Higher Ed TikTok: 5 Universities and Colleges Making Waves

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As TikTok has solidified its place as the go-to platform for the younger generation’s creative expression, colleges and universities have amped up their presence on the platform. In 2023, the academic world continues to light up the TikTok scene with a keen eye on engaging their Gen Z audience.

As your definitive guide to what’s happening on social in this sector, our latest Higher Education Social Media Engagement Report covers the latest trends and stats, as well as ranks the top universities and colleges on TikTok and other platforms.

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So, what’s the scoop this year? We’re rolling up our sleeves to spotlight a handful of top-tier colleges and universities whose TikTok game is stronger than ever. If you’re hunting for inspiration to craft your next scroll-stopping video, join us as we dive into the strategies behind the TikTok success of five standout schools.

Inspirational TikTok Tactics from 5 Top-Performing Schools

1. Florida International University Leads the Pack

Florida International University stands out as a true TikTok trailblazer, leading the charge with over 36K followers and securing the top spot in our ranking of D1 higher education institutions on the platform.

The school struck gold by riding waves of TikTok trends, and one standout moment was when they went viral by crafting their own version of a trending audio. Leveraging the trend of asking viewers to use an audio to claim or manifest their desired results, FIU created a TikTok aimed at students hoping to ace their midterm exams.

FIU's top TikTok earned over 1.4M total engagements and over 10M views.

The result? A whopping 10M views and 1.46M engagements, boasting an engagement rate by view of 14.6%, nearly 3x greater than the median for D1 colleges and universities. This viral sensation demonstrates the power of connecting with students on a relatable level and tapping into current trends.

So, what can other schools learn from FIU’s viral triumph? The key takeaway here is to tap into trends and put a spin on them that will resonate with your target audience. Whether it’s crafting your version of a popular audio or leveraging trending challenges, finding ways to connect with students on a personal level is key to success.

But that’s not all FIU had up their sleeve. They also introduced “Roary,” their suited mascot, into the TikTok equation. Roary’s dance moves and participation in popular challenges and trends were embraced by viewers. One such TikTok yielded an impressive engagement rate by view of 15.1%, nearly 3x higher than the median.

Roary's dance battle TikTok was a big hit generating over 44K views.

Why does it work? It’s simple – college students love to see their beloved mascot getting in on the fun and being relatable. This approach embodies the spirit of college life and speaks directly to the target audience.

As universities and colleges continue to navigate TikTok, FIU stands as a shining example of how creativity, relatability, and a good dose of trend-savviness can help you excel and truly connect with your audience.

2. The Ohio State University Crushes TikTok with Buckeye Spirit

When it comes to conquering TikTok, The Ohio State University is undoubtedly one to watch. With over 163K followers at the time of writing, they’ve got 15x the follower count of the average D1 school. But that’s not all; they also clinched the #3 spot in our ranking of D1 higher education institutions on the platform.

What’s behind The Ohio State University’s TikTok success? Well, it’s not just about audience size but engagement. OSU has blown past the competition with a whopping 190 TikToks that surpass the median engagement rate by view of 5.06% — that’s the most of all the top 10 ranked schools!

One of the key takeaways from OSU’s TikTok game is knowing your legacy and what your audience values. Many of Ohio State’s top-performing TikToks revolve around sports, a nod to their longstanding athletic tradition. A TikTok about the unforgettable experience of your first Buckeye home game raked in an engagement rate 3.7x the median, proving that showcasing tradition and passion can strike a chord with your audience.

Top university on TikTok, The Ohio State University evokes all the feels with this video that captures the experience for a first-time Buckeye.

Behind their TikTok triumph is sheer dedication. Ohio State posts about 4x as often as the average D1 school, ensuring they stay top-of-mind with their audience. And it’s not just about quantity but quality too. Their social media team, which includes full-time staff and student interns, has a solid process in place. They’re “agile and creative,” staying on top of trends and turning them into Ohio State gold.

For instance, one of their standout TikToks was a timely reaction to the “only in Ohio” comment train that had taken over. Making use of a popular trend that featured a GIF of Stranger Things actor Finn Wolfhard, the TikTok earned a staggering 17.7% engagement rate by view and over 444K views.

#onlyinohio TikTok generated 444K views, 78.7L in total engagement , and a 65.5% engagement rate by follower—all metrics that can be easily viewed with Rival IQ.

While TikTok trends may come and go, The Ohio State University is a shining example of how dedication, creativity, and a solid team can make all the difference in captivating and engaging your audience.

3. Colorado State University Strikes a Balance

With an overall engagement rate by view of 13.35%, Colorado State University garnered more than 2x the engagement of the median D1 college and university this year. The school also boasts an impressive following of over 15K and sits comfortably at #8 in our ranking.

What’s Colorado State University’s approach? Their TikTok strategy strikes a perfect balance between relatable, funny memes and high-quality, professional content. They’ve mastered the art of speaking to the typical Colorado State student while showcasing the best of what the university has to offer.

