Tips, Tricks and Traps for Recruiting Students

By Kordell Norton - Copyright 2006 - all rights reserved - call for permissions


If your organization is like so many of our clients, you are working hard to recruit and enroll students, with many coming from other education institutions.  In our years of working with educators like you, we have gathered their ideas and insights on how to grow their student populations.  You may want to check back from time to time to see what new ideas are out there. 


And, if you want to take your education and professional staff members and give them the skills to make your school population expand give us a call.  Our high energy, humorous and education programs focused on giving professionals their own marketing skills  . . .  bring results!


Kordell Norton

(330) 405-1950 or (877) 660-04237 Toll

President, Synergy Solutions LLC



Tips, Tricks and Traps for Recruiting

A partial list of ideas and activities from Career & Technical Centers and Colleges on ways to recruit new students.

By: Kordell Norton, ©copyright 2007, all rights reserved



The following is an ongoing, growing list of ideas, brainstorms, programs, and initiatives that you can use to grow your enrollment.  These ideas come from many recruiting workshops, and conversations with educators.



Advisory Committees

Get them started OR change the members regularly – get attendance by making the content/direction/mission relevant with the Committee members


Send Mailings

In summer to the Students (“Congratulations. . . if you have any questions come and see me, y’all come on over for dinner, Mama can put another cup of water in the soup” message)


Adult Education

Getting more adults to the school will expose their families to the programs offered.  “Yes Virginia, Adult Education IS a recruiting tool for the High School”. 


What’s That?

Create a section of each classroom wall that has attention getting stuff for visiting students to see and ask. . . “What’s That?”  Created by the students based on their HeadNodders (what are HeadNodders. . . . go to for the answer)


First Day of School Standing Ovation

One Career Center has ALL of their staff line the halls inside the front door on the first day of school.  As the students arrive and walk through the door they are greeted with applause on making the choice to attend the Career Center.


Last Day of School Standing Ovation

See previous entry.  This time the faculty line the halls and applaud as the students leave for the summer . . . the applause in congratulations for the year completed.


EXPO/Garden Show

A day to show case the school and it’s programs – held on a Saturday when everyone can attend from the community.


Soup with the Sup

The superintendent invites officials from local cities, business, feeder schools and other parents and citizens in for soup and salad.  He does this by school district. 


Call The New Students on the Phone

Welcoming them . . . making them feel important, starting the process of building rapport with them.


Logo Wall

Have a huge bulletin wall where the logos of companies who employ Career Center graduates can be tacked. Challenge the students to bring in new logos.  Message communicated. . . .our students get real jobs, with real companies, for real money.


Student Involvement

Have them involved in the recruiting process.  One experienced veteran supervisor has his teachers do less than 50% of the talking during sophomore visits.  His experience is that having current students talk to prospective students has more impact.  It often has more creditability and reinforces the programs for current students (can you say retention)


Scholarship Thermometer

In a common area of the school, have a graphic/visual chart that shows the cumulative scholarship dollars the students have been awarded.  Done over years for impact, don’t start over from zero each year. . .but make it a running total.  Message communicated. . . . “our students go to college AND they get financial aid” 


Pre-Orientation Catalog

Create a catalog of the courses available and FAQs for students before the orientation.


PowerPoint Power

Create an official PowerPoint presentation with notes pages that the students could use to communicate the value of the Career Center (with “You Cans” language) as THEY make ambassador visits to the feeder schools.  Provide them with shirts with the school logo on it and pizza on their return.


You Tube

Have a contest in each class.  Have the students create a proposal (for approval by each teacher) for a You Tube video that highlights the career tech program/class.  Then have the approved “videos” filmed and posted to You  Then communicate the videos to prospective students.


