How can universities keep up with changing

trends in student recruitment?

January 2017

How can universities keep up with changing trends in student recruitment?

Blog Post

The nature of higher education recruitment is always changing, and the last 12 months has been no exception. According to the latest UCAS End of Cycle Report, 2016 saw the highest level of main scheme applicants receiving the maximum five offers, as well as the highest number of applicants placed through Clearing.


On the other end of the scale, EU applications for the “early deadline” in October were down by 9%; a possible effect of Brexit earlier in the year. Not to mention that digital and social media platforms have, once again, rewritten the rulebook on millennial engagement through pushing ‘live’ features. So, in the face of such turbulent change, how can universities keep up?


For a start, understanding the behaviour of today’s prospective students is essential. There is no fixed time of year when students begin researching potential universities; all students start exploring their options at completely different stages. This means that while big campaigns during major recruitment periods can be successful, the effects will only last temporarily. An “always-on” marketing strategy, on the other hand, will reach more prospects and maximise chances of receiving as many high-quality applications as possible. Record numbers of main scheme applicants (those who applied before the January deadline) were placed through Clearing in 2016, and who knows what will happen this year. However, what we can predict is that students who go through the Clearing process are more likely to apply to a university they recognise. Seeing regular content and ads throughout the year will help them develop a sense of familiarity and even fondness of the brand.


The removal of the cap on university places appears to have had a direct effect on the number of offers made, with applicants 54% more likely to receive offers from all five of their choices in 2016 than in 2011. This indicates how universities are competing harder than ever to acquire the best undergraduates. With this in mind, building strong relationships with prospective students should be considered a priority. The key is acquiring and analysing data, in order to send personalised communications with a student based on their interests and previous interactions with the university. Higher education is a huge investment for an individual, both personally and financially. Understanding this and supporting a prospective student through the various stages of the decision-making process will build trust, help the university stand out from its competitors and ultimately convert that prospective student into an applicant. Well-executed relationship marketing will also establish loyalty, which for a university may mean a student could go on to study a Masters or PhD.


However, it is not enough to wait for prospective students to get in touch; universities need to reach them on platforms they are already using. Facebook continues to dominate the social media market, with Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat running close behind. Sharing creative and relevant content across these channels enables prospective students and universities to connect on a personal level, which can, in turn, lead to enquiries. “In-the-moment” content, like Facebook Live streams and Instagram Stories, are currently leading the way. For a university, this can mean using visual content to give the audience a feel of what life is like on campus. Prospective students trust that what they see is natural and authentic as it is ‘live’, providing a change from the refined and pre-planned content they have become accustomed to. It helps to bring the experience to life before prospective students have even arrived, which is particularly useful when recruiting students who are unable to visit the university before applying.


For more information on how we can help you stay on top of changing recruitment trends, please get in touch.


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