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Winning the dash to the UCAS deadline (and the race to the summer)

by Susie Hills | Jan 14, 2019 | Strategy & Transformation

The UCAS deadline provides an intense pressure point for marketing and admissions teams – and this year the stakes are high. Fewer 18-year-olds, intense competition, the Augar review, political uncertainty…

The good news is that whilst there has to be a final dash towards the UCAS deadline, the race isn’t necessarily won or lost on that date.

At this pressured time of year, you can position yourselves to be in pole position for the next few months by taking a few simple steps:

Clear internal communications

Your internal ‘sponsors’ – senior leadership and governing bodies – will be focusing hard on the application numbers and may dig into the detail of the performance of any media campaigns or other marketing. Maintain their confidence through clear and consistent internal communications. Be open about your KPIs and your progress. If applications are down there is no point in hiding from disappointing results or delaying this news. It will be common across the sector.

True team play

This is no time for silo working – you and your colleagues in admissions should be working closely day-to-day. Constantly reviewing application statistics so your team can focus on courses or departments need attention (and budget). Then share your projections and action plans with the finance team and senior leadership. Having ‘live’ data to hand and a team focused on action is vital.

Showcase your heroes

Promote a mix of your hero courses (those for which you are known and have a great reputation, even if your applications to those are high – your other courses should still benefit from the brand awareness) and those where you have potential to improve your market share. Try to focus on what the market wants, rather than only those courses that are in desperate need of attention.

Flex your open day muscles – hard

Work your open day database as hard as you can. Send personalised communications and retarget by subject of interest – both to those that visited you, as well as those who didn’t turn up.

Put yourself in their shoes. What will your target year 13s be thinking about over the next 6 weeks? The chances are that they are just finishing their mock exams and needing to relax a little after the stresses of revision. The UCAS deadline and university choices are unlikely to be top of their list. So create and share content which is both useful and relevant to your target audiences; short-form video is best to capture limited attention spans.

And remember that it’s not all over on 15th January. We are expecting the proportion of applicants applying after the Jan 15th deadline to continue to rise; partly because some may wait to understand any potential impacts of the Augur funding review on their tuition fees for 2019 and beyond, partly because applicants know that it is a buyer’s market and they no longer need to play by the rules to win a university place. So plans to attract and engage this target segment after Jan 15th are equally important.

And even your Jan 15th applicants are unlikely to make their final choice until they’ve heard back from all their universities. So you can continue to influence this decision for some months yet; make sure you have retargeting and conversion activity plans ready to launch.

And then there is Clearing…. It’s never too early to start planning the media and messages for your pre-Clearing and Clearing campaigns. You need to bid for the premium inventory from UCAS this month and creating engaging and ‘stand-out’ content to share across your paid, owned and earned channels takes time.

If you need support with your marketing strategy – student journey, recruitment, conversions, programme portfolio review or your student experience, NSS and VFM contact the Halpin team.

Susie Hills is Joint CEO and co-founder of Halpin Partnership – the home of HE experts.