Son of PowerPoint Power

Create an official PowerPoint presentation and send it to the homes of students. . . .ONLY ADDRESS IT TO THE PARENT.  The premise is that often the parents would more likely open and read a PowerPoint.  Consider putting some relevant parent information in the PowerPoint (like 20 web sites that have “how to apply for financial aid for your soon–to-be college student)



Have a wall with the faces/names of students who have taken trips for competitions each year.  This wall needs to be in a place where visiting students would see it, or a page in their orientation book.  Our research shows that the potential of taking a trip is a HUGE motivator for potential students.  “We are not in Kansas anymore Toto”. 


Power Speaker

Sponsor an outside motivational speaker that could deliver a powerful message to the home/feeder schools on the future, values, the job market (which message would be associated with the Career Center)


Create “One Pager” marketing pieces for each program (using the Headnodders and "YouCan" language


Fish Month

Have a month with a contest for students to have them do recruiting . . . giving them tools/materials/ways to have conversations with their friends.  Done a month or two before Freshman/Sophomore visits.


Adult Education

Have a proactive plan with your Adult Education group to introduce their capabilities and classes to your students BEFORE they graduate.  Reason. . . . if they come back for further education once they graduate from High School, they will more likely refer others to the Career Center post graduation.


Recruit your High School'rs in Adult Education

The adults in the evening class are sold on your programs or they wouldn't be there.  What are you doing to provide them with materials on your High School career and technical programs for their kids, neighbors, friends?  Do you have any referral systems geared to your Adult Education students?


Christmas Cabaret

Have a faculty member be Santa? Open House with Holiday cookies baked by the Culinary Folks, etc.


Business Cards with the schools Primary Sales Message as part of the card


Pumpkin Launch Contest

There is a Career & Technical Center who has their classes who can handle and weld steel conduct a contest to launch Pumpkins.  These classes come up with catapults, cannons built from springs off of cars, etc.  Then the whole school goes out to a nearby field to watch the pumpkins get launched.  Some of them travel up to a quarter of a mile.  Fun?  Yes!  Worthy of news coverage?  Most definately.  The P.R. is great. 


An Evening “Taste of Career Tech Education” Program

Give examples of the sort of material that are used in class


Take your Parent to School Day – very cool idea. 


8th Grade Visitations


Sophomore Visits

Focus on making these an “experience” using the Wizard, clothes, electrons, food, music parts of an experience – See for more details



Do an exercise with the whole faculty on what Networks they belong to and how can we do a 6 degrees of separation/use the network planning process.


Class Websites


Email Lists – use email more to touch current and new students.  Make sure you are capturing the email addresses of all Sophomores when they come for their visits.  Also have a registration card for parents and get their email address (used for eZine)


Talk to Parents – come up with plans to proactively reach these people


Parents as Recruiters

Have a plan to use parents in Sophomore/Freshman visits.  Have parents talk to parents, great them at the door of the class, answer questions, etc. 


Projects for Visiting Students

Come up with short, fun projects for them to do while they are here – items with a big “wow” factor


Listen to Students

Suggestions boxes, focus groups, blind mail drops, classroom discussion  - ways to get feedback from the students.


Experiential Games

Make sure you conduct one or more experiential games the first two weeks of school to drive up retention and to spread the word about how much fun the career and technical school is.


Now THAT is Funny

Create a bulletin board where students can post messages of funny and entertaining things that happened in class. 


Go out to Business and Industry

Field trips, have faculty serve on advisory boards of companies in the area..


Certification Wall

Have a wall showing the certifications that the various classes prepare students for.  At the top of this bulletin board you could use the following quote.  “One recent survey shows 1 in 5 jobs require a degree from a post secondary institution, but 1 in 8 jobs require a certification”  (from – A Parallel Postsecondary Universe from the U.S. Department of Education)


County Fair Booth

Place a booth at the local or county fair showcasing the career and technical class.


Guitar Pins

Create a cool pin for use in the pin exchanges at State and National competitions – something that other kids will want to swap for, as in . . . “that is a really cool pin, what school are you from again?”


Blog or Podcast

Although these are not “push” marketing tools, if you have your students create these (in your Interactive Media class), they can be tools for recruiting.


New Student Orientation

Consider using a mentor program with a senior assigned to a junior.  Drives up retention and student buy in.


