January 15th was the UCAS deadline day – the last day for UCAS applicants to submit. And this week you’ll be either celebrating or reeling at the student recruitment figures for your institution.
For most universities, this is the key time to really know where you are with your applicant numbers. Suddenly, everyone is interested in undergraduate recruitment.
Are applications up or down? How are we doing against competitors? Have we got everything we need in place to maximise conversion of these applicants and make sure they choose us?
Making the most of the period
Senior management will be looking closely at the student recruitment and admissions teams – and if you are at the centre of that, working in recruitment or admissions, it can be a difficult and stressful time.
I’ve been there, in key recruitment or admissions roles at several very different universities, and know exactly how that feels.
Much of the time your department gets little interest or support from the wider university, and suddenly you are right in the thick of it, under the microscope and (if you are lucky) being given extra resources to spend in super quick time.
So what do you do? Spend more on advertising? Set up a new applicant Facebook group? Put on free coffees at your visit days? You’ve been planning this recruitment cycle for more than a year, and now you are expected to pull yet another rabbit out of the hat! Well, for what it’s worth, here are my top suggestions on how you can get the most from the situation.
More resources for Student Recruitment
If you haven’t been offered additional funding, now is a great time to bid for it. That one big project or initiative that you’ve wanted to do for ages, but didn’t have the budget for. Now is the time to raise it – because now is the time that the pressure is on.
Get the wider stakeholders on board
Heads of Department may not normally pay too much attention to student recruitment, but they are paying attention right now.
Take advantage of this moment to tell them about what you are doing and get them on board with all your conversion activities. You’ll be relying on their staff to deliver amazing stuff on applicant visits, so get the Heads involved in these, attending them and getting buy-in from their staff.
Focus on your Applicant Visit Days
The number one conversion tool you have at your disposal is your visit day programme. Here are six tips to make sure you get the most from them:
- Maximise attendance: Invitations should be clear, simple and frequent, booking should be simple, and confirmations and reminders clear and unambiguous.
- Connect ahead of time: Give applicants the opportunity to ask their burning questions before the event – connecting them with staff and ambassadors for their specific course. This is where a platform like Unibuddy comes in. The conversations they have before the event will engage them and of course means they are more likely to attend.
- Create a seamless registration experience: Ensure the welcome is easy to find, and registration is straightforward. Visitors make a very swift judgment about how they feel as they arrive. A welcome coffee (preferably a barista coffee!) is a small thing that makes a big difference. A great welcome will set the tone for their visit.
- Utilise your ambassadors: Student Ambassadors are key in helping applicants gain a sense of belonging at your university. They are far more than just tour guides and sign-posts. So get them properly involved, trained and make them central to your day. They should be themselves – real and authentic – but also prepared, knowledgeable and confident.
- Give your support services a boost: Whether it’s careers, mental health, or disability support, these service can tackle applicants’ and parents’ worries – so should be prominent. And remember, they won’t have large marketing budgets. Maybe help them out with some shiny new display stands so they don’t look second best!
- Follow up: Event follow-up is also a key part of your communication with your applicants – so make it personal. This could be as simple as giving them links to their chosen departmental pages. Or you could go further – encouraging the staff who met them to send a follow-up message, or connecting them back to the student ambassadors through Unibuddy.
Fringe events for Student Recruitment
Of course, some applicants may not be able to attend. But don’t write them off. Smaller scale weekend or half-term events and workshops can give them an alternative opportunity to connect with your university.
And, of course, online events bringing applicants together at one time can be great for those with too far to travel. If you don’t know about it, do check out how Unibuddy Live can deliver an online experience for your prospective students!
Whatever extra initiatives you decide you can do right now, I’d encourage you to focus on giving your applicants that real sense that they belong. This is best achieved through personal connections with people who share their interests and passions, in a place that feels like it could be home.