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What students want… How to appeal to prospective students

Every step of the student journey is influenced by digital media - from finding a university to remaining connected as alumni. so to appeal to prospective students, it's important to consider the whole student journey, take a user-centred approach and understand how digital can enhance the overall university experience.

Based on our varied experience and research working with over 50 clients in the higher education sector worldwide, we’ve highlighted our top five tips to help you stand out from the crowd and stay relevant in a competitive and rapidly changing market.

1. Clarity around what makes your institution different
Think of the amount of planning, energy and resources that go into your university’s annual Open Day in an effort to recruit new students. Thanks to presentations, demonstrations and being able to physically tour the campus, it’s easy for prospective students to see what makes your university what it is, and how it differs to your competitors.

Now compare that to your digital strategy. In today’s crowded higher education market, it’s vital to think of your online presence as an open day that can be accessed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Compare your institution’s website to that of your competitors – how clearly can you distill the differences between the student experience?

Articulating your university’s unique selling propositions in a way that speaks directly to student desires is how you’ll stand out to your target audience.

2. Easy-to-find key information
Even with a shortlist of preferred universities, prospective students are met with an overwhelming amount of information when deciding where to study – much of it very similar. Between course descriptions, fees, career pathways, campuses, application processes and scholarships… you want to be known as the institution that doesn’t make finding important information unnecessarily complex or convoluted.

The key here is to first understand who your prospective students are, and what they’re looking for. The most effective way to go about this is to develop personas and customer journey maps. From here, you can use personalisation techniques to tailor site navigation and content specific to the prospective student’s needs at a particular time.

3. A seamless, intuitive application process
Your application process sets the expectation for later experiences – make sure it’s a good one. A clunky online experience gives the impression that your university is behind the times. Not to mention, it implies that all future administration the student goes through will be equally as frustrating. The idea that your institution is not up to date with technology runs the risk of crossing over into the education you offer – a risk you can’t afford to take in today’s market.

Following customer experience best practices and undertaking adequate user acceptance testing will help you avoid this poor experience.

4. A cohesive experience across all touch points
Your content doesn’t exist in a vacuum – you need to consider your website, social media, email communication, apps, digital, traditional advertising and other content marketing holistically. Students are engaged and influenced by various channels so it’s important to be active where they “hang out” online.

A comprehensive digital marketing strategy (including remarketing) allows you to engage with prospective students cross-channel and keep your uni at the top of their mind throughout their digital journey.

5. Intuitive online learning
Our report may be about getting “bums on seats”, but only when you think of that seat being ‘anywhere with an internet connection’ are you really considering your institution’s full potential. Like never before, being able to set your own schedule is a benefit more and more of us are taking advantage of. Just as media streaming and flexible working hours are changing the way we plan our days, there is a greater call for universities to provide flexible, on-demand learning to suit busier lifestyles.

This may mean 100 per cent online study, but it may also mean mixed-media education – potentially with lectures online, but tutorials held on-campus. In this instance, it’s important to get the balance of face-to-face versus online learning right, so you’re able to build a relationship and connection with a student while simultaneously providing the flexibility they require. Then, (to attract the right prospective students) it’s important to highlight the flexibility your courses offer with real-life testimonials of current students who are going through the process and can endorse the university for its flexible learning.

For more insights about building a student-focused digital strategy (including 10 tactics you can implement for quick wins), download our report: Bums on Seats – the digital battle for students. Or for personalised advice, get in touch.