Year 12 and the case for early engagement

Timing is everything in student recruitment. But how early should you target prospective applicants? In this blog, we will show you why early engagement with Year 12s is crucial and what you can do to fortify your strategy for the 2023 cycle.

What do Year 12s need from universities?

Year 12 is a key time for universities to build early brand recognition and trust.

In May, 97% of 2023 entry applicants we surveyed (Base: 609 TSR members) said they had already started researching universities for next year.¹

Making such a big decision can be overwhelming for students, as this Year 12 post shows:

I honestly have no idea what I want to do after sixth form and it’s terrifying! I have a few ideas on what I might study at uni but thats it…

Helping Year 12s navigate the application process and make the right decisions can create a powerful sense of trust. Then when it comes to decision time, applicants will already have fostered a positive relationship with you.

Where are Year 12s in the decision-making journey?

We dug a little deeper into the decision-making stages in a snap poll on The Student Room in June:

(data 28 June)

28% of Year 12 respondents said they had chosen both their course and university.

Only a small percentage were in the early decision-making stages, such as “starting to consider my university options” (14%) and “haven’t started thinking about university yet” (<5%).

While this on-site poll has a small sample size (97 respondents), it gives an indication that some Year 12s are already thinking ahead.

Meeting their needs for guidance and support may give your university a competitive advantage.

The poll also suggests that Year 12s are likely to choose what to study first, then where to study (43% of students said they had chosen their course but not their university). Another poll which backs this up can be found here, along with some enlightening comments:

I’ve chosen the course first (Politics & International Relations) because the university I go to will depend on my final grades. It’s unrealistic to aim for one when I might not reach the entry requirements.

By building a brand presence with Year 12s based on their subject interests, your university will be front-of-mind when they are shortlisting the universities that are best for their chosen course.

So which courses are Year 12s interested in?

In the May TSR Asks survey² (Base 611, TSR members), we also asked respondents to share which subjects they were considering:

The most popular choice was Social Sciences (in which we included subjects like Economics, Business Studies and Psychology), however, there was quite an even spread of subject choices.

The following comments are from Year 12s in our forums – we’re seeing a lot of conversations about Medicine in particular, perhaps in view of the early deadline:

Communicating with Year 12: should you forget the funnel?

We’ve talked about some of the stages in the early applicant decision-making journey, but it’s important to remember that this isn’t always a linear process.

Year 12s’ impressions will change based on their holistic experience.

What we mean by this is that you might run excellent awareness and engagement campaigns, but if a student doesn’t enjoy your open day or has a bad experience when reaching out for support, it could change their entire view of your university.

Early and consistent engagement gives them plenty of opportunities to form a positive view of your brand.

Having said this, students have a lot on their plates. It’s important to understand key touchpoints and competing priorities for Year 12s’ attention.

Right now many are focused on exams:

Guys I am so scared that I won’t do that well in these exams because I have not done a breadth and depth biology exam before and if there is a topic that I am not the best at and it comes up I am screwed. I have done well all year round but am scared of messing these mocks up

Year 12s also need to prepare for their final school year. In this poll, students shared what they felt the biggest challenges of Year 13 were, along with coping strategies. Exams and keeping up with the workload were the top concerns.

Rather than just relying on your advertising budget and prospectus to connect with 2023 applicants, think about how you can take care of them in Year 12. How about an always-on social presence, providing useful advice content, or engaging in conversations with them?

For example, we provide this guide on The Uni Guide to help Year 12s make important decisions about their university choices.

Remember that when thinking about early engagement, some students have questions much earlier. See this example from a Year 11:

Hey guys I know I’m not in year 12, but I’m a year 11 wanting some advise [sic]. I want to do a level biology, chemistry and maths . For anyone doing any of these subjects, how do you find them? How can I ease the big transition from gcse to a level? What advise [sic] do you have for me? Also I want to study medicine and I need to think of a good EPQ for next year

Think about the kind of content young people engage with

Finally, think about the kinds of content Year 12s engage with.

Short-form video platforms like TikTok are increasingly popular – with the University of Chichester standing out as one of our favourites!

Young people enjoy content created by their peers which is entertaining and helpful.

From our own research about university open days³, we know that students want on-demand open day content and the chance to ask questions to current students on their course. Make good use of your student ambassadors to connect with a Year 12 audience.

Our top tips for what to do next

  1. Target Year 12s based on subject interest to offer the right information at the right time
  2. Develop an always-on strategy to build relationships with Year 12s and even younger students, and consider if all interactions they have with your university are high quality and friendly
  3. Research your own applicants – why did they come to your university? Of those who applied but went elsewhere, what trends can you see?
  4. Catch up on our student recruitment events webinar with Revolution Viewing
  5. Get more student research – if you have an UPP, you can access our Navigating Changing Options reports

The Student Room is the UK’s biggest and best-loved online student platform. We are currently offering a 5% discount for £5,000+ spend and 10% discount on £10,000+ spend for early engagement packages until the end of August 2022.

Get in touch:
0800 999 3222

¹ TSR Asks omnibus survey, May 2022 (Base 609, TSR members)
² TSR Asks omnibus survey, May 2022 (Base 611, TSR members)
³ Navigating Changing Options reports (free to UPP clients)

Other useful content:
2022 applicant decision-making
How 2022 applicants made decisions about their firm choices
7 things you need to know about Year 12 students (2022 entry, now in Year 13)