By Peter Cunningham

Social media will open doors for your student recruitment campaign – but it’s the personal touch that will get those new faces through the door.

The number of people in the demographic universities are targeting is falling year on year. It’s a buyers’ market out there. Would-be students can afford to pick and choose, as this year’s record number of unconditional offers demonstrated – institutions need numbers.

So it’s more important than ever that student recruiters generate real engagement with the young people they are trying to convince to come their university. Something as simple as a phone call – just a human voice – can make all the difference.

We saw that in action during a clearing campaign we ran. We asked heads of department to call young people to discuss their specific courses. Those calls made a big difference to student recruitment rates.

The clever thing was that they made those phone calls outside of working hours, so the parents were there and could help their children make the decision.

Convince the whole family

That shows how universities are not just trying to convince a student that their course and uni is right for them, they are trying to convince the whole family.

And that even extends to convincing the students’ school and their careers advisor – it’s like a buying committee, with each interested party having input in the final decision.

In this buyers’ market, universities are being more flexible about grades to fill degree programmes. There were almost 68,000 unconditional offers this year – up from fewer than 3000 in 2013. We might not see another big jump in unconditionals next year, but I would be shocked if the figure wasn’t in the same ballpark.

We’re nine months away from finding out if my theory holds up. Students are only now heading back to sixth-form college for their final year at high school with two things on their minds – their UCAS forms and their A-Level or Higher results.

Deadline for UCAS applications

The deadline for UCAS applications is early January, but the majority of schools will be pushing for those forms to be filled by mid-December. That takes the weight off the students over Christmas and keeps them focused on the task so they’re not distracted by all that glitter and baubles!

We are observing students becoming more like consumers, whereas the universities had the upper hand before. Students are now considering the value of the education on offer, as well as the costs.

The finances have got to add up – on top of fees, they could be paying up to £7000 on rent a year to a private landlord before you add living expenses – so courses have to deliver a degree that leads to a career, while the ethos and integrity of the uni itself are of increasing importance.

So student recruiters need to begin to engage with prospects very early to win their trust and approval – then go on to convince the whole buying committee.

Good for brand awareness

The universities can’t just rely on social media to do their student recruitment for them. All the universities are there, posting on Instagram and WhatsApp and Snapchat. That’s all good for brand awareness as young people find out about you and what you do. Ads can be targeted at parents with kids in that demographic, too.

But it’s worth its weight in gold to reach out and actually speak to a careers advisor at a school, and to visit schools and engage with them on a subject level. Unis could also offer to share some expertise in school classrooms, or invite pupils along to try out theirs.

Once a student is engaged, once the uni knows they’re keen to come, it moves on to encouraging parents to sign up to the same destination.

That human touch, in phone calls and letters, can make all the difference.

We are student recruitment specialists. Contact us now on 0800 612 9890.