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Marketing to parents and care givers – what do they want from the student marketing process?

Our Head of Education, Jane Johns, conducted some research with parents and care givers to discover what they really want from the university marketing experience. The results… may surprise you. Read on for exclusive insights you can incorporate into your campaigns and communications.

Parents and guardians are key influencers of young people’s higher education decisions – no surprises there. But did you know that 93% of young people believe their parents/guardians are a vital influence on their key education and career choices? A further 57% think this influence could be termed a ‘fair amount’ or a ‘huge amount’ (Philips and Newton, 2019 - based on a survey of over 1,000 UK parents).

But why is parental and care giver input so key? Here’s three potential factors:

  • Loss of career advice services within schools.
  • The increasing cost of higher education equals a higher funding requirement from parents and care givers. Therefore, parents have a greater stake in decision making.
  • An increasing number of parents attended higher education themselves, they’re therefore able to advise their children.

So as student marketeers, this is an important group to reach. Like all successful attraction campaigns, the earlier you invest and build engagement, the more likely you are to establish brand loyalty. Parents are no different. A short survey of care givers and parents across Penna and our wider network (who are going, or have recently gone, through the university application process with their dependants) has revealed that university communications are directed in most part at prospective students. Parental involvement is only referenced, in the main, in terms of finance. Survey respondents commented:

“I believe they communicated with our [child], not us.”

“I only really interacted with the university when it came to paying! Everything was communicated to my [child], there was nothing aimed at parents that I saw.”

“(What surprised me the most is) how much information is needed from parents regarding finance when applying for bursaries and grants, but universities don’t think to include parents when making choices.”

So marketers, how do you start to navigate the ‘parent path’ in and around HE? It’s not as straight forward as marketing to school leavers. Your first strategic aim should be two-fold:

  • Your schools/outreach teams need to ensure they attend events that will include parents.
  • Audit your own university website and events – is there enough parent/guardian specific content and interaction? If not, why not?

Our respondents want more contact and a more interactive approach to parent/guardian communication from universities. When asked whether, as part of the process, those surveyed attended any sessions aimed at parents/guardians the most common response was that no such sessions were offered.

This equates to a gap in university marketing strategies. Although parents appreciate universities treating prospective students as adults, they feel opening a parallel dialogue with them would be of great benefit.

Areas of concern will differ amongst parental/guardian demographics. But some commonalities are:

  • Financial concerns, including worries about debt and living costs, are among the most common concerns held by parents and guardians about universities. This comes with a concern about whether university would improve employability and earning prospects.
  • Lack of knowledge about support available at university is also a key concern for parents around non-delivery of advertised promises. Bringing us swiftly back to the need for parent/guardian specific messaging via channels and platforms.

Open days are also important to consider. Parent specific aspects, be it face-­to-face or virtual, give them a chance to speak candidly to your university. Parents and guardians want to know about course content and employability statistics. Universities need to demonstrate why their child is going to feel comfortable, safe and be able to thrive. So, tell them about safety on campus, student forums, mental health policies and resources, tutor time and pastoral care.

Getting parents and guardians involved from the start of the decision-making process, providing clear access to key staff at the university and creating space for two-way communication is a winning formula for gaining parent/guardian buy-in trust and loyalty to your institution.

Can we help?

If you’re thinking about building inclusion for parents and guardians into your comms strategy, you can book a complementary 15-minute consultation* with Jane and the Education team at

*This offer ends Friday 19th November.

Jane Johns is Head of Education at Penna. To get in touch direct, email