7 student recruitment strategies for universities

How can your university successfully attract more of your target students?

All universities need a student recruitment strategy to attract the best students to their institution. All strategies must evolve with time, and student recruitment is no different. When new technologies come along, student behaviour changes and university targets evolve. You’ll want to update your student recruitment strategy to ensure it continues to deliver the best results.

We’ve collated 7 ideas to help institutions attract more students.

Listen to the students

The basis of any good strategy should be genuine insights into what the customer, or student, is looking for. User research methods like focus groups or polls can help you dig into what influences prospective students when deciding which university to choose. Every student has different priorities; some are more interested in the specific modules a course offers, while others are more focussed on rankings and location. Rather than making assumptions, it’s best to poll prospective students on their priorities and then factor that in to how you present and structure information on your website and in your marketing.

Competitor analysis

Most students are likely to be weighing up the pros and cons of at least five different universities. The challenge is to stand out as the best choice for them. If you’re based in the UK, you can access data from UCAS that shows which university your applicants chose if they chose to study elsewhere. This means you can build a map of competitors at course level, as well as institution level.

It’s worth reviewing how these top competing courses and universities present themselves. Does their website highlight key info that yours fails to mention? Are they using different tools or platforms? Competitor analysis at this granular level can help you identify ways to improve by establishing what works well and replicating it.

Optimise your course pages

Most students will be considering three key factors: course, university, and location. They’ll probably be interested in one or two courses and will be comparing them at different institutions. This means your course pages are an invaluable piece of online real estate that you need to get right.

Many prospective students will attend an open day to get a feel of the place, but research shows that 91% of international students and 50% of home students will decide which university to attend based entirely on their website.

Most university course pages successfully get across key information about modules, entry requirements, and assessment, but students want to be able to get a real sense of the place too.

For example, the University of Northampton course pages include a campus gallery so visitors get an idea of the facilities they would be using. It also has a staff carousel module so prospective students can see who will be teaching them and click through to discover their research specialisms and publications.

York St John University’s course pages start with powerful stats from the National Student Survey showing the percentage of students who rated the course positively. The page also includes videos and imagery from the University and across the city to help prospective students decide if they could imagine themselves there.

Univesrity of Northampton campus gallery for student recruitment on course page example (1)

Offer taster experiences

Open days are an essential part of the student recruitment processes, but they can be formulaic.

Help prospective students get the most out of the day by offering taster experiences that showcase your facilities and staff with mini lectures and seminars.

On your website, make it easy to find out about open days with clear calls to action and a simple sign-up process. You should also consider how you could engage students remotely with virtual seminars or tours for those that can’t attend in person.

Use email to stay top-of-mind

Several months pass between the prospective student considering which universities to apply to, hearing back from them with their offers, and then selecting a first choice.

Sending through resources like application FAQs, guides to the city, or ways they can connect with existing students can all help your institution stay top-of-mind when a student is considering where to study. You’ll need to invest in a CRM system to allow a level of personalisation, as you want to send course-specific information to students based on what they registered their interest in.

Give them a feel for the place

Don’t forget that these prospective students are often also considering where they want to spend the next three or more years of their lives. Universities often focus on what they have to offer, but that can overlook that their location is also very important. Students need to be able to picture themselves having a great time in their new home, so make sure your website really sells your city or area too.

The University of Pittsburgh’s website provides a great example of this, featuring a section called ‘Cool Pittsburgh’ with guides on where to eat, shop, play and live. It even includes a self-guided VR tour of the campus.

VR for university marketing campus tour example

Foster student-to-student connections

Prospective students want to hear from their peers to understand what life at the university might be like for them.

That’s where student-to-student marketing can come in. A great example is the Uni of Lincoln Student Life campaign, whose Instagram and TikTok boast a combined 10,000 followers, featuring content for students made by students. It allows them to showcase life at their university in an authentic way, helping prospective students to imagine themselves there.

You can also use your website to foster direct student connections. Our redesign of the SOAS, University of London website features a 'chat with a student' section. Enquiries are directed to specific study areas with SOAS ambassadors. Since 2020, over 13,000 questions have been addressed by these students. This can be a way to virtually replicate the open day experience of talking with student ambassadors.

Creating your strategy

Student recruitment is always evolving, and universities must adapt to stay ahead. By understanding the needs and preferences of prospective students, institutions can craft strategies that attract the very best applicants. Whether it's through genuine student interactions, showcasing the allure of the campus and its surroundings, or making your course pages more effective, the key is understanding what students are looking for and delivering it.

Remember, it's not just about presenting academic offerings but also about creating a holistic experience that students can envision themselves being a part of. We’ve designed stunning and effective websites for SOAS, University of London, Ravensbourne University, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and many more. If you want to leverage this expertise for your own student recruitment efforts, get in touch via [email protected] and we’ll see how we can help.

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