A woman being filmed as the subject of a testimonial video

Higher Ed Marketing Videos that Deliver: 8 Types with Examples

Colleges and universities invest budget every year on marketing videos for testimonials, the website, campaigns, social media posts, and advertisements. But how certain are they that these videos actually appeal to their targeted marketing personas? Based on user research, we break down the 8 main categories of higher ed marketing videos and provide the best video examples from colleges and universities.  

Videos have always been an important part of your marketing toolkit, but with the upheaval of the COVID-19 Pandemic, they are now more important than ever. 

Because of the pandemic, fewer prospective students are able to tour the campuses they are considering. While videos are not a complete substitute for the in-person experience of a tour or counseling session, they are the most effective tools you can use to communicate your mission and brand. 

Pandemic Impact

Studies have indicated that in general online creator-driven streaming video content is up significantly since the beginning of the pandemic. (Creator-driven includes influencers and vloggers.) YouTube continues to be the most popular channel. Consumers are also more likely to watch long-format content (longer than 20 minutes) than they were six months ago. 

General online creator-driven streaming video content is up 27% since the beginning of the pandemic.

46% of viewers are more likely to watch long-form content (longer than 20 minutes) than they were six months ago.

Source: Google/Bain, U.S. Streaming Video Consumer Survey

It’s obvious that the videos colleges and universities produce to promote their schools are now more important than ever. 

8 Types of Higher Ed Marketing Videos

The videos colleges and universities use to promote their marketing efforts fall primarily into the following categories:

  • Ambient Hero Videos 

  • Brand Anthems

  • Brand Advertisements

  • Events / Celebrations 

  • Testimonials - Student, Alumni, Faculty

  • Day in the Life 

  • Campus Tours / Organizational Overviews

  • Pandemic / News Announcements

Important Note 

Other videos colleges may produce — presidential addresses, lectures, instructional guides, straight news features, etc. — are usually news items or admissions and/or academic support pieces and not regarded primarily as marketing materials. Also excluded from the categorization is the subset of news videos announcing COVID-19 policies. The pandemic videos discussed here were produced primarily as marketing materials for prospective students. 

1. Ambient Hero Videos

Ambient hero videos appear primarily in the hero/marquee area of a school’s homepage. They establish the school’s personality and set the tone and expectations for what they will learn as they explore the school further.  


  • Hero videos usually launch automatically as the homepage or landing page is accessed.

  • Audio is silent - occasionally a speaker/audio button is provided to trigger any accompanying audio track.

  • Mobile interfaces sometimes swap these videos for static graphics.

  • Drone shots of the campus are common.

  • Quick cadence with limited text overlays keep these fast-paced and exciting.

  • Provide an overview of campus life in less than 30 seconds.

Because these are so ubiquitous, they are seldom remembered or commented on during ethnographic interviews by students after they have seen them. However, they play an important subliminal role in the formation of students’ perceptions of a school.

Example Video

The Alfred Homepage as an example of a higher ed hero video


Alfred University’s  ambient hero video* consistently tests well. It is fast-paced and provides a view of the campus, student life, teacher/student relationships, traditions, cultural events, learning environment, and key academic programs. The camera moves fluidly with subtle dissolves between shots.

*Hero video may be substituted for a news brief.

2. Brand Anthem Videos

A school’s brand pillars and mission are often conveyed in a brand anthem. These videos often feature straight-forward, direct communication from a narrator with an authoritative voice. They demonstrate the quality of the campus, student life, graduate outcomes, and student/faculty interactions. Cinematically, they show the school’s mission in action.  


  • Concise, action-driven language from the school’s mission is often used and informs the narrative structure of the video. Platitudes and buzzwords are commonplace.

  • On-screen supportive text is often included to emphasize key brand pillars.

  • Mix of campus shots, learning environments, student life, teacher/student interactions, campus events, school history, famous alums, outcomes, and student demonstrations. 

  • Tone is often authoritative, but friendly — serious, but optimistic.

  • Drone footage of the campus is common. 

  • Videos often begin at sunrise and end at sunset — as though recounting a day on the campus. This approach is so ubiquitous it has become rather cliche. 

Example Video

“That’s Berkeley” The University of California Berkeley’s brand anthem is a good example of how to show a school’s mission, history, and brand pillars in action. Most importantly, it conveys diversity and inclusion naturally, and shows examples of social activism in a positive way without mentioning it in the narrative voice over. It shows more than it tells.

3. Brand Advertisements

Brand advertisements are designed to trigger a positive emotional response to some aspect of the school’s brand by using advertising techniques. They rely more heavily on gimmicks and storytelling than brand anthems. Special effects and ear-grabbing soundtracks are often used. 

To succeed, this type of video must have an incredibly appealing hook that draws the viewer in, keeps them riveted, and makes them excited about the school. The gimmick to grab the viewer’s attention must not offend viewers who don’t respond positively to the approach.


  • Brand advertisements try to capitalize on popular social trends in telling the brand story. These often include video formats — music videos or narratives that reference popular movies, music, or books. 

  • Most of these attempt to convey how unique the school is by presenting it in a unique way. 

  • These videos often take risks in their attempts to grab attention.

  • Most fundraising campaign videos are brand advertisements.

Example Videos

“If” — The University of Oregon’s brand advertisement consistently scores high among advertising agencies who create these types of marketing materials for colleges and universities. The gimmick is the meaning of “if”. It relies on exciting cinematography, special effects, and a driving soundtrack to overcome the long build-up to the gimmick explanation.

