How to build a student ambassador program for your university, college or school
10 minute read
So you know what a student ambassador program is and why you need one, but running it is no mean feat. At least, running a successful one isn’t.
That’s because when it’s done right, a university and college ambassador program isn’t a loose group of volunteers that talk to prospects a couple of times a year at your open days: it's a professional, organized and effective extension of your admissions team, supporting the execution of your student recruitment strategies and helping to attract new students.
Once you have one up and running and you unlock the secrets of peer-to-peer, you'll be able to provide your prospective students with information they value highly: the experiences of your current students.
How to plan a successful student ambassador program
Before you jump straight in and start recruiting, you need to spend some time deciding what you are trying to achieve with your student ambassador program. This advice still applies if you’ve already launched one.
Find an appropriate time to look at your strategy (the time between semesters is often a great opportunity) so you can move forward with a concrete plan.
What problem will a student ambassador program solve for your institution?
Student ambassador programs can help you solve a number of domestic and international student recruitment and enrollment challenges. Here are some the most popular, with real-life examples:
Supporting international recruitment. The University of Sydney uses student ambassadors to support its international recruitment strategy and drive applications.
The University of Adelaide uses its digital student ambassadors to increase offer-holder acceptance rate.
Keble College, University of Oxford, uses its program to widen participation.
Building meaningful relationships with prospective students is particularly important to the University of Technology Sydney.
Rochester Independent College uses its students to build digital advocacy bringing the school experience to life.
NCUK has successfully engaged its student ambassadors to create large amounts of high quality user-generated content.
Once you’ve decided what you are trying to achieve with your student ambassador program, you'll also need to ask the following:
- How will we facilitate interaction between prospects and ambassadors?
- How much content will ambassadors be expected to produce, where will it go, and what form will it take?
- Who will be responsible for managing the student ambassador team, the content they produce, and the events they take part in? (This can be a role that senior ambassadors take on).
- How will we incentivize our ambassadors? More on that later.
- What does success look like? What metrics will we track, and how will we measure them?
- How often should we evaluate our progress and respond to the results?
Setting clear expectations won’t just make it easier to ensure that your program is filling your enrollment funnel, it’ll mean that the ambassadors you work with will know what’s expected of them.
Once you know what your program wants to achieve and how you will measure success you can start to recruit your ambassadors. Download our student ambassador program planning checklist to help you get started and set up for success.
How many student ambassadors do I need to recruit?
We are asked this question a lot, especially from customers who don’t have a formal ambassador program or who don’t currently have student ambassadors.
Our advice is to start small (with just 3 or 4) to avoid feeling overwhelmed, and then build up your team over time to align with your objectives.
What does a successful student ambassador team look like?
It goes without saying that, ultimately, the success of your program depends on building the right team of ambassadors. When you have thousands of students at your institution, choosing whom to recruit to represent you can be challenging.
It’s vital to ensure your ambassadors are from a variety of backgrounds and study a range of subjects. This makes your team well-positioned to help a variety of prospects, who may be from different backgrounds themselves or be interested in different topics.
Having ambassadors from different years of study is also important, so prospects (and especially International students) can hear from students at different stages of their education.
Do my ambassadors have to be students?
This is another question we come across a lot, and the answer is no. Your student ambassadors don't have to be students at all. Your university, college or school ambassadors can also be staff members, alumni, or parents.
Define the ambassador role for your institution
Before you create a student ambassador job description you need to think about the scope of the role. What would you like your ambassadors to do? How does this fit with the objectives of your student ambassador program? Here are some of the ways you might want to think about using your student ambassador team:
- Using student ambassadors at recruitment events. How many events will you be running? Will these events be online, offline, or both? Think about the kind of qualities you might need for an in-person event v’s an online event.
- Using student ambassadors for online chat. Will you be using ambassadors online to talk to prospective students? Which platform/s will you be using? Tools such as The Ambassador Platform provide a safe environment for students to connect and chat online. What kind of writing and communication skills might your ambassadors need?
