Blog » Articles » Audiences » Marketing to Non-traditional Students

The Complex Challenge of Marketing to Non-Traditional Students

by | February 15, 2023

Students include veterans, those who support families, and full-time workers. Don't forget about marketing to non-traditional students.
marketing to non-traditional students

Did you know there’s an entire group of students your marketing efforts may be missing? If you’re not marketing to non-traditional students, you’re leaving money on the table. 

Gen Z and millennial students on campus get lots of attention, but it’s easy to forget about non-traditional students — many of whom may also fall in those demographics.

Around 40% of enrolled students in U.S. colleges and universities are considered non-traditional, or “adult” students — even though all students over 18 are technically adults.

What makes a student “non-traditional?” They include students who meet some of the following criteria:

  • Attends college part-time or have returned to school after an absence
  • Enrolled in college more than a year after graduating from high school
  • Has a GED, or similar high school equivalency certificate
  • Holds a full-time job
  • Is financially independent from their parents
  • Supports children or other family members

Nearly 31% of American students in higher education meet two or more of these criteria. At least 74% of them meet one.

It’s not easy to identify these students. That’s because many carry shame or discomfort with the label, preferring not to be seen as different from their classmates. 

How do you develop a successful marketing strategy that considers the emotions of this target audience? Here are some things to keep in mind. 

What to Know About Non-Traditional Students

Older college students tend to make decisions based on long-term goals rather than impulses.

Recent trends in marketing lean towards fast, flashy, and relatable messaging. In fact, adult learners are less likely to offer up their credit card for impulse buys. They usually have more long-term goals in mind. These students manage more responsibilities, whether it be working full-time or taking care of their families. 

To develop successful marketing to non-traditional students, consider the following three factors:

  1. They spend more time engaging with content. Whether web, print, social media, or other marketing channels, non-traditional students are more likely to engage with long-form content than other students. They may be more interested in the longer video or blog post. 
  2. They need clear pricing. Many non-traditional students have strict financial budgets. Advertising about specials, promotions, and loyalty programs may catch their attention. 
  3. Different lifestyles mean different marketing techniques. Many non-traditional students spend more time away from campus. These students are enrolled in more online classes and have professional and family commitments off-campus. Do your promotions and advertising raise brand awareness among students who are off campus or who are more likely to purchase online?

Traditional SEO and local SEO marketing tactics will still reach non-traditional students. Adapt your messaging to meet the needs of this group, and you will see more business. Non-traditional students may struggle to feel integrated on campus. Brands and businesses that are inclusive to all students have a larger potential customer base. 

How to Target Non-Traditional Students

Older male college student.
Non-traditional students need more sales information and personal connection with brands.

Ready to build a marketing campaign that includes non-traditional students? Here are some tips:

1. Time of Day Matters

When you’re juggling a lot of responsibilities, you need as much flexibility as you can get. If you want non-traditional students to engage with your brand, make sure you’re scheduling promos or events throughout the day.

For instance, does your coffee shop’s “happy hour” happen before 8 a.m. or in the early afternoon? Those are elementary school pick-up and drop-off times. Adult learners with families are unlikely to take advantage of these promotions.

Does your business cater to students whose hours on campus are slightly altered? Make sure to share inclusive business hours and promotions across social media platforms and Google Business profiles.

2. Get a Little Long Winded

Non-traditional students aren’t slow decision makers, they’re just considering their budget. For folks who make informed decisions, have little more info on hand. 

To maintain rankings and effective SEO, keep posting short-form videos and digestible online advertising. If a sizable chunk of your consumer base is non-traditional students, or you wan to draw in more of these customers, try some longer-form content.

Post an informative video about your business to YouTube. Share a blog interview with one of your vendors on your social media platform. Pay attention to how this longer form content performs.

3. Create a Community Call to Action

Non-traditional students struggle to fit into campus life. Help them out by creating opportunities for connection.

Create a call to action or CTA in your blog posts or social media content that encourages interaction. At the end of a blog post, encourage customers to ask questions about your service. Offer incentives for your customers to call, email, or visit in person. 

4. Share Content on All Social Media Sites

To target consumers right out of high school, digital advertising is focused on TikTok or Instagram. Yet demographic data indicates older customers still use Facebook and YouTube more often. 

Link content to these platforms and keep them active to attract more non-traditional students. 

We Reach Adult Learners

Not sure if your current marketing plan will reach non-traditional students? College Marketing Group can help you get there. With years of marketing experience under our belt, CMG can craft an effective digital marketing strategy that taps into all college students.

The Tub Thumper


Get curated college student marketing content directly to your inbox every month.

Your Name(Required)