The results are in – how did universities fare during clearing?

Published: August 14, 2014

“...on what has become the most aggressive day of university marketing and communications activity, it’s worth reflecting on ways the day and the process of clearing has changed ”

It’s D-Day (hopefully not literally) for A-level students across the country. Envelopes are being opened, jumping gaggles of blonde girls are being photographed, and, in some unfortunate cases, tears are being shed. These staples of A-level results day show no sign of changing in the near future.

However, on what has become the most aggressive day of university marketing and communications activity, it’s worth reflecting on ways the day and the process of clearing has changed in the recent past to find lessons for the future. I think there are two trends, and so two lessons, HE comms teams can take forward to achieve maximum ROI.

Trend #1: With an extra 30,000 places available this year and places for students with ABB+ grades still deregulated, clearing continues its shift from being a ‘bargain bucket’ scenario where students with lower-than-expected grades grab courses indiscriminately, to one where students with better-than-expected grades can trade up for the cream of HE.

Lesson #1: Institutions need to keep up with this agenda. Too many of the messages coming from universities today, in the papers and online, made it sound as if they are mercifully offering lifelines to disappointed A-level students. This not only fails to take account of HE marketplace changes, but is also counter-productive.

Often universities market their courses as a consolation prize – “sorry you missed out on what you wanted, buy hey, we’re still here!” – when instead they should be focusing messaging on the opportunities available on their courses. In doing so universities should also seek to reinforce the message that ‘people like me’ go through clearing in order to combat negative stereotypes and challenge perceptions around clearing.

Trend #2: Opening your results is no longer a private affair, all shaky hands over kitchen tables. Instead, A-level students are increasingly taking to social media, to commiserate or humblebrag in equal measure. For instance, many used the hashtag #resultsdayquotes on Twittter and Instagram to share nerves (and memes) before the 8am starting bell. Anglia Ruskin is the most visible of the trend’s early adopters, and today promoted the hashtag #clearing on Twitter.

Lesson #2: Universities should get on social media to build relationship with prospective students ahead of results day. At a pinch, they should invest in a team to man these channels as well as the phones on the day itself. First, there are a few things bear in mind:

1) Get personal. A-level students taking the clearing option are likely to see a message coming from the university as some kind of stock response. Efforts should be made to ensure communication is personalised. Having a sense of humour in the run-up to results day certainly helps.

2) Consider your messenger. If possible, try and enlist existing students who entered through clearing to respond directly to candidates. Their words are more likely to be taken as trusted advice.

The fierce competition of results day means it’s more important than ever to ensure that universities’ marketing and communications activity achieves good ROI. By reinforcing the idea that ‘people like me’ use clearing, and delivering options in a personalised way, through the right messengers on social media, universities can achieve big impact on a small budget.
Madeleine Crowther

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