November 15, 2021

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:

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:

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:

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

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