Job Shadow


Friend Referral Contest

Give current students skills to communicate (using You Can language) the value of the Career Center to their friends. 


Tech Resource to Home Schools

Go do “guest teaching” on something the career center covers/teaches that the home school does not.  This may be in a related area of interest – Digital Design with Art Classes at the HS, or Digital & Video Media Production with Drama Classes at 8th or 9th grade level


Put on Workshops/Seminars in different areas

Have the students teach.  Fix and repair your computer, or Quickbooks/Accounting for small business – these could be done in conjunction with the local Chamber of Commerce OR to/through the local city/county/state government.


Alumni Club

Start one, or start marketing Adult Ed to the existing one.  Make sure you are capturing the email addresses of members.


Etiquette 101

One school that has a cafeteria, has a seminar (first offered to HS students and later to the public) on restaurant etiquette, which fork to use first, keeping elbows off the table, etc.  


English Writing Contest

One program had their career education students write an essay on their favorite teacher in their home/feeder school.  This allow the word to be passed on that the career center has an interest in supporting and hyping the skills of the traditional academic teachers. 


Pizza Boxes

One organization paid to have their information put on pizza boxes, which were then given away to local pizza parlors.  They saw a 7% increase in recruitment as a result of the new visibility.  One recent Business Week magazine wrote how the military is using this technique for the National Guard. 


Where is YOUR paint ball world?

The military figured out that those who like to shoot guns would be great recruits to join the armed services.  They discovered that the local paintball game business is a great place for prospective recruits.  Where would your “recruits” hang out?


Bathrooms that smell

Research showed one school that the single largest recruiting influence for a student was their mother.  And the #1 thing a mother looked at (in this case in the dormitory) was the bathroom and then the meal options.  The school stepped up the bathroom cleaning details and meal marketing as a result.  What do your bathrooms smell like?  Doesn't a bathroom that has an air freshener in it "seem" cleaner?


Cut Down Trees

There was a school that had a couple of trees that hid one of their best looking buildings.  The administrator cut down the trees AND planted 10 additional trees elsewhere so he could show off his facility.


Vice President of WOW

One school has a Vice President of Wow.  This person’s job is to look for ways to make the staff, facilities, programs have more WOW.  If there is focus on exceptional things . . . the students will see them and tell their friends.


Parking Sign for Visiting Students

There is a school that has a special parking sign that can be changed to show the name of a student (it can get changed as often as 4 to 5 times a day).  Imagine a student and parent pulling up and seeing their name on a reserved parking sign.  Very impressive.


Pave the Dirt

One educator stepped up the meetings with his facilities director to at least once a day.  He realized that the physical facility was so very important to the image that prospective students took away.  He asked when they could get the dirt paths paved that over the years the students had created. 


Homework for Parents

Since the decision to attend a school tends to be a long decision and not a snap decision, it is important that there is continual reminders of the value of the school and program to both student and parents.  Remember that it takes about 7 "touches" for the average customer to buy.  How many touches are you orchestrating?


Ice Cream Truck

As a kid you probably have fond memories of the Ice Cream truck winding through your neighborhood.  To bring those strong emotional memories back and tie them to the students decision, one school hired the local Ice Cream truck to come to the doors outside the lunch room . . . with their music blaring . . . to pass out free ice cream to all the students.  It went over so well that they then sponsored it to go to home/feeder school districts to pass out free ice cream.   He does make sure his school brand/name is all over the outside of the truck.


A Cold Day in . . .

It takes a VERY cold day.  One educator saw the students huddled out side waiting for their bus.  He made a quick phone call to the kitchen and had trays of hot chocolate taken out.  If you were a student would you remember that?

Who's House Is It. . . . really?

Check the artwork in your hallways.  These kids/customers are used to being recognized with their best artwork hanging on the refrigerator door.  Their rooms have artwork on the walls that they probably had a hand in picking.  They come to the school and walk the halls, quickly associating with work done by students.  In one school an administrator was speaking poorly about some of the old, old artwork on the walls that "we can't get rid of.  It is the senior management, they don't seem to hear that the students think it dates the school". 