- Using student ambassadors as the face of your recruitment marketing. Prospective students prefer to hear from real-life students and using your ambassadors in your marketing campaigns gives you the opportunity to showcase your unique student experience.
- Use your student ambassadors to create user-generated content. Nothing is more authentic or persuasive than user-generated content, especially when marketing to Gen Z. If you would like your student ambassadors to create content for you, think about the platforms and formats you will be using, many universities are using TikTok for recruitment and admissions.
So you’ve decided the objectives of your student ambassador program and you have defined what exactly you want your ambassadors to do. Now it’s time to write the job description and advertise! But wait, what’s in it for your ambassadors?
“Our prospective students and parents tell us they love the fact that we share content featuring students on different social platforms, and then see the same students at recruitment events or on a webinar, then see them highlighted in an email, and finally when landing on our website they can see the same student is available to speak to.”University of Sydney
How to incentivize your student ambassadors
Working as an ambassador is not only an enjoyable role but one that helps build tangible skills and boost your ambassadors’ employability. Many of our customers choose to pay their ambassadors for their time, but by no means do all of them do this. Nor should payment be the only benefit to your ambassadors. What else can you offer to make the role as attractive as possible?
- Can you offer a period of work experience in either your institution’s recruitment or marketing teams?
- Will ambassadors be able to give their input into your organization’s campaign planning and earn yet more experience for their resume/CV?
- What training will you offer? For example, this could be training on using social media platforms or creating video content.
- Could you create a mentorship program where more experienced ambassadors work with newer ambassadors providing supervisory and management experience?
Now we know what’s in it for our students, it's time to write the job description and think about the recruitment process.
"The best thing about being an ambassador is you get the chance to help showcase your university through your own eyes. You have the freedom to post content that reflects your university experience - it helps personalise the content which I love."Toyin, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom
How to write a student ambassador job description
Job descriptions will vary from institution to institution but you should outline the work your ambassadors will actually do and how many hours they would be expected to work. If applicable what their pay will be, and anything else specific to your scheme or your institution’s policies around job descriptions for student roles. You can download our template student ambassador job description to get you started.
How to promote your student ambassador job
Be sure to make any job adverts you create accessible and work hard to make the roles themselves inclusive and representative. You don’t just want to recruit an entire team of the same sort of person - ideally, your ambassador team will be a true reflection of your wider student body and be as diverse as possible. You want to give as many prospective students as possible the chance to find an ambassador who feels like a good match for them. Use our template student ambassador job advert to get you started.
When it comes to advertising your ambassador vacancies, it’s about exploiting whatever opportunities you have to promote your ambassador program and encourage people to put themselves forward. Here are a few ideas for you.
Social media has a wide reach across your community and is great for getting the word out that you're looking for a broad range of people interested in representing your institution and building their own employability skills.
For universities and colleges, a stand at something like a Freshers' Fair/ Student Orientation is a great way to reach a huge portion of the community, especially first-years who will be very well placed to engage with prospects making their education decision. And don’t overlook things like job boards; anyone actively looking at those boards will definitely be interested in taking on some work, so they’re also a key place to advertise.
Simply sending an email campaign to specific groups to advertise the opportunity to represent their department/team/course/faculty could also be a good tactic, as well as speaking to academics or managers, asking them for recommendations of candidates who might represent their team well.
Create a buzz: finding the added extras to shout about
Something else you should look to actively promote to your potential ambassadors - either in the job description or as part of your wider promotional campaign, is the impact the work of an ambassador has and the added benefits of working in such a role.
When it comes to impact, your ambassadors will be able to help prospects make a life-changing decision in a more confident and informed way, get involved in wider marketing and recruitment, help represent the institution on a bigger scale, and contribute to your institution’s marketing channels to reach audiences far and wide and give them an authentic window into life at your institution.
A lot of those points of impact are also tangible benefits of being an ambassador - they’ve got a real opportunity to help shape how your institution interacts with prospects and build some tangible personal career milestones, which is really valuable.
Beyond those, the key thing to stress is that being a successful student ambassador is real-life work experience promoting professional growth. It is a job regardless of whether or not they’re paid.
