I would describe myself as an expert bargain hunter. I switch my insurance and utilities providers every year to get the best deal. But there’s one provider who won’t see me defecting any time soon – and that’s First Direct. Why won’t I switch? They care about me.
OK – I’m a marketer so I know very well that they don’t know me – but they certainly make every interaction as rapid and hassle-free as they can. I like their personality. Their emails are a bit quirky and not banky. And of course I wouldn’t welcome the nonsense involved in transferring direct debits to another bank.
What’s this got to do with university marketing and student recruitment?
My clients have been making full preparations in the run up to Clearing this year. We’ll see more brave new campaigns and innovative approaches to offers and conversion. But before Clearing we need to be mindful of one clear segment:
All too often we view Clearing as the final piece of the student recruitment puzzle. But last year’s cycle gave us plenty of clues as to the types of behaviours we might expect in 2020. And if you need a recap – here’s my handy round-up of the four audiences not to forget.
The four audiences not to forget
2019 saw the introduction of ‘Self Release’; a process involving a few clicks on the UCAS website and… hey presto.. a confirmed student becomes free to enrol at a different institution. The sector waited with bated breath to see how their hard-fought-for students would deal with the prospect of a pain-free switch.
In many ways Self Release showed universities the ‘leak’ in the pipeline that was already there. Many students did request to be released in the past, but it was a more formal and clunky method. The new mechanism made the previously not-very-visible, visible.
So, with this in mind what should you do right now to prepare for switching behaviours? Here are the four key audiences that should be included in your Clearing plans for 2020.
1. The ghost applicants
28,030 pressed the button to release themselves from their original university choice. But interestingly around 9,500 of those students disappeared i.e. they didn’t go to another university. A clear reminder that people can switch off altogether. Perhaps this is our chance to really examine these students and find out what put them off? What lured them away from HE? And what can we, as a sector, do about that?
2. The about-turners
73% of placed Self Releasers accepted a course they hadn’t previously applied to. Wow.
There are so many things I could say here about how these last-minute changes of heart will probably impact upon retention. But that’s for another blog. So universities, with this in mind: Do your current offer-holders know that they can switch courses at your university without having to ‘leave’ you first? If they can’t switch courses, perhaps you might reconsider your processes?
What else can you do? Are you making sure, this week, that your firm choice students are sure of their subject choice? Is it worth a phone call?
3. The waverers
33% of all main scheme Self Release decisions were made by non-18 year olds. That’s a significant proportion. These are not ‘direct to clearing’ applicants. They have been through the whole student recruitment journey with you. Maybe they are mature students who have opted to stay closer to home? Maybe they are feeling uneasy about fitting in at your university?
What can you do? Do you have a specific induction week for mature students? Do you buddy up current mature students (of a similar profile) with your Firm choice students?
Perhaps remind them why they selected your university in the first place before they press that button?
And remember, even if you have performed well in clearing, 2835 students who confirmed their place through clearing still ultimately opted to Self-Release. As soon as a clearing student accepts your offer, do you make sure they feel part of the family from that very day? Or do you send them a ‘pack’ and hope they turn up?
And finally, spot the opportunities.
4. The prior acquaintances
We all know that university choices are less transactional and more relational. Universities are engaging in a light courtship from the first moment we interact with prospective students. It’s important that you leave a lasting positive impression with ALL of your enquirers – even if you reject them. Why? 70% of Clearing accepters in 2019 made contact with one of their original university choices.
Astonishingly one sixth of Self Releasers who had a confirmed place in the traditional UCAS cycle went back to one of the universities they had previously declined. The moral of the story?
You might have been dumped but a reconciliation is very possible.
What does this mean for you? Well, let’s be clear – contacting students who have already declined your offer would be viewed as poaching. So, I can’t advise you do that.
But if you’re not mapping all of your Clearing and Self-Release enquiries against all of those applicants with whom you had a previous ‘relationship’, you are missing a trick. How lovely it is for an anxious Clearing caller to be greeted by a university ambassador who knows they visited the open day last summer. It’s the ultimate ice breaker.
So, that’s it. You have a few days to pre-empt (unprecedented) switching behaviours. Students are already pressing the Self Release button, so as a first port of call, check how many have already said goodbye to your university.
My bank was so confident of their service they said they would give me £50 if I wanted to go to another bank. I never have. This year will be the ultimate test of the commitment of your firm choice students to your university. If you have a minimum number of Self Release students – you’ve clearly shown them enough for them to want to stay. Something to be very proud of at this moment in time.
UCAS data can be found here (figures are rounded up for simplicity)