TV is TV is TV

The televisions in the lunch room need to be changed.  It is the common area for all students.  You may have a new lab and equipment in one class and be several years to upgrading another class but all students go to the lunch rooms/common areas.  To have old, traditional, cathode ray tub technology instead of the new flat panel televisions makes you look old. 


Recruiting is Music to My Ears

To manage the retention drop that occurs in the first two weeks, one school has a band come and play during the lunch hour.  "How was school today," asks the mother.  "Oh, nothing special, we just had a rock band during lunch . . . and they were pretty good." 


Fix the Hamburgers

During one Focus Group with students the point came up that the school was great, the programs superior but that the hamburgers were so bad in the cafeteria that potential students “heard through the grapevine” that they might want to reconsider attending the Career Center because the food was so bad. 


The Whiner Clicker - At one school every student is given a small "clicker" that makes noise.  When anyone (faculty, staff or student) starts to say something negative, you can pull out your clicker and give them several little clicks to make them aware of their draining, negative thinking and words.  Winners like to hang out with winners.  Sometimes the negatives don't even realize they are a drain and the clicker makes sure everyone is growing, helping, contributing and thinking the best. 


Evaluation Sheets

After your visits send them an evaluation sheet.  Short, sweet and simple.  The two questions . . .  1.) What did you like?  What did you see as the greatest value for you and your future?  and 2.) What do we need to fix?  What would you like to learn more about?

The answers to the first question you will use in your future marketing materials for testimonials.  The answers to the second question lets you know where you work is cut out for you. 


Evaluate It! 

Make sure you are getting feedback after the “1’s”  The first day, the first week, the first month, the first ˝ of year, the first year.  Use the insights gained (see previous posting) for marketing, improvement.


Give every student a raffle ticket when they visit the school then give out $5 or $10 prizes

Not a bad idea.  What would happen if you made the invite look like a dollar bill ripped in half with wording on the back that indicated that if they come and - "check it out. . . .see why our school is the place to get a fantastic job and future AND by the way we will be giving out $$$$ in drawings on our visitation night" 


Send them Post Cards so both the students AND THEIR PARENTS will see our information.

Because it is a school, these post cards would probably look fairly conservative.  Will that catch anyone's attention?  Probably not in the and world.  I would recommend you have a contest in your graphics classes to see what attention grabbing ideas YOUR students would come up with.  Put these on a postcard and they will probably "jump out" in all of the mail and get attention.


Ask students to bring a feedback form from parents after a month or two of school.

Great idea.  It will let you know how much mind share you have with the parents and what kind of job you are doing.  Customer Feedback in great organizations is planned for, gathered and used to improve the organization.  In average organizations it is talked about. . . . sometimes. 


Ask current students what would be a good way to attract new students.

Cooking with gas!!!!  The thing to watch out for here is to list their ideas and then stack rank them by how difficult they are to do and how much they cost.  The bigger the impact, the easier to do and the smaller the cost (or no cost) . . . . DO THOSE. . .NOW!


Get quotes from businesses and publicize.

If students could actually see businesses who are recommending the school . . .  it wouldn’t take very long for them to figure out that JOBS are to be had by being a student.  Great idea.  Where you can, make sure the quotes are short, like one to two sentences, and talk about the RESULTS that the businesses got as a result of using the school.


Playing THEIR Song

FSU, while recruiting Myron Rolle, the #1 football prospect in the country, the school played the song “Everybody Get Your Roll On” when he entered the stadium during his visit.  THAT did the trick.  Myron now goes to FSU.


Smock Size – There was the school that measured the students for their smock size.  When asked why, the response was, “we just want to have your monogrammed name on your smock when you arrive”.  Personalize, personalize, personalize. 


I have included quotes from teachers as they shared their individual tricks and tips below. . . .


