With one of the most hectic weeks in higher education admissions behind us, now is a great time to look back on what universities can learn from their mistakes, as well as the mistakes of others, during UCAS Clearing. No one university is perfect, despite what their marketing collateral may say, and even the biggest and most prestigious higher education institutions can be guilty of making some simple mistakes during A-level results week.
Mistake #1 – Marketing only to students who missed their offers
There is a common misconception that it is only students whose A-level grades fail to meet an existing offer that apply to university through Clearing. While Clearing does cater to students who didn’t achieve the grades they’d hoped for, its main purpose is to support students looking to find a university course better suited to their needs.
Among students that applied to university through UCAS Clearing in 2014, only 35% were those who had missed their grades, according to research from UCAS Analysis. Nearly a quarter of Clearing applications (24%) are from those who wanted to change course provider and a further 24% hadn’t previously received an offer.
UCAS Clearing applicants to your university could have simply changed their minds or applied late, which was the case in 20% of Clearing applications last year. Of those placed via Clearing in 2014, 16% held ABB+ grades – so, to assume that every student applying through Clearing did poorly in their exams can ostracise/patronise those students that simply had a change of heart.
Mistake #2- Marketing the course, not the university
In the rush to fill the spaces still available on particular courses, some higher education institutions fail to market their universities as a whole and focus solely on marketing the course. Even though the availability of courses is a significant influence on a prospective student’s decision, other factors such as facilities, housing and location will have a huge impact on their decision-making process.
Universities need to market themselves as a brand with more than one key selling point. For example, the University of Sheffield heavily promotes its reputation for world-class research, but at the same time highlights to prospective students that it has “the best student union.”
Mistake #3 – Marketing UCAS Clearing ONLY during results week
Granted, the first 48 hours after A-level results are announced will be the most hectic, but it doesn’t mean that the work will all be done in time for the weekend. Clearing offers are usually valid for 48 hours, which means that there will still be places becoming available the week after results day. Keeping your university marketing efforts in place until either you are completely full or the academic term commences will make you more likely to pick up any lost last-minute applicants.
To the same degree, many A-level students will know they didn’t do well during their exams and will have been weighing up their options from the moment they put their pencils down. Many universities will not have had staff available throughout the summer months to handle enquiries from prospective students about their options during Clearing and, as such, may have missed out on recruiting potential students.
Mistake #4 – Being too gimmicky
Earlier in the year, universities in the UK’s north-east were being called out for using “shallow marketing gimmicks” in order to attract new students. Higher education institutions such as Teesside University were handing out cash incentives to students who enrolled, while the University of Sunderland provided students with travel passes worth £213, or a discount on accommodation fees. Universities in the south have been known to do the same, with the University of East London offering every new student a tablet computer, and the University of Bedfordshire giving its new starters £300 to spend on learning materials.
An over-reliance on gimmicks can cheapen your university brand while at the same time diverting funds away from areas that need improving. Even a simple email marketing campaign can prove to be more cost-effective than expensive marketing gimmicks. They cost little to run and more accurately target students that fit the university’s criteria for applicants.
Mistake #5 – Sending out incorrect information
This happens so rarely that when it does, it tends to make the headlines. Earlier in the year, the University of St Andrews erroneously sent out offer letters to some 800 students. Instead of contacting a small group of prospective students to invite them to an open day, the email went out to 760 applicants, incorrectly suggesting that they had secured a place at the prestigious Scottish university.
Three years ago, the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland made a similar mistake, incorrectly informing 370 students that their applications had been accepted, resulting in some students turning down other offers.
Learn from their mistakes and make sure all your data is safe and triple-check any mass mailouts before sending.
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