Applicant Retention Fostering Belonging

Analysis: Applicant retention is about building long-term community connections

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.

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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 features, benefits and value over the long term
A student-recruitment platform designed for 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.

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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Fostering Belonging virtual open days

Analysis: Pre-applicants worry virtual open days won’t meet their needs

Applicants need virtual open days to build confidence; right now they may be doing the opposite

Pre-applicant concerns about virtual open days 2020
Source: UCAS Media / YouthSite research: Planning for 2021 Understanding the mindset of the 2021 cohort and where they are in their decision making, 21st Sept 2020

Not being able to visit universities in person is the number one concern among pre-applicants, according to new research into virtual open days.

Or to put it another way, pre-applicants doubt that virtual open days will give them what they need to apply with confidence.

Yet virtual open days have increased in importance with the same cohort more than any other single factor, according to the research, published in late September.

It’s a bleak picture: pre-applicants believe their choice of university depends on their experience at virtual open events, but they don’t expect those events to meet their needs. A nasty catch-22 for 17-year-olds to face.

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Technology hindering, not helping

Disappointingly, our audit of 20 recent virtual open events suggests they are right to have low expectations.

We discovered many examples of poor experience which went beyond hard-to-use to seem, at times, simply unwelcoming. They included:

  • Two out of 20 events which were outright cancelled on the day due to technical problems.
  • Many events which capped visitor numbers due to technical constraints.
  • Events which required multiple logins to multiple services (registration, video login, chat login, and more) in order to participate.
  • Design and technical choices which excluded mobile devices.
  • ‘Non-native’ design choices (eg virtual exhibition halls) harking back to 1990s-style virtual shopping-malls – poor UX then and still poor now.

As the lockdown continues, the higher-education sector must provide rich, welcoming experiences for prospective applicants at virtual open days. Only then can they truly serve their needs and give them confidence in applying.

Exceed expectations

Universities must change how they execute their virtual open days to deliver the outcomes their visitors need to achieve (a sense of belonging, and confidence in applying), rather than slavishly trying to reproduce every aspect of a physical, face-to-face event.

How can they do this?

Firstly they must simplify access, both to the open event itself and to the content within it. 

Applicants have a right to expect virtual open days to be straightforward to use on any device, PC or mobile, and built to get them to the information and people they need to talk to, fast.

This means a single registration and login, giving access to everything included in the event: webchat, video, text content, Q&A, downloads, presentations, no exceptions. No limits on user volumes (this is the internet in 2020 for crying out loud!) and no geographic restrictions: content should be delivered as smoothly in China as it is in Chipping Norton.

Secondly, and most importantly, it must enable meaningful connection between the applicant and the institution at all levels. To establish this bond of trust, universities must create a welcoming virtual environment and build a network of trusted influencers around their visitors.

Union Spaces builds a network of influencers around prospective applicants at virtual open days

HE providers which are successful in delivering this will meet – and exceed – pre-applicant needs and expectations. This will in turn grow applications and offer-acceptance, building into a long-term virtual-recruitment strategy.

Union Spaces is a welcoming place where prospective students can meet faculty, students and fellow candidates. We build a sense of belonging through the selection process with discussions, events, 1-to-1 conversations and video, hosted on a single platform. 

By putting all the features required for virtual recruitment into one cost-effective, scalable platform, Union Spaces can also demonstrate value for money. Simpler for your staff to use: there’s only one system to learn. And simpler for prospective students: one login leading to a consistent branded experience which you control.

To find out more about Union Spaces, request a demo or download our introductory brochure.

Fostering Belonging Retention

A new student recruitment architecture

Union Spaces puts all the technology features required for virtual recruitment into one cost-effective, scalable platform designed to meet a broad spread of university needs, including demonstrating value for money. Simpler for your staff to use: there’s only one system to learn. And simpler for prospective students: one login leading to a consistent branded experience which you control.

Download our introductory brochure here:

Fostering Belonging Video Guides

Fostering belonging with groups

Research shows that those universities which succeed in creating a network of academics, admissions staff, current students and alumni around applicants will succeed in attracting the best international student talent. Here we look at how Union Spaces groups – the central aspect of our platform – enables your institution to foster belonging with prospective applicants throughout their decision-making process.

Fostering Belonging Video Guides

Create an ‘always-on’ open day experience

Union Spaces helps ensure fresh, engaging, relevant content and lively communities are always available for prospective applicants, whatever they are looking for, so your open-day platform remains a welcoming place, from the start to the end of your annual recruitment effort.