Recruiting “trick”

“To sell my program – attendance is so important for students to learn about when it comes to “keeping” a job.  - I bring a $50 & $100 bill and for one year of perfect attendance (no tardiness, no absences) . . . on the last day of school I give them out.”

Do you know how much a $100 is to a 17 year old?  That is right.  It is $100.  But to them it is a VERY big deal.  It is probably the competition that is even greater.  Don’t you think every student in that class is tracking who is going to win?  


Mall Display “Even though it was lots of time and work, our mall display per program we did several years ago was a great success”.

Because it is a pro-active effort to go outside the walls of the building and share your message and You Cans with the public.  This is proactive marketing of a class and program to people who normally wouldn’t hear the message.  Do teenagers hang out at malls?  Home run idea!


Student Created Movie

“My students made a Windows Moviemaker “movie” and they narrated it for the sophomores.  They snuck in a slide about me even though their slide was not in the original movie that they showed for approval.  Because they thought that the students should know about me and our relationships.”

There is an old saying that goes “a good sales person drives the enemy crazy in times of war and the home office crazy in times of peace.”  Moral – these students may come up with some maverick, creative ideas to market and promote your program.  Be VERY slow to squash their ideas.  Their frank honesty can be powerful.  Do you think the slide about the teacher had more impact when they shared the presentation with prospective students?  You know they had to brag about their teacher and tell the STORY of the invisible slide.  Huge creditability for the prospective student.


Teach the Students how to commicate their class/program’s value

My students sell Auto Tech for me every year.  I help them with ideas and positives and answer questions as needed.”

Look at what he does.  This is the proverbial, “teaching them to fish.” He gives them skills to communicate, sets the stage that he expects them to recruit and sell and then coaches them on possible You Cans (benefits) and questions they might run into and how they might answer them.  You know when you want to learn and retain something, you just teach a class on it. . . . and it is in your head forever.   His students are sold on the class and are convincing others on how good it was. Proactive.  Excellent.  


Demonstrate an exciting lab procedure, ex. phlebotomy.

I don't know if would want to be the lab-rat for the procedure . . . .but pulling someone's blood out in front of a group would tend to get everyone's attention.  The prospective student would definitely have a wow experience/story to think about. 


Culinary Arts demo for Exploring Careers Day – obstacle course in restaurant.

You have got to love the obstacle course.  Can you image the student the next day telling their friends, "Last night we went to this restaurant at the school and were competing in a Survivor type game."   There is no way this culinary program won't create huge buzz using this. 


Have them make something that relates to your class

Take a picture of them, put a caption on and send it to them afterwards.  Invite them to visit the class again.  One teacher has them make a flower arrangement from the green houses, another has the prospective students do something in the shop.  You know that these prospective students will take their creation home and it will get put some place visible (think about your refrigerator door).  Taking the picture and adding a caption (sounds like this particular teacher is in multi-media) will allow you to get their email address or home address and subsequently allow you another touch point with this prospective student.   


Showcase what the program has to offer

One fashion design program put on a fashion show, complete with catwalk and soundtrack to showcase their designs & recruit students into the program.  There are several television shows right now that glamorize the fashion industry.  Sounds like this teacher is doing the same thing.   


Tell them about the “Showy” stuff

“We told potential students that in our health occupations class, we go on a field trip to see a human cadaver.  They thought that sounded neat and gross.”

Imagine a student sharing the story of going to see this cadaver.  Picture the emotions and "cool" factor as they describe the smells, sounds, and people they meet as they look into the miracle of the human body.  To a prospective student who has been dealing with book based learning for most of their education, this has got to explode in excitement. 


Paychecks for week’s work.

By going to or other compensation web sites, you can get a report that shows what a person would earn in a given field.  One teacher goes one step further.  They create a real looking pay check that can be given to the student when they come in for an orientation visit.  How real can you get . . . what they would expect to earn a week if they took the class.  Visible, emotion evoking, real world.  What a winning idea.


