UK Higher Education

Five things the Whatuni chatbot reveals about prospective student preferences

In July, the Whatuni development team introduced Chatbot ‘Luna’ to the student-facing Whatuni website which attracts close to 4 million users per year. The idea behind Luna, a cute-looking robotic-themed chatbot, was to ease the online research journey by helping prospective students find well-matched courses and universities. Luna asks the user a variety of questions – including preferred level of degree, location and subjects – before they are matched to a course and university that meet their requirements. Kunal Lalchandani, Hotcourses Group Business Data Analyst, explains that Luna personalises options available to each user. He adds: “In a very competitive higher education market, it is crucial to capture potential students at the early research phase, tailoring the best suggestions for them.”

Whatuni chatbot

Whatuni chatbot: Luna.

When Luna was first introduced to the site, she was positioned towards the bottom of the homepage. Freelance Product Consultant, Luke Harper, says, “Our analysis quickly showed that users who used the chatbot were more likely than general users to view the course information page and interact with a university.”

As a result, the decision was made to maximise interactions with Luna by repositioning her to the forefront of the user’s screen. The effect was immediate. During her initial placement (31 July to 24 September), there were 543 chatbot users out of a total 825,037 Whatuni visitors. After her repositioning, there was an increase to 19,067 users out of a total of 800,528 Whatuni visitors (25 September to 20 November).

Based on the latter dataset, we take a closer look at five trends revealed by Luna…

1. Top priorities

On the journey with Luna, users are asked to select their top priorities when choosing where to study. They’re presented with a variety of categories, including student support, uni facilities, city life and job prospects, and can select the three they value most. The number one priority selected by Luna’s 19,067 unique users was courses and lectures, followed in second place by job prospects and in third by accommodation. Kunal says of these trends: “The current generation of potential students clearly prioritises the academic standards of an institution, and are already looking at their job prospects post-study. This is tremendously insightful as it shows that students are looking to the future rather than starting career planning later in their university journey.”

Student preferences

Top priorities on Luna.

2. Top subjects searched

The top-most-searched subject, as indicated by interactions with Luna between 25 September and 20 November, was psychology with 833 unique responses recorded. Interestingly, psychology was also the most searched subject on Whatuni overall for the period leading up to A-level results day (13 July to 13 August 2018), a 14% increase compared to 2017. Mathematics came in second place with 687 recorded responses on Luna, followed by biology with 607 responses. Other popular subjects (in order) after the top three, were English literature, chemistry, history, law, geography, economics and sociology. Fittingly, these top-ranked subjects are mostly associated with well-established professions, tying in well with users selecting job prospects as one of their most important considerations.

Subjects trends

Top subjects on Luna.

3. Top location types searched

Along the chatbot journey, Luna prompts users to select their preferred studying location type. These are: big city, town, seaside and countryside. Our dataset reveals that big city is by far the most popular choice with 8457 recorded responses, followed by town (6535), seaside (4201) and countryside (3146). Luna’s revelations mimic global trends towards urbanisation with well over double the number of users opting for big city over countryside.

Location types

Top location types on Luna.

4. Top regions searched

With the majority of users opting to study in big cities, London unsurprisingly comes out as the top choice among prospective students with 774 responses recorded. In second place is Central England, followed by All England, South East England and West Midlands. Some of the least-selected regions include North East England and Northern England.

Top regions

Top regions on Luna.

5. User certainty

Interestingly the majority of users didn’t know what they wanted to study versus those who had a clear vision. 4033 selected the category, what should I do (indicating uncertainty), versus 1457 who selected the category, I want to be (indicating certainty).

Enhancing the student journey

In addition to offering valuable insights into what prospective students prioritise, Luna provides a personable, user-friendly and familiar way for prospective students to get trusted answers as quickly as possible (without having to trawl countless results pages). Eleni Cashell, Editor of Whatuni and writer of Luna’s narrative, says: “Luna caters completely to the student journey, which is always unique depending on what stage of research users are on. Whether they have no idea where or what they want to study, or know exactly where they’re going and just need some extra guidance, Luna can help them.”

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