How to select your student ambassadors
The final thing to think about when it comes to recruitment is how you’re going to assess your applicants and pick your ambassadors. You might want to interview them, you might ask them to submit examples of content as part of their application, or you might want to do something totally different.
However you assess your potential ambassadors, our strong advice would be to come up with a way of learning more about your applicants and, crucially, why they want to be one of your ambassadors.
Holding interviews is a great way for you to get a sense of your applicants - although do bear in mind some of them might be nervous. You could run these interviews in person, via Zoom, or even over the phone.
You should try to make them as relaxed as possible, and come up with questions that will let your applicants’ personalities and passions come out. Use our student ambassador template interview questions and guide to get you started.
Remember, the assessment process isn’t just for you to find good candidates; it should allow your applicants to get an even better understanding of what the role entails and allow them to decide if it is something they want to do. With that in mind, make your assessment process reflective of the role, and allow opportunities for your candidates to ask you questions too.
How to manage your student ambassador program
So now you have recruited a talented, passionate team of student ambassadors, and you’ve set yourself up for success. You haven’t guaranteed it, though.
Even the most enthusiastic of employees (because that’s what student ambassadors are) can lose interest if the program isn’t managed well, with engagement and recognition as a priority. Student ambassador programs have a leg up thanks to the rewarding nature of their work, but there’s more to be done to ensure your program runs smoothly.
Maintain clear expectations
Continue as you began with your detailed job description, and ensure that your ambassadors know what to do and when once they’re in the role. Creating an editorial calendar is a must, especially if your program leans heavily on content. Once you’ve gathered a team, you’ll have a good idea of the resources at your disposal and be able to craft a realistic plan for content creation.
Performance reviews, whether formal or informal, are another crucial part of the engagement equation. Research suggests that nearly two-thirds of Gen Z employees want regular feedback on their work, and it’s also a valuable opportunity to recognize their successes. 40 percent of Americans would put more energy into their work if they felt recognized for it, so it’s a valuable engagement hack (aside from just being a nice thing to do for your team).
Foster an inclusive culture
Regular meetings aren’t just about feedback and recognition. They’re an opportunity for ambassadors to get together, socialize, and make suggestions of their own. Whether it’s monthly, quarterly, or once a semester, make time to gather your team. Present them with the impact of their work and have an open floor for new ideas. This really matters. Take it from one ambassador we interviewed as part of that survey:
"The best thing about being an ambassador is you get the chance to help showcase your university through your own eyes. You have the freedom to post content that reflects your university experience - it helps personalize the content, which I love.’
It might feel as though there is a lot to think about but if you take it one step at a time you can easily and quickly get an ambassador program up and running. Read our blog and find out how NCUK is using workshops to engage their student ambassadors. And don’t forget there are tools out there to support you.
A complete solution for working with and getting the most out of your student ambassadors
So now you know how to recruit and manage a talented and passionate team of student ambassadors but how do you get the most out of them without significantly increasing your workload? Here at The Ambassador Platform we'd love to help you turn your student ambassadors into a highly effective marketing and recruitment team. Explore our site to find out more about our complete solution for working with student ambassadors or why not book a demo with one of our friendly team. We look forward to meeting you!.
Still not sure you need a student ambassador program?
Read our guide 'What is a student ambassador program and why you need one' for a full explanation of the many benefits student ambassadors can bring to your university or school!
What our customers say
"We were looking for a way to incorporate more of our student voice into our clearing campaign. We've tried web chats in the past but TAP enabled prospective students to make an instant connection with our current students when they were needing to make quick but important decisions."
"One of the most crucial and beneficial elements of school visits to Caius is the chance for school pupils to interact with undergraduates, who may be from a similar background and have themselves embarked on a similar journey to get to Cambridge. In the current circumstances, it is important to keep this interaction going as far as possible, and [TAP] seemed a perfect way to do it."
"The ability to speak to current students who have gone through the same things they have, we felt was really important. TAP really gives us an opportunity to showcase those students, what country they're from, what their interests are, and what they're studying."