Display your Programs active connections with local business

“Set up to be as close to business and industry as possible.  Have as many different stations functioning as possible and include: students working, platform artist working, Sales representatives, local businesses demonstrating.  Real life actions happening.”

Image the atmosphere in this class room during potential student visits.  They walk into an environment that mimics the work place.  They see the various business disciplines at work and realize that THIS IT THE REAL DEAL!  "If I register for this class. . . . it will have a focus on getting me a job". 


Present Senior Projects at Freshman/Sophomore Visits

“ I had my senior students present their Senior group project to sophomores and talk about their experiences in Health Technologies.  They were enthusiastic and displayed a genuine love of the class – that made sophomores want to enroll in their junior year.”  Remember when you looked up to those who were SO much older and wiser than you?  Those "older" students who were 2 years older than you in High School who were so cool, smart and put together.  Here the teacher is using both the show and tell AND the power of an older peer to recruit.  Smart.


Bring in employers who employ our students out of our program.

If the common interest with students, parents and employers is getting a job . . . doesn't this idea cut right to the chase.  To have an employer in the front of the room saying to the prospective student. . . "this is why we love this program". 


Invite students to C.A.P. Contest at our Career School from each home school. 

“I awarded prizes and put contest winners in the local newspaper.  I got 8 of 12 kids.”

The ultimate goal of any recruiting program is to not only get students in BUT to also be able to track your results.  Here is a teacher planned an event (prizes), made sure it was publicized (newspaper coverage), and tracked the outcome.  Are you marketing plans for your classroom this organized!  


Message on Hold

Call you school and get put on hold.  What do you hear?  You have prospective recruits, family or friends who should hear the message about the benefits of attending your school.  Organizations would love to have the luxury of having the undivided attention of potential customers.  Your most important growth messages need to be there.


The Lunch Lady

One educator came and told me how most teachers try to get out of "Lunch Duty".  This is where the faculty member watches the kids eat during their lunch period to make sure no hanky panky goes on.  In here case, she was a teacher in a "comprehensive" career and technical district.  So by talking to the kids and making friends during lunch, they got a relationship going to the point of the kids wanting to know more about what classes she taught, etc.  The result was a big upswing in enrollment in her class.


$7 Dollars an Hour

The Construction Trades teacher who asks his students how much they want to make a year.  Most answer in the $40,000 to $50,000 range.  He asks how much that is an hour and they answer that it is about $10 an hour.  He then takes them though setting up a home budget item by item.  When they get done they realize that 1.) $7 to $10 an hour will not cut it.  2.) that they need the kind of money that a career tech job will get them.



To teachers in one programs decided that they wanted to get their message out there for kids in the remote "home schools."  These two had a satellite program that was miles removed from nay possible students.  They determined that a comptuer Kiosk that could travel between the various home/feeder schools was less expensive than a full blow marketing program.  Also, by making a PC disguised as a KIOSK, they could run PowerPoint on it and later update their slides.


Student Recuriting Council

One Comprehensive school determined that they would pick students from some of the major classes and have them get together as a council and come up with ideas on how they wanted to drive recrutiing of new students.  Smart.  Very smart.


Airplane Rides

There was the Aviation High School who taught airplane mechanical training.  They made arrangements for a couple of private airplanes to give rides and then send out postcards to Freshmen and Sophomores inviting them to go up in a plane.  Of course while they were waiting they had to stand around the classroom, lab as current customers sang the praises of this program.. 


About Kordell Norton - The Top Line Guy

Your organization has a strong interest in the "top line" for growth. As a consultant, speaker, author, Kordell Norton works with corporate, association, education and government organizations who want to focus on branding, sales, marketing, strategic planning/leadership, team building, and customer service.

Kordell was an executive with several multi-billion dollar corporations with executive suite positions in sales, HR, marketing and call centers. As a certified Graphic Facilitator, he uses highly visual processes, along with humor, and entertaining methods for powerful, high energy presentations.

Author of Throwing Gas on the Fire - creating drastic change in Sales and Marketing

He can be reached at (330) 405-1950 or at or at his website -