Here’s what students expect from your applicant events

students on campus

Published 06 February 2023

With the January deadline now passed, university applicants on The Student Room are moving onto their next big decision: what to put as their firm.

Applicant days are an important step in that decision-making process. But, as your own applicant days get underway, how do you ensure these events give potential students what they’re really after?

That’s the question we considered in our most recent webinar, hosted by Barbara Bradshaw, senior market research consultant at TSR Insight and Paul Cernicharo-Terol, commercial director at The Student Room. 

Don’t worry if you missed that event. We’ll cover some of the highlights in this blog and reveal what students have told us about what they want from your next applicant day.

Applicants want to feel at home

Students care about the atmosphere on campus. And, once their application is submitted, their perception of that atmosphere matters even more.

When we’ve spoken to students, we’ve seen a clear shift in their priorities post-application. Back in October, we asked prospective undergraduates to tell us all the factors that were important to them when choosing a university. Course content came top, chosen by 70% of respondents; university atmosphere was second at 62%.1

But when we asked a similar question during the post-application period in February last year, atmosphere on campus was in first place (72%). Course content, meanwhile, was down the list in fourth (62%).2

At this conversion stage, applicants want to feel certain they’re choosing the place that’s right for them. 

So, how do you reassure a student that your uni atmosphere is wonderful? You’ll want to get them to visit your campus. 

Giving applicants a reason to visit for a second time

There are some key barriers to coming to on-campus events. In our October survey, most (70%) applicants said they intended to attend at least one applicant day. However, 9% of respondents said they did not plan to attend any.3

That could well be because they have already visited and feel like that’s enough (84% of all respondents had already attended a virtual or on-campus open day).

Other reasons include the cost of travelling and a general lack of awareness. Here’s what students told us about why they wouldn’t go to an applicant day:

“If I have been offered a place at a good university, seeing the university in real life is not something which would make or break any decisions.

“Main reasons for choosing a university is not based on its environment or location so there’s no need for a physical visit.”

“Don’t know anything about them and the universities I’ve applied to haven’t told me about them.”

For these applicants, support and information are key. If they feel informed about the benefit of coming to an applicant day, you might change their mind.

Of the 70% of respondents who said they planned to go to at least one applicant day, 84% of them planned to go to more than one.

For students planning on multiple applicant days, we might assume their decision is still in the balance. So your applicant day needs to grab them. 

How do you do this? Listen to what students are asking for, and make sure they know they will get it from coming to your event.

Connecting applicants with real university life

We asked students to tell us all the things they would like from an applicant day. Applicants told us they want tours of the campus (64%) and accommodation (61%). By offering these tours in person, you will give applicants first-hand experience of your uni.4

Once they are there, these applicants want to talk to current students about university life (68%) and their course (67%) as well as societies and sports (60%) and the local area and nightlife (55%)

Students want on-campus applicant days to provide a unique glimpse into what their life would look like at your uni, and hearing current students talk about their own experiences is an organic way of doing that.

'Which of these would you find useful at an applicant day?' answers

Of the applicants we surveyed, 60% want to hear academic staff talking about the course. They are looking for an understanding of the modules on offer and what their timetable could look like, as well as if there’s anything they can do to prepare. 

Here’s what some respondents told us the most important thing they want to find out at an applicant day was:

“How current students adapted to uni life at that course and how they are finding the content.”

“What the vibe of the uni and my course is like, in particular the personalities of the tutors and lecturers.”

A more personalised version of an open day, meeting potential classmates.”

Ultimately, applicants want to make sure they’re choosing the right place and you need to provide as much support as you can to help them decide.

Providing detail on finances and support 

It’s no surprise that students are concerned about the cost of uni and living in general. 

In September last year, The Student Room surveyed 642 prospective undergraduates and found that nearly all of them were worried about rising living costs (92%), while just under half were worried about whether they could afford uni (43%).5

How might your uni show support here? As part of cost of living research, we asked prospective undergraduates to identify areas where universities could help.

Including course essentials in tuition fees was chosen by 72%. Following this was being upfront about any additional course costs (70%) and helping students get part-time jobs and paid opportunities (69%). 

Prospective undergraduates also want unis to detail additional costs (68%) as well as providing budgeting and cost-cutting information (65%).

Use your applicant days as an opportunity to show what help you can provide and make sure you’re as transparent and realistic as possible about what students will spend. 

Key takeaways

  • Getting applicants onto campus gives them a realistic feel for your uni. Nearly all of the surveyed prospective students found on-campus events useful.
  • It can be expensive and time-consuming travelling to applicant days. This is a big decision for each student; make sure they can see the value in attending.
  • Applicants want to hear from current students about all aspects of their university experience, from their course to societies and nightlife. Getting current students involved is an authentic way of showcasing your uni. 
  • 67% of prospective undergraduates were worried about the cost of living at university. Tell them what resources and services you provide and be transparent about spending. 
  • Students want applicant days to go into detail about course content, structure and timetables. They also think getting a chance to know tutors and potential classmates makes these events worth attending.

Further information

Watch our latest webinar on-demand:What do prospective applicants expect from your events?’ This session includes additional recent research on the topic.

Access our research: This is just a snapshot of the powerful insight available in our Navigating Changing Options applicant research. UPP clients have exclusive access to these NCO reports as soon as they are published. Request your NCO reports here

1 This is from our Big Autumn Term survey. We asked a base of 403 prospective undergraduates (2023 entry): ‘Which of the following are important to you when choosing universities to apply to?’
2 This data is from TSR Asks, February 2022.
3 In our Big Autumn Term survey, 382 responded to the question: ‘How many applicant visit days do you plan to attend?’. 70% said they planned to attend at least one.
4 This is according to our Big Autumn Term survey. 357 responded to the question: ‘Which, if any of these, would you find useful at an applicant visit day, after being offered a place?’
5 This data is from TSR Asks, September 2022. ‘How prospective 2023 and 2024 undergraduates feel about the cost of living’ (base: 642).