Higher ed marketing: How to boss the five essential stages in your student recruitment strategy

UPP Unlimited powers an always-on approach to student recruitment

Published October 2022

Want to add some oomph to your student marketing campaigns and take your applicant recruitment numbers to the next level? While recruiting students for your university is not a linear process, these key ingredients are vital to your success – research, brand awareness, nurture/engagement, lead generation and applicant conversion.

While we know you’re already aware of these stages, we have some performance-boosting ideas for you. We’ll also show you how our new offering, UPP Unlimited, weaves seamlessly into your existing strategy, enhancing the impact of activities at every stage of the student journey.

1. Research and planning

Understanding your target market is essential for any communications strategy, because once you know their pain points and goals you can be evidence-based in your communications approach. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can research your applicant audience:

  • Get feedback from your existing students
  • Test your creatives and core messages on your target audience before you launch them (such as your university prospectus, display and straplines). This will help you to optimise towards messaging that really resonates with students
  • Utilise existing industry research about applicants’ motivations and concerns

The Student Room’s in-house researchers can help you test your creatives or messages on an applicant audience. For example, you might want to know: Are prospective applicants more motivated by emotive language about belonging, or results-driven language about university rankings?’

Insights into how prospective applicants make decisions and respond to current issues can be found in our regular student sentiment reports. This includes onsite poll results and student comments to give you rich insights into how students are feeling which you can use to steer your activities.

When you have a University Partner Pack (UPP) with us, you receive these sentiment insights in your monthly UPP reports, along with exclusive access to Navigating Changing Options research which provides in-depth HE analysis for all stages of the student journey, including open days, Clearing, university choice, and graduate recruitment. UPP Unlimited clients can also ask two questions to our applicant audience in our TSR Asks omnibus survey.

Nurse taking blood

2. Building your brand

Taking an “always on” approach to brand awareness ensures you are highly visible at important touchpoints in the student cycle.

Maintaining a constant presence will strengthen your brand identity and keep your university front of mind throughout applicants’ lengthy decision-making processes.

UPP Unlimited is designed to maximise exposure to your target market in the right place, at the right time. Students will see and remember your brand in these strategic locations:

  • Across the web. We serve your display ads in high-traffic locations on The Student Room, then retarget users in brand-safe locations offsite.
  • Your University Guide (your shop window/profile page on The Student Room). Students can access this to find information, such as what you offer, when your open days are, videos and FAQs. 
  • Your University Forum. A competitor-free (ad-blocked) space where you can post useful and timely content, offer advice and take part in applicant conversations.
  • The top of The Uni Guide listings, for two weeks with search boost.

Nurse taking blood

3. Nurturing your applicant pipeline

Applicants repeatedly tell us they want the opportunity to speak to current students and staff at your university. This is an important part of the open day experience, but should not be limited to just a few days a year.

For applicants, interactions with universities are partly about fact-finding, partly about hearing the unbiased views of their peers, and partly about building a picture of what life at your university will be like for them. i.e. Will they fit in?

With such a diverse potential applicant pool, you can’t be expected to anticipate all the nuanced needs and concerns that applicants will have, which is what makes direct engagement with individuals so important.

By answering applicant questions you could assuage a fear which may have prevented an applicant from choosing your university.

The UPP Unlimited package includes a dedicated forum space where you can answer questions from applicants who are considering your university. You can also have up to three Official Reps who will engage on your behalf across key forums. One of the benefits of answering applicant questions in your university forum is that you can reach other applicants who are visiting your forum but not actively posting (we call them lurkers, but in a non-sinister way!) The Student Room offers regular training as well as feedback in your UPP report to help you get the most from your onsite engagement.

Here’s an example of an Official Reps supporting students at different stages:

Helping applicants make decisions about where to study

Inviting prospective applicants to open days

Congratulating successful applicants

Nurse taking blood

4. Lead generation

It’s all very well having great conversations with applicants, but how do you convert that interest into measurable leads for your university?

One thing you can do is ensure you are speaking to prospective applicants at the right times – when they are actively interested and making decisions.

The UPP Unlimited package includes unlimited leads on The Uni Guide. This site attracts qualified traffic from applicants in the final consideration stages – Should I go to University A or University B?” – and converts them into traffic or leads.

The Uni Guide drives more enquiries, open day registrations, website visits and university prospectus downloads. With search boost enabled, you will achieve even more applicant leads – there is no limit.

5. Converting applicants into placed students at your university

No sooner have you finished focusing on application numbers than it is time to pivot to conversions and Clearing.

One of the key elements to get right to improve conversion and Clearing numbers is your university open days. Our recent research revealed some key insights about when students are most interested in attending open days and what they expect from on-campus versus virtual events. For example, students were in fact-finding mode at virtual events (and wanted them available on demand), while at on-campus events they want an experience, a sense of the environment and a chance to meet current students or staff.

With Clearing in mind, it is also important to be visible to all prospective applicants – not just those who are considering your university in the early stages. Being active on student platforms and social channels can help to plant a seed in the minds of students who might be looking for places in Clearing later. On The Student Room, your Official Reps can post sticky threads to make key information easily accessible for curious applicants.

UPP Unlimited includes unlimited leads on The Uni Guide – ideal to funnel applicants towards your open days where you can wow them with a memorable experience.

Your Account Manager will also invite you to a regular meeting to go through the findings in your UPP report. They will help you spot opportunities to deepen engagement with your applicants (such as training opportunities for your Official Reps), and give you a sense of how all the media elements in your UPP package are performing relative to benchmarks and your competitors. This, combined with student research and sentiment insights, gives you a real-time, comprehensive view of how your student recruitment strategy is working.

Nurse taking blood

What UPP Unlimited can do for you

Never miss an opportunity to recruit your ideal applicants. UPP Unlimited is the complete solution for your student recruitment needs, powering insight-led marketing communications, maximum reach with your target audience, deep engagement and applicant leads.

Find out more about UPP Unlimited and how you can secure a free trial

Call 0800 999 3222 to speak to our team about getting UPP Unlimited for your university.