• Mark Higginson

Application Shake Up and Staying Relevant to the Student Conversation

Last week, UCAS indicated they’ll be proposing “radical” reforms to the university application process, namely that students would not be offered places until they have their A-level results. This pre-empted University UK’s release of their Fair Admissions Review which aims to make the whole process fairer to students’ aspirations and stop unnecessary pressures on them.

This year has been unpredictable enough; how can you stay ahead of any changes to come – whether specific to the process or not?


In any given year, you’re already dealing with multiple student groups, applying in a variety of ways, from different countries and often at different times depending on their qualifications and the courses they’re applying for.


Through all of this, your website content and marketing activities aim to target useful content to appeal, inform and engage students so that they can determine if the courses you offer and your institution is right for them. Layered onto this is the range of activities that nudge a student towards the application process; from ordering a prospectus, signing up for email updates, to attending an open event in person or online.


Recent data from HEPI points to the “feel” of a university driving decision making in 2020. So even despite the lack of physical presence on campus for open days and visits, the way in which you’re driving those conversations is paramount.


Whilst you could view the next few years as a potentially chaotic time for admissions, you could see it as liberating from a recruitment cycle that is process rather than person driven. Building your marketing strategy towards engaging with students to provide them with what they need, when they need it, is the real opportunity.


We know, from looking at our own data from cues.ai, that shifts in the recruitment cycle tend to fall into two camps: those we can predict and those we can’t. Major holidays, like Christmas, tend to see students spending less time on university websites, with interest picking up in line with the application process to UCAS in January as they return to sixth form or college. These are predictable changes based on the calendar year and the process of application.


However, we’ve also seen shifts based on the pandemic and the impact of lockdown.


We measure interest in specific courses and can see how user behaviour for those who express either a positive or negative interest in study changes over time.


We’ve previously blogged about retention of users returning a negative response to interest in a course, and how they returned to the website quicker after their negative reaction than they previously did outside of coronavirus. Looking at this same cohort of website users, median session lengths tend to trend upwards shortly after notable announcements around restrictions and during periods of uncertainty.


This demonstrates that undecided users are spending more time evaluating what they want – we even saw our advertising clients’ session duration from new prospect paid advertising double by the fourth week of lockdown, whereas the remarketing audiences – those with preexisting interest and intent – saw consistent and fewer fluctuations in performance.


Using cues.ai these are shifts we can see happen in real-time. This agility allows adjustments to be made to marketing activity, whether that’s CRM data you’re integrating with your digital advertising, or simply the content you’re able to deliver through your website, such as the cues we can show to students who are visiting your website.


Putting the content your prospects will find useful in the foreground at the right moment – such as how they can access online virtual open days, or how to access support to address any concerns they’re having, increases their interactions with your website and increases their propensity to apply.




Fig.1 Negative reactions to specific ‘intent to study’ course page survey queries shows a growth in session length as these prospects investigate additional on-site information.


No doubt we’ll see more speculation over what these changes may mean for students and university marketing and recruitment teams alike. But if the common denominator is finding ways to help students find what’s right for them to enable them to progress onto courses that suit their aspirations, then we’re in the best starting place.


If you’re curious about what cues.ai does – check out this video or drop me an email at enquiries@twentythousandleagues.co.uk.


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