How to Create More Compelling CTAs for Enrollment

one of many CTAs for higher education


The call-to-action is one of the simplest yet most important components to any higher ed advertising campaign. Whether you create an ad, an eBook or an email outreach, somewhere in your marketing effort, you need to tell the user what you want them to do. That inducement to act is what turns prospects into leads. But before you close out your next blog post with “apply now” it’s important to ask yourself a few questions.

What Do You Want to Achieve?

Sure, you want students to enroll. But ask for that action too soon and you’ll alienate the user. It’s like the guy who talks marriage and children on a first date. Whoa. Wait up. Give the user a chance to get to know and trust your institution. Your CTA will also depend on the kind of content you produce. A blog post shouldn’t use “apply now” for its CTA, but an ad with a tuition discount deadline should. For each campaign, for each piece of content, you want the user to take a next step.

Whom Do You Want to Attract?

Companies with clout and credibility are sometimes willing to take a negative hit for the sake of their inner brand loyalty. Take Nike. When the company stood firmly behind Colin Kaepernick in spite of product boycotts, it made a statement. If you don’t like what we stand for, we’ll rely on purchases from people who do. After an initial dip, Nike’s stock soared. Its sales went up, not down. And in the wake of the Kaepernick campaign, Nike gained 170,000 new Instagram followers.1

Know who you are as an institution and be loyal to your own brand. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Once you truly know your student personas, you’ll understand what kinds of marketing campaigns might attract them and which CTAs will get them to take that next step in your relationship.

What Action Do You Want Them to Take?

The action you seek from potential students depends on what you’re trying to achieve and where they are in the enrollment funnel. But here are a few common examples:

  • Submit an email
  • Subscribe to an eNews
  • Attend a webinar
  • Take a virtual tour
  • Visit campus
  • Like a page
  • Follow on social media
  • Download an eBook
  • Take a survey
  • Talk with an admissions rep
  • Apply

What Language Should You Use?

Words matter. Especially as you consider the above actions you want users to take, how you ask can be the difference between a pass and a click. “Learn More” may be perfectly fine, but “Discover Now” sends a more powerful message. Embrace your school brand and invite future students to do the same. If your school mascot is an eagle, don’t just ask users to take that aerial campus tour; invite them to soar with the eagles. Your mascot is a mustang; tell them to grab the reins. Be inviting and fun. They’re not mutually exclusive.

What About Design?

Where and how your CTA appears can also make or break a campaign. The design style you choose should stand out from the page, while still aligning with your brand. And where you place it depends on the content. If it’s on your website, consider using a sticky header/footer that stays accessible even as users scroll through your content. For an email, you may want your CTA as a button at the end; for a blog post, it may just be compelling words in that closing sentence. To find out what will work for you, test. A/B tests prove that simply changing the color of your CTA button can have a significant impact. What will work for you?

How to build your CTA may seem like a small detail to consider for a big advertising campaign, but the details matter. If you want to watch your enrollments soar with those eagles up above, send your carrier pigeon our way. Smoke signals? Or—just give us a call.

~Linda Emma