It’s fair to say that the 2020/21 recruitment cycle has been like no other. With lockdowns, the move to online learning and the exam results fiasco, we’re all still feeling our way when it comes to attracting and engaging students in this ever-changing new normal. But with Clearing just around the corner, you’ve still got time to maximise your 2021 recruitment and enrolment numbers, and get ahead of the competition, by truly understanding your prospective Clearing students.
Clearing has traditionally been seen as a route into higher education for students who haven’t achieved the grades they needed. Yet increasingly, it is becoming an active choice for applicants to secure their place at university in a way that suits them.
Students who apply to university directly through Clearing now account for the second largest group of Clearing applicants, growing from 18% in 2016 to 35% in 2020. But it can be difficult to track and measure whether your Clearing campaigns are really working for them.
We looked into the data from our annual National Clearing Survey, the UK’s largest independent survey of Clearing students, and broke the direct applicants down into three distinct groups, to really get to grips with the students who make up this segment, and most importantly, learn how to connect and engage with them.
Group 1: The typical student
Think of a traditional undergraduate student; the typical Clearing student shares their motivations and behaviours. From similar demographic breakdown and age (17-18), to spread of course choices, they also mirror the same priorities, favouring higher-tier universities if possible and worrying about accommodation and social activities.
The only major difference? They didn’t apply in January. Either missing the deadline, or believing they had a better chance of securing a place by going directly into Clearing. The good news? From a marketing perspective, this segment is already covered within your traditional Clearing campaigns.
Group 2: The gap year student
The gap year student has spent the last year out of education; either working, travelling or volunteering. Like the previous group, most gap year students have completed A Levels, are free of family and work commitments and are influenced by similar figures.
This group gets serious about Clearing in June and July when Clearing places open. As they already have their exam results, they have no need to wait and so can apply earlier than the younger cohort.
As a result, it’s worthwhile focusing some of your budget on a June/July campaign for this age group alone. This will provide a better ROI than combining them with the younger audience who are on a different schedule, still waiting for their results to come in.
Group 3: The mature student
This group comprises an older student profile than the other two. Among the over-30s, they are more likely to hold a previous undergraduate degree, suggesting that they’re a group looking to retrain or move into a new career.
From a strategic marketing viewpoint, there is huge value in targeting this growing segment with a very different approach to your usual student campaigns. The positioning of your courses, access to funding opportunities and flexibility of study are all important, but you also need to focus on where to target this audience, which areas are within a commutable distance, and which platforms and channel choices match the mature student profile.
Timing is key, too. While some mature students start researching Clearing places as early as July, some wait much longer, with 11% only starting to look for a place more than two weeks after results day.
“The NCS has given us invaluable insights into the direct Clearing applicant,” says Nick Willmer, head of education at Net Natives. “Pivot your Clearing strategy now, and aim to be in market as soon as possible, as we know direct students are researching already.
“In order to target gap-year students and mature audiences, focus the majority of the spend in June and July, combined with a much longer tail, always-on approach aimed at driving applications long after results day. Understanding your target segments and making slight tweaks to your campaign timing can make all the difference to your results.”
We’ve only scratched the surface of what we uncovered in the 2020 National Clearing Survey, but this simple segmentation shows the power of digging deeper to understand your audience.
If you’d like to learn more about how to approach your 2021 Clearing campaigns, sign up to our newsletter, download the 2020 National Clearing Survey and register now to take part in this year’s survey. And, if you would like to talk to our experts about how strategic insights can help improve your 2021 Clearing strategy, get in touch today.