Chart showing Influencer by Academic Level

Research shows how applicants can be helped to feel they belong, despite the absence of face-to-face events

As lockdowns remain in place around the world, HE institutions must continue to run 100%-virtual applicant retention strategies for the first time.

In most years the cycle would move from face-to-face open events (during the ‘enquiry’ phase) to applicant, offer-holder and admitted-student engagement events, as students apply and admissions teams compete to retain the right mix for their institutional targets.

Lightbulb moment

Under the old norms, these face-to-face events would, it was hoped, spark a ‘lightbulb’ moment in applicants, a realisation that they could see themselves living and studying in a particular town or campus.

But 2021 will not be like most years: there have been few or no face-to-face open events, and most likely there will be fewer in-person offer-holder days.

How can student-recruitment and marketing departments achieve the same outcome – spark that lightbulb moment – and meet their institutional goals in this context? One answer is for universities to build long-lasting community connections with their future students, and deliver a consistent feeling of belonging.

The university network

Bridging the Digital Divide1, a WES report on securing enrolments with international students, points the way for domestic recruitment to improve applicant retention rates under COVID-19.

Analysing nearly five thousand 17-to-36-year-old students’ use of technology, the report proposes strategies for successful recruitment in the absence of face-to-face events.

The conclusions map well on to current conditions:

  • “A collective university network exerts the biggest influence on students’ decision-making processes with regard to college or university choice.
  • “Admissions officers, faculty, current students and alumni comprise a cohesive university network.
  • “HEIs need to form a strategic relationship with these stakeholders and have them interact with prospective students via digital technologies.”

In short, those universities which succeed in building and maintaining a network of influencers around strategically significant applicants throughout the application cycle will also succeed in retaining the offer-holders they most want to enrol.

The report’s authors write: “Our research indicates that a university network comprised of faculty, admissions officers, current students and alumni has the biggest influence overall on students’ choices during the application process.”

“Designated groups”

Verbatim quotes from remotely-recruited students in the report go further in demonstrating the potential effect of such networks:

“Provide avenues for prospective students to interact with faculty members through the internet.” – A doctoral student from Ghana

“Have designated groups for alumni that potential applicants can ask questions to regarding potential program choices.” – A master’s student from Canada

“[…] Encourage current students to come out to say some more about the program, their life and studying there.” – A master’s student from China

“Admissions staff should help applicants to smoothly go through the application requirements, especially for specific requirements.” – A master’s student from China

We have designed Union Spaces to meet these challenges and deliver the recruitment and applicant retention outcomes universities need with a community-based approach that brings these applicants’ needs together with all the resources of the pre-existing university network.

Long-term engagement

Union Spaces is a welcoming place where prospective students can meet and engage with faculty, students and fellow candidates over the long-term.

Timelines graphic
A student-recruitment platform designed for long-term engagement

We build a sense of belonging through the selection process with discussions, events, 1-to-1 conversations and video, all hosted on a single platform.

We are working with universities to build their applicant-retention strategies for 2020/21 and prepare for the next phase of lockdown-affected virtual student recruitment.

Right now we are booking demo slots for the next two weeks. Book your demo now to assess whether Union Spaces can enhance your applicant retention strategy.

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Chris Smith - Union Spaces

About Chris

Chris Smith is CTO and Co-Founder of Union Spaces, a community-led technology that helps universities design virtual and hybrid student recruitment strategies.

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