Last minute changes to the grading system bought chaos and confusion to many A Level students this year. And as emotions run high on Results Day, universities were forced to rethink their entire comms strategy - Here's the top five key insights and changes that universities took this year.
2020 has been a very different year for all of us, but particularly for A Level students, who have had a rollercoaster experience; schooling from home, cancelled exams, uncertainty about the next steps and finally a U-turn after Results Day.
Earlier in the year, more than half of applicants told us that they were waiting for Results Day before making their firm choice.
We caught up with some of these students again on Results Day to hear how they are feeling now. Watch the full video below:
It's a rewarding time of year for the Higher Education team at YouthSight, as we get to see the communication strategies from HEI clients that our work helped to inform.
Here are our five top picks for Clearing campaigns that stood out to us...
1. The Consecration of Social Media
Last year we saw a few universities (like the University of Wolverhampton) open up their social DMs so applicants could apply for Clearing spaces directly through this channel. This year, more universities have followed suit.
The University of Southampton made it possible to apply for clearing through Twitter DMs and Facebook Messenger:
Other universities such as University of Nottingham highlighted that for clearing, a phone call is not necessary. Instead, you only have to fill out an online form - a more instantaneous process:
Even WhatsApp has been utilised, with Plymouth College of Art providing applicants with a approachable way to enquire about Clearing places:
This gives applicants a fast-access route to apply for Clearing through a channel that they are comfortable and familiar with.
2. Empathy Replaced Humour
With the complications this year surrounding results, as well as the general tone of the year, many universities avoided the funny and light-hearted approach that we've become accustomed to. Instead, steering towards a more serious and supportive messaging.
The University of Essex (which made headlines in the past for their sometimes irreverent sense of humour) found a balance between serious and thoughtful messaging - and a (slightly less than) current Tiger King reference in one of their Twitter posts.
3. The rise of parent-tailored comms
Something we didn't see as much last year is the messaging and support directly targeted at parents, guardians and carers who are supporting students through Clearing.
Back in April, during our Applicants View webinar with UCAS, we told you that one in 10 parents were not comfortable with their child moving far away during the pandemic. We discussed how this would impact applicants' decisions, especially considering families were spending more time together in lockdown and will likely have more input in the decision-making process.
It's therefore great to see HEIs tailor their comms around these stakeholders and offer a more personalised message of reassurance that will resonate with the group.
The University of Leicester held a live chat on Teams, and Loughborough University and Lancaster University provided recommendations on how to support your child before Results Day.
Sheffield Hallam University went a step further with a parent interview, providing advice for other parents on how to guide their child through the Clearing process.
4. Students advocacy still a core theme this year
Some universities had live (virtual) events to give tours, Q&A sessions and introductions to Clearing to enable applicants to get a bit more information and have their questions answered.
For live events, social media was utilised to it's fullest, demonstrated by the University of Law who held a Facebook Live session with their Director of Admissions.
Leeds Beckett University created a Clearing podcast with existing LBU students who went through the process in previous years. This utilises the effective method of providing online content while also adding credibility and authenticity to the process by involving previous students.
We know from our insight trackers that applicants are worried about what life will be like if they start university with lockdown restrictions still in place. Online events such as these will give them a glimpse into what university life could be like - and if run and managed effectively - offer reassurance that their experience will not be negatively impacted.
5. The Supportive Approach Remains
As always, universities are conscious that this is a stressful time for prospective students.
Aston University posted their top tips for going through Clearing, which included 'Don't Panic', 'Research', 'Be Prepared' and 'Be Patient'.
Newcastle University have also been providing Clearing FAQs on their Instagram story for a couple of weeks, which included some tips on how to stay calm during the stress of Clearing.
Remember, applicants don't want to feel insecure about starting university, but with nearly half (48%) feeling less confident about getting a place, it's important to keep this in mind when it comes to your comms.
Tip: offer (and make accessible) resources that will help them through the Clearing process, as well as information on what starting university will be like this year. Allow them to visualise themselves at your university and reassure them that their experience will not be compromised by the pandemic.
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