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A record number of English 18-year-olds applied for higher education this year but how can colleges attract these students?

Data released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) in July showed a record number of applications from English 18-year-olds – 39.5% of whom applied for higher education this year ahead of the June deadline.

However, when it comes to attracting students, many colleges are finding that it’s a ‘buyers’ market with students seemingly in the position to pick and chose the course they want. This is highlighted by the fact that, this year, nearly two-fifths of 18-year-old applicants to university received an unconditional offer, according to UCAS.

The figures show a rise from last year, with 97,045 (38%) of would-be undergraduates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland receiving an offer with an unconditional component in 2019, compared with 87,540, or 34%, in 2018.

A total of 257,910 18-year-old students from England, Northern Ireland and Wales applied for university through UCAS before the 30 June deadline this year.

Unconditional offers are often offered to students whose qualifications are still pending, meaning their grades are predicted rather than achieved. However, they are being used by colleges as a way of encouraging students to take a place at their particular institution. They are arguments though that, without the pressure of having to gain a certain level of grades to secure a place at college, a student might be tempted not to work quite as hard in their exams.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “There is a place for unconditional offers, however this data highlights the continued rise in their use and we know some students who accept unconditional offers can be more likely to miss their predicted A-level grades.”

But what are these undergraduates likely to study? While there’s a popular belief in the media that university students are studying subjects which won’t help them in the ‘outside world’, these figures suggest otherwise. The most popular course of 2018/19 was ‘subjects allied to medicine’ (254,150) while the least popular was ‘Non-European languages, literature and related’ (4,070). When it comes to women, the most popular subjects were those allied to medicine (208,460), while the most popular undergraduate course for male students in 2018/19 was Business and Admin studies (117,650)

There are, of course, many ways which colleges, universities and, indeed, private schools can attract students – perhaps through social media and well organised tours for prospective students. Some colleges have engaged ‘influencers’ and bloggers to share the attractions and benefits of studying at their particular college, while some have got graduates to tell their story and share their success in the wider world.

The fact remains though that the first port of call for many prospective students and their parents though remains the college website.

As with any website, it has to be attractive and engaging and, in a relatively short amount of time, impress on potential students that this is a place they want to study. To make that even more complicated, the majority of colleges and universities offer a wide variety of courses – so the first time a potential student clicks on the website, it has to look like it’s the college for them.

Also, if students are looking to move away from home for the first time, the college also has to look like an attractive and exciting place to move to. It mean that colleges have a tricky job to look professional and fun, appealing to both students and their parents – who will be looking for different things… Add to that the factor that most colleges also offer courses for businesses, as well as people looking to use their facilities during holidays – even for weddings – it is a mammoth task to make a website engage with all these potential visitors.

Private schools arguably have an easier job to attract students, as they only need to attract parents, rather than the students themselves, assuming the children are still quite young. Enrolling students is a private school’s bottom line and, in many ways, it’s like selling anything – first you should identify your school’s unique selling point or USP. If you know that, from there you can create a brand for your school, then half the work is done.

Referrals and word of mouth are also key, backed up with some great content on your school social media channels. All of this should point the parents of potential students to your school website – because they will want to do some research before signing up for a visit. As with any website, making it clean, modern and easy to navigate is key, while sharing the educational benefits of attending your particular school.

If you’d like to find out more about how working with Lake Solutions can benefit your educational establishment, then get in touch.

Article Details

Ian Jepp
24 October 2019