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How to Talk So Students Will Listen: Data to Tailor Your Communications for Prospects

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Have you ever heard of the book ‘How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Talk to You’?

Nope, neither had I.

My colleague, who’s a parent, has read it though and was telling me how it’s useful for communication in life, not just with kids. In the book, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish encourage parents to connect with their kids, empathise so that they understand where they’re coming from, and inform, in that order.

It got me reflecting on when I worked on Student Recruitment and when our message seemed to really resonate with our prospective students. Our most successful campaigns were essentially when we followed this formula.

We reached out to students, listened to what they needed, wanted and when, and then used that knowledge to inform our communications so they were relevant and timely.

There’s never been more of a need for high quality communications as we approach the demographic dip amongst school leavers (a decline of about 14% between 2010 and 2020). Competition is fierce as applications drop, and students and teachers alike realise that they are in a ‘buyers’ market’.

The data you’ve been waiting for

Unibuddy’s been going for over 18 months now, and in that time we’ve collected a huge amount of data from UK and international prospects. We’ve seen over 100,000 messages exchanged between over 7,000 prospects and 700 ambassadors in the UK and internationally.

We’re in a great position to analyse some extremely rich data – so we did just that! Using cutting edge Machine Learning algorithms, we’ve extracted some very interesting findings, some of which I’d like to share here:

Mathematics students: 83% more likely to ask about the modules

What this means for you: Course knowledge is everything – they’re interested in what are the options and what’s compulsory throughout the degree. Tailoring to this audience even in the prospectus or course brochure could reap rewards.

Computer Science: A huge 190% more likely to ask about industry placements

What this means for you: Ensure these are promoted at key decision points – get the employers to talk about them (at Open Days), involve students who’ve been on them, and cover what the outcomes were.

Physical Sciences (so this covers both Chemistry and Physics): 63% more likely to want to know about the workload.

What this means for you: Do you give enough information about the course structure, how you assess, how you teach?

Historical & Philosophical Studies: 93% more likely to ask about societies.

What this means for you: There are two ways to look at this:

  1. These students are aware that their degree alone isn’t what will get future employment, and understand the importance of the tangible skills they gain and the networking opportunities when participating in societies.
  2. Given their demographic profile across the UK, they’re more likely to be aware of societies and their importance in university life. It’s quite probable that they won’t be first generation to enter HE in their family, hence their interest.

Business & Admin: 54% more likely to want information on careers

What this means for you: Well, ok, that’s hardly a bombshell but it’s hard evidence for changing your top level communications with this audience. Ensure your prospectus includes information about graduate destinations and key employers, as well as work placement opportunities, and initiatives run by your Careers department.

Medicine & Dentistry: 370% more likely to ask about the interview and 83% more likely to ask about entry requirements

What this means for you: Yes, I know what you’re thinking – no surprises there then. But here’s the thing – on both these counts, prospects weren’t interested in the official line on these. They’d already done their in depth research on them. What they really were after was a current student’s personal experience of them, particularly if neither the interview nor their grades went according to plan. Prospects know that both of these things have the power to change the course of their life – it’s a momentous turning point for them, and so they seek out understanding what it was like to go through it.

How does this affect you?

To be honest, the desire amongst applicants to connect with those who have gone through it before applies to the whole decision to go to university. It’s not unlike becoming a parent, in the sense that you look for reassurance from those who’ve been through it.

In fact, when we asked prospects who’d used the Unibuddy platform, an overwhelming 89% stated that they felt more confident about university fit. That’s a pretty compelling argument for peer-to-peer engagement.

These are just a few insights from the data we’ve gathered. We’re now working with over 60 institutions around the world who understand the power of peer-to-peer, and we’re enriching the student journey for them with impressive results.

The impact for these institutions? Data analysis such as this gives them a unique insight into what motivates students. It also means they’re able to target information more accurately.

And then of course there are the results. We’ve seen up to 88.3% conversion ratesamongst offer holders, 33.4% increases in conversion rates from acceptance to enrolment, and up to 47% application rates from those who used the platform.

At the CASE Europe Annual Conference on 27-31 August?

You’ll be able to hear first-hand about the insights gained from our Machine Learning analysis from me in my session “Online peer-to-peer engagement: its impact on the student journey, and on your marketing & recruitment goals.” Drop me a line on if you’d like to arrange a chat at the Conference.

Won’t be at CASE?

If you’d like to know more about Unibuddy’s peer-to-peer platform get in touch on or book a demo.

Jonathan Tinnacher, Chief Customer Officer, Unibuddy

About the author:

Jonathan has worked in student recruitment and marketing for 25 years, most recently as Director of Student Recruitment at Imperial College. He joined Unibuddy as Chief Customer Officer in 2017, helping the peer-to-peer platform grow to working with more than 60 partners across the globe.

Having caught the travel bug during his time in international recruitment, he hasn’t missed an opportunity since to indulge his wanderlust.

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