“Special Delivery for the Class of 2022” — Boston College’s Harry Potter-themed video is an example of associating one aspect of the college — its gothic style of architecture — with a popular social reference that prospective students may find compelling. This video received a lot of buzz when it was released in 2017-2018. The production values are high — featuring an original score played by the school’s orchestra — and it gives the impression that attending BC will be just like attending Hogwarts. 

4. Events & Celebrations

The focus of these videos is a celebratory eventtraditionritualtitle win, or happening on campus. To succeed, these videos must show the event as important to achieving personal and/or professional fulfillment. They should convey joy and sense of purpose from the participants and inspire viewers to wish they could be part of the action.

Typical Events

  • Graduation

  • Move-in day

  • Holiday festival

  • Traditions & rituals

  • Charitable & community events

  • Social issue forums and demonstrations

Example Video

“Graduation at UMKC” — The University of Missouri Kansas City’s graduation video transcends the ceremony and shows the experience and impact of the school. The video — though it is ostensibly about the graduation ceremony — communicates more about the school than just a recap of the event. Fast-paced and captivating, it shows how the students achieved this life milestone, the impact of the school on their lives, and the experiences they lived. All of this accomplished with video clips playing behind the graduation speeches.  

5. Testimonials: Student, Faculty, Alumni

Testimonials provide a glimpse into the lives of people affiliated with the university or college. Most often they show a studentfaculty, and/or alumni perspective. The most effective of these rely less on the background story of the featured subjects — although providing a little context is essential — and more on the experience of the school and its impact on the subjects’ lives.

Impact More Important than Personal Story 

In order for their testimonials to be successful, testimonial subjects should be relatable and the experiences they articulate must be vital and compelling. It’s important for the chosen subjects to inspire empathy from the viewer. It’s not essential that they are from the same background as the viewer, only that they are someone the viewer would want to get to know better and befriend. Experience and impact are much more important than personal story.

Example Videos

“Our Lives at Middlebury” — Middlebury College’s student testimonial video focuses on the experience of the school — social, academic, personal — more than on the individual subjects’ backgrounds. Choosing students from three different ethnic and regional backgrounds helps show that the school is a place where people from multiple perspectives can find support, academic and personal fulfillment, and success..  

“Oberlin Faculty Profile: Kendra Colton”  — Oberlin College and Conservatory does an excellent job of conveying what learning from an instructor will be like — in this case vocal coach Kendra Colton. This video is effective because it drops you right into the education experience. You get to see what it would be like to learn from this instructor, what her approach is, and how she nurtures her students. Prospective students also get to see the student in action and see if they would fit into the conservatory — are they good enough? 

6. Day in the Life Videos

These videos are personal accounts — similar to influencer vlogs — of students as they are engaged in the daily pursuit of being a student. Most of these are presented as though they were created by the students themselves and appear to be unscripted. As a result many viewers regard them as more authentic than the scripted student testimonials.


  • Cinema Vérité techniques — hand-held camera shots, over-spoken dialogue, incomplete thoughts, hesitant narration, etc.

  • Selfie video capture

  • Frequent use of vertical/portrait orientation

  • Production quality of the video is not as important as the appearance of authenticity

Most Impactful to Prospective Students

Prospective students ages 17 - 20 (GenZ) find day-in-the-life videos to be the most authentic and appealing of the categories. If they think the video is created by a student — even when it is not — they assume that the video subject is expressing their own words and their own ideas and it is much more believable. 

Example Video

“A Day in the Life at Yale” — Yale University’s video follows senior Louisa Nordstrom on a typical day. The video is polished and compelling even though it was probably filmed by her using her phone. Louisa is enormously appealing. She is both magnetic and classically attractive. But beauty — no matter how you decide to define it — is not essential in choosing a subject for these day-in-the-life videos. The important aspect to focus on in choosing a subject is to make sure that the viewer will find them relatable and personable. Viewers should feel that the person they are watching would be a good and helpful friend — someone who the viewer can trust.  

7. Campus Tours / Organizational Overviews

It’s important to note that these are tour and overview videos that are created by college marketing departments without using virtual tour and/or mapping software. These videos show off a particular aspect of the campus, its facilities, and/or a featured organization (e.g. a  tour of the Black Student Center, gym, dining hall, dorm room).


  • Many are narrated by students. 

  • If it is a tour of a featured organization the student is usually a member or alum of the organization.

  • Conveys the campus or organization as welcoming and special. 

  • Vistas of empty campus spaces devoid of people do not appeal to prospective students. 

Example Video

“Take a (Virtual) Tour of NYU” — New York University’s campus tour has some heavy lifting to do. It’s a non-traditional campus in the middle of a chaotic city with several satellite campuses scattered across the metropolitan area. The student narrators are appealing and engaging, the editing is crisp, and the special effects make the ungainly campus feel very homey, beautiful, supportive, and fun.  

8. Pandemic-related & News Videos

Many universities and colleges have used the power of videography to communicate their policies about the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of these are news bulletin formats and/or a series of administrators speaking to the camera — usually from behind a mask. 

Example Video

“Move-In Day 2020” — The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s combination of move-in day, testimonial, and official pandemic announcement is a great way to communicate the confusing and somber news of what the school is doing to address COVID-19. Note the visuals that show the mask warnings and the social distancing decals on the floor. They help communicate the message instantly and more effectively than any of text or narration.