One prime example is a TikTok that reenacts the all-too-familiar scenario of getting lost on campus, using a popular meme featuring Breaking Bad character Walter White. The post managed to achieve an impressive engagement rate of 19.9% — nearly 4x the median — and shows how highlighting relatable campus life experiences is something this audience loves to engage with.

Colorado State University, a top university on TikTok's relatable video of getting lost on campus performed nearly 20% better than all it's other videos.

But Colorado State doesn’t stop at relatability; they also know when to turn up the professionalism. When it comes to showcasing the beauty of their campus or the charm of Fort Collins, they aren’t afraid to switch gears to do it justice, opting for professionally filmed and edited content.

One TikTok features a breathtaking drone shot of Old Town Fort Collins, adorned with twinkling lights. It’s the kind of video that makes you want to pack your bags and head to Colorado State University immediately — or, at the very least, double-tap and show love. The post garnered 36.7K total engagements for an engagement rate that was 4x greater than the median.

A breathtaking TikTok of Colorado State University's Old Town captured from the air.

So, what can other universities and colleges learn from Colorado State’s TikTok wins? It’s all about finding the right balance. Blend humor and relatability with high-quality visuals to create content that resonates with your audience. Colorado State University has shown that authenticity and professionalism can coexist on TikTok, resulting in an engaged and growing follower base.

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4. University of Wyoming Sparks Conversations On Campus

Coming in at a solid #5 ranking on our list, the University of Wyoming is a school that has evidently cracked the code when it comes to engagement. More than 90% of the university’s TikToks this year had engagement rates that soared above the D1 college and university median of 5.06%. That’s a staggering 106 out of 117 posts that hit the mark, so what’s made them so special?

The university sets themselves apart with their ability to connect directly with their target audience — the students themselves. They don’t just talk about campus life; they live it, and they want others to join in on the conversation.

One of their standout moves is rubbing elbows with their fellow students and regularly interviewing them for tips about campus life or their thoughts on fun topics. The below TikTok, where students spilled the beans on the best study spots, scored an engagement rate of 16.8%, or more than 3x the median.

TikTok featuring students' favorite study spots on campus

What’s brilliant about this approach is that it not only makes you feel like you’re right there on campus, but it also tackles topics that matter to students. In addition to showcasing the school, it creates a sense of community and sparks conversations. When you see a fellow student sharing their favorite study spot, you’re not just watching — you’re nodding in agreement or chiming in with your own suggestions in the comment section.

So, whether it’s tips for surviving finals week or sharing the best pizza joint in town, the University of Wyoming’s TikTok presence is more than just content — it’s a community where engagement thrives.

5. University of San Francisco

When it comes to mastering TikTok, the University of San Francisco is proving that honing in on a niche audience can lead to outstanding success — and a comfortable 4th place position on our ranking of top D1 schools on TikTok.

USFCA’s strategy takes a unique twist by catering primarily to prospective students with the USFCA Admissions account. Instead of trying to appeal to the masses, they’ve honed in on the admissions journey. This specialized approach allows them to create content that resonates deeply with their target audience, offering valuable insights into college applications, the admissions process, and more.

For instance, one TikTok took viewers “behind the curtain” to reveal how a University of San Francisco acceptance letter was packed and achieved a solid 10% engagement rate. This unique peek into the school’s inner workings clearly excited fans and is just one way the university regularly showcases a unique point-of-view on admissions.

Viewers loved the rarely seen BTS video of admissions folks packing college acceptance letters.

The University of San Francisco also smartly connected and collaborated with other schools. In one memorable TikTok, they hilariously reenacted the typical campus tour, giving a shout-out to the University of Hawaii (Manoa) — another institution that made it into our top 10! — for the content inspiration.

What happened next? A full-blown collaboration that’s unfolding in a mini-series, drawing in viewers from both schools. By connecting with others in the TikTok sphere, USFCA extends their reach and welcomes new followers into the family. It’s a strategy that showcases their friendly, inclusive spirit and adds a dose of crossover fun to their content.

All in all, USFCA is blazing their own trail on TikTok, creating content that speaks directly to their future students and building connections with fellow institutions along the way. And with an engagement rate nearly 3x the median for D1 colleges and universities, they’re definitely making waves in the TikTok sphere.

The Wrap Up

TikTok can be a tough nut to crack but these top-tier universities have aced the game with their winning strategies. Whether it’s Florida International University’s viral audios or the University of Wyoming’s campus interviews, there’s something to learn from each of them. So, if your school wants to step up its TikTok presence, take a cue from these trailblazers, find your unique approach, and watch your engagement soar.

Therese Nguyen

Therese is a former marketing manager turned freelance content writer based in Dallas. Working with agencies and B2B brands, she specializes in covering the latest developments in marketing trends, insights, and strategies. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her researching her next travel destination, wrapped up in a book, or jamming to BTS’ entire discography.

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