Much has been thought and written about the factors influencing the student journey already. The consideration of these factors by industry professionals and policy makers affect the way the task of attracting more students is being approached, whether it be embedding destination marketing messages into website content or making top level policy decisions regarding student visas and future stay.
Naturally, students would like to get into the `best` universities that they possibly can, within the field of opportunity available according to their financial means, academic achievements and probabilities of obtaining a study visa. Considering what the `best` universities look like, we can refer to a number of different sources, listing the ‘top 10 factors in choosing a university` or some other clickbait title. However, the truth is that the decision to go through the trouble and cost of applying to a university generally comes down to the fee level, the perceived quality of the university’s education and facilities, be it through a ranking or some other metric such as the employment stats of recent graduates, and the candidate’s affinity to the host university and country. I don’t think this summary would be surprising to any higher education marketeer, what I do find interesting is the lack of variety in unique selling points and marketing messages that we tend to go with: every cycle I continue to see materials decorated with pictures of empty buildings with neat lawns, on which students are sprawled in the sunshine. If I didn’t know better I would assume that university life for a student consisted of walking through empty corridors half the time and sitting on the grass for the rest of it. Anyhow, I digress.
If you have children or relatives coming up to university age you know first hand how difficult it is for a student to navigate through this landscape. Influencing is still being done by word of mouth, or sharing of experiences, and everybody is readily willing to pitch in with their two cents. At this stage, prospective students will indeed be dreaming about where to go and what to do, and will shortlist universities based on whether they tick the boxes that I talked about above. A little while later and a bit further down the line in this journey, the student will have applied to some of their shortlisted universities and hopefully have several offers amongst which they will have to choose. If we assume that they went through the shortlisting process in a thorough way, all the universities that they have offers from will satisfy their criteria – they will have a reasonably strong international ranking, a nice campus, plenty of great facilities, good teaching, a vibrant student community, enthusiastic ambassadors to talk to and plenty of successful alumni. So how do students distinguish between the universities that they have already applied to and been admitted by?
In many cases students are influenced to choose one university over another by their budget. It could be that they are offered a partial or full scholarship, that they might be eligible for loans or financial aid, or simply that the living costs in one city are more affordable compared to another. In any case, it is up to the university to make clear to the student what the possibilities are and transparently outline processes to allow candidates to access financial support opportunities.
The admission’s pace
First come first serve unfortunately still applies to the university landscape. If a student is being admitted at one university way sooner than the other(s), students tend to choose for certainty and will be more likely to choose the university with the first offering. As a result, universities tend to participate in running ‘an admission’s sprint’ with each other aiming for admitting students as soon as possible.
The final factor I want to refer to is connectedness with other new students. The biggest uncertainty for new students is the anxiety of becoming lonely or the possible risk of not having a good time. Making connections with students who are in the same boat with likeminded interests could be a huge influencing factor for offerholders. A network before arrival could assure to students they will have a good time and they will have likeminded friends. Together with study success, a social network is the most important factor for a young adult discovering a new place.
To be able to fortify your position in student recruitment and continue to grow into new markets, I would urge to diversify your USPs, become more attuned to the habits and expectations of the target group, and also to turn an eye to the factors that are actually crucial to improving the outcomes of your marketing spend. Do focus on a customer friendly student journey, aim to answer leads with a working day and applications within 10, but consider the new generation’s expectation to be and stay connected with each other as a must – as you facilitate this for your incoming cohorts, the more you will reap the rewards.