand awareness

Also, since Facebook owns Instagram, you can run ads on Instagram as well. Not a bad idea, since 67% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 use Instagram.

Higher Education Facebook Ads Targeting Options

Facebook allows you to target users in ways no other channel can match. There is an incredible amount of options for Facebook advertising:

  • Location targeting: as granular as a zip code

  • Age targeting

  • Behaviors and life events targeting: target users who recently graduated from high school or your institution.

  • Interests targeting: this can range from the focus of study to adding users interested in a competing institution.

  • Demographics targeting: this target users based off of education status, income, and even family status.


Take it a step further by using Custom Audiences. You can target prospective students who have already interacted with you. Custom Audiences can target users who have visited certain parts of your website or have given you their contact information.

Some examples of custom audiences: 

  • Email subscribers

  • Visitors that have been to the site

  • Visitors that have filled out a request form

  • Followers that are engaged

With the power to reach individuals through advertising and all the data at your fingertips, you can more easily prove the return of your investment. Use a custom audience to its fullest potential by creating an audience from people that have visited your website (Facebook Pixel Data) and then advertising to them on Facebook with a lead gen ad. 

Once you start generating leads and have at least 100, you can go ahead and create a new “Lookalike” audience that will allow Facebook to target users that are similar to those that have converted to the original ad. 

Make Higher Education Facebook Ads Types Work For You

Universities all over the country are finding success with a wide variety of Facebook ad types:

Single image ad

This is the most common ad type. It includes a compelling image, and copy highlighting specific aspects of the campus or the program. The ad also includes a link to a designated landing page, where students can reach out to you. 

Be sure to test your image ad to see if it has any text on it with Facebook’s Text Overlay Tool. You don’t want to risk losing reach because your image has too much text. Also, keep the branding consistent throughout your ad campaign. Use images or graphics that draw attention and make someone stop scrolling when your ad shows up.

Single video ad

Video ads are the most engaging type of ad on Facebook. Videos can reach prospective students on a much deeper level. They want to know what campus life is like - you can show them easily. If a picture speaks 1,000 words, imagine what a video can do! 

You always want to have your videos uploaded with professional subtitles. Rev does a great job and transcribing videos at a low cost. Even if you don’t have images, Facebook has the option to create a video slide show based on images that you upload.

Carousel ad

Carousel ads are extremely popular on Facebook, and for good reason: Facebook says they drive a 30% - 50% lower cost per conversion than single image ads. With up to 10 cards available to promote a different value proposition, you can provide a lot of information to your prospective students upfront. 

Use them to show school spirit, different types of degree options, and valuable insight that might take more than one image.

Lead ads

Lead ads are relatively new for Facebook. Instead of directing users to a landing page, your ad leads to a popup prompting them for their basic contact info. You can then download it directly from Facebook to pass on to admissions, or integrate your ad account with your chosen CRM.

To see an example of Facebook lead ads in action, check out this case study of the University of California-Irvine. The institution enrolled more students with a multi-phase campaign unique to the lead ads option. 

Here at Pacific54, we use lead ads to generate leads for different university programs. We’ve learned that targeting is key to having a successful campaign, especially if you are looking to advertise certain courses. 

You want to make sure your targeted audience is in the course being advertised so you generate only the highest quality leads.

Messenger ads

Studies show 42% of people expect a response from a Facebook page within 60 minutes.

According to Facebook, 65% of Generation Zers prefer to send a message over making a phone call. 

Messenger ads also can prompt an initial conversion, allowing you to prioritize your leads. Not all will convert within the current enrollment cycle. 

You’ll definitely want to employ a chatbot so you won’t need to monitor the messages 24/7. 

Higher Education Facebook Ad Best Practices

Keep these tips in mind before you create your first ad on Facebook:

Get personal, and appeal to emotion.

Social media is all about forming connections through highly engaging content. Make your message personal. Highlight notable alumni. Tell student stories, and interview current students about their experience. This will go a lot further than just promoting your campus and programs. Make sure your audience knows that going to your school won’t just give them an education, it will change their life.

facebook marketing for higher education

facebook marketing for higher education

facebook marketing for higher education

Be consistent with your messaging.

Users browse on a variety of devices and social media platforms. Ensure that your messaging is unified on Facebook as it is with your other online and offline advertising. Take Marquette University as an example:

facebook marketing for higher education

facebook marketing for higher education

facebook marketing for higher education

Pick the appropriate objective for your campaign.

If you’re looking for success with your ad campaign, you’ll need to figure out what you want your users to do when he or she sees your ad. Facebook will prompt you to choose an “Objective” when creating an ad. Your objective is the end goal of that ad so keep in mind who you are targeting and what part of the funnel they are in.

  • Reach: Show your ad to as many users in your target audience as possible. Great for awareness of your institution at a low cost, without requiring any action from your audience. 
  • Traffic: Drive potential students to your website. Choose this objective to target users in the consideration stage who want to read about your institution. 
  • Engagement: Reach people most likely to engage with your post (likes, comments, shares). Choose this if you’re promoting a piece of content you want to be shared across Facebook. 
  • Lead Generation: Generate leads through a lead ad. Use this objective if you want student leads to feed your CRM or your admissions team.
  • Messages: Create ads through Messenger to encourage prospective students to send you a message. 
  • Conversions - encourage prospective students to perform an action on your website (fill out a form, click a link, etc). Choose this if you are generating leads through your website.

Consider where your ad is being placed.

As you’re in the process of nailing down your audience targeting, don’t forget to consider:

  • What device they are using. Choose from desktop, mobile, tablet, and TV. Your audience may do research on a mobile device, but choose to use a desktop to fill out forms on your website. Test various device placements to see which actions perform best on them.
  • What platform they prefer. Facebook or Instagram? Facebook is better for reaching a large audience and having access to all of Facebook’s ad options. Instagram is better for general brand awareness and communicating a visual message above all else.
  • What features of the platform they prefer. Stories skew younger, while Groups are more popular with alumni and older audiences.

Get the most out of your ads.

Follow these ad best practices to ensure they deliver properly:

  • Make sure you’re following the image and video specs given by Facebook. Failure to do so will keep your ad from running in certain places.
  • Don’t use too much text in images or videos. Use Facebook’s image overlay tool to gauge how much text is too much.
  • Add captions to your videos in Facebook Ads. 85% of videos on Facebook are watched with no sound on.
  • Keep your videos to around 1 minute in length.
  • Use a relevant call-to-action: choose from Learn More, Download, Sign Up, and more.

Measure your impact.

One of the greatest benefits of Facebook advertising is the sheer amount of data you can access. Use it to decide which campaigns, ads, and audiences are performing the best. The main key metrics you want to look at is how much you are spending (Amount spent) how many leads/conversions you are receiving based on the goal of each campaign, the cost per each of those conversions and what “side effects” are going on to the post you are advertising. If anyone has liked or commented on it take action and if people are sharing it that is even better! This is what a simple ideal column setup should contain for a lead generation campaign.

facebook marketing for higher education

facebook marketing for higher education

Facebook’s ad platform encourages testing and experimentation. Set whatever budget you want, change up your ad strategy on the fly, create dozens of variations of ads. Then look at the number and refine your strategy continuously.

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