UK Higher Education

Key Clearing Trends: Most popular subjects, destinations & increased searches

With all the build up to results day 2018, one thing has become apparent: clearing is now much more of a buyers’ market with competition among institutions continuously rising. Not only is clearing perceived in a more positive light by today’s prospective students, but many applicants are also using clearing to adjust their tertiary choices. Uncapped admissions and the significant rise in unconditional offers over the last few years, have all contributed to giving students more room for making considered decisions. This year (CUG) and, two of the UK’s most popular clearing research sites, have seen big increases to their clearing pages. We take a look at some of the most telling trends in traffic to the two sites, as well as which subjects and destinations came out tops in search results.

A-level Results Day 2018 Stats Snapshot

Increase in traffic to Russell Group institutions: looking at the month leading up to A-level results day 2018 (including results day), Russel Group institutions had a share of 18,20% of traffic to the Whatuni website, which is a 3.23% increase compared to the same period in 2017. Non-Russell Group institutions (including Million+, University Alliance and 1994 Group) made up the remainder with 81.80% of overall traffic.

Most-searched subjects: the top five most searched subjects on CUG on results day this year were: economics, law, dentistry, computer science and psychology.  On Whatuni, the top five most searched subjects on results day this year were: psychology, life sciences, economics, biomedical sciences and law. Note that both of these data sets differ slightly to the top five most searched subjects for both sites, as seen during the month leading up to results day (these are included as a seperate subsection in this article).

Traffic to CUG and Whatuni: This year CUG received over a million pageviews on A-level results day which is a 24,25% increase compared to last year. The average session duration for CUG on results day was also up by 26.25% compared to last year. Whatuni saw a 3.15% increase in organic traffic on this year’s results day compared to last year and had over a quarter of a million pageviews (263, 677).

Clearing Calls: the total number of phone calls to institutions received via CUG and Whatuni on results day 2018 was 6833 with an average call duration of 5mins 40secs.

Traffic to Clearing Sections: Year-on-Year & Week-on-Week

Year-on-Year: CUG’s clearing pages have seen remarkable year-on-year increases with an 882% rise from 39, 085 to 383, 8651 (comparing 13 July-13 August 2017 to the same period in 2018). Stephanie Butler, Assistant Editor of CUG, says that a number of factors contributed to the increase, including the relaunch of clearing products, relevant and refined content being pushed out well in advance of results day and increased engagement with clients.

Complete University Guide.

Year-on-year traffic increase to CUG clearing pages.

Whatuni’s comprehensive clearing pages have also seen significant increases of 12% in traffic this year compared to 2017. The year-on-year comparison was taken between 13 July and 13 August with pageviews to clearing pages jumping from 71, 686 to 80,167.

Year-on-year traffic increase to Whatuni clearing pages.

Pre-results Day (Week-on-week): With the approach of A-level results day, we’ve seen week-on-week increases in traffic of 47% to CUG’s clearing pages, comparing the week of 29 July-4 August to the week of 5-11 August with a rise from 64, 933 visitors in the first week to 95, 399 in the second week. What is notable is that CUG’s overall university ranking tables have had over 167, 500 pageviews in the two weeks leading up to results day.

Bernard Kingston, Chairman of CUG said: “What is inescapable is that university applicants and their mentors are looking for authoritative and independent information about the universities and courses they are considering before they make what will be, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime decision. They are clearly demonstrating that CUG, when used in association with other sources of information, is key to helping them with that decision. Changes in the application process introduced by UCAS may have played their part and, if that is the case, it is telling that would-be students are thoroughly researching their options rather than making last-minute decisions without adequate information.”

CUG clearing pages.

Week-on-week comparison: CUG clearing pages.

Whatuni saw a week-on-week increase of 83% to its clearing pages with the comparison made for the same period. What’s particularly interesting is that there was a peak in traffic on the 7th of August, which happened to be SQA results day.


Week-on-week comparison: Whatuni clearing pages.

Most Popular Subject Searches

We’ve seen a few changes year-on-year in most-popular-subject searches, across both CUG and Whatuni. The top five most searched subjects on CUG differ slightly to Whatuni’s, which may be as a result of CUG’s emphasis on subject-specific league tables. Here are the top five most searched subjects on CUG, as seen between 13 July and 13 August 2018:

1. Law
Law remains in first place this year with a 1.19% increase since last year (same period).
2. Medicine
Compared to last year, medicine has seen a marginal increase of 0.57%, moving from third to second place.
3. Computer Science
Computer Science dropped to third place, but traffic increased by 0.22%.
4. Economics
Economics remains in fourth position with a 0.19% increase.
5. Psychology
Psychology remains in fifth position with a scarcely noticeable increase of 0.03%.


Most searched subjects on CUG

The top five subjects searched on Whatuni between 13 July and 13 August 2018 were:

1. Psychology
In 2017 (for the same period) psychology also ranked as the top most searched subject, however, this year its popularity has climbed by 14.38%.
2. Life Sciences
Last year, life sciences came in as the fourth most-searched subject. With a 9.77% increase in searches this year, it takes second place.
3. Teaching/ training
Our year-on-year comparison shows a decrease in searches of 11.59%, taking it from second to third place this year.
4. Semi-medical/ physical/ psycho/ therapies
This subject category comes in 4th place this year with a 7.04% increase from last year.
5. Computer Science
Compared to last year, searches for Computer Science dropped by 12.5%, taking it from third to fifth place.

Subjects on Whatuni.

Most searched subjects on Whatuni.

Search Destinations: where from & where to

On Whatuni the bulk of searches for the period 13 July-13 August 2018 came from London with a 19.3% share of total searches, followed by Birmingham with 1.73% and Glasgow with 1.27%.
Across CUG (not exclusive to its clearing section), the vast majority of searches also come from London with 17.37% of overall share, followed by international destinations: Hong Kong (2.00%) and Lagos (1.43%). CUG’s well-respected league tables tend to draw international attention.
Conversely, the most popular regions being searched between 13 July and 13 August 2018 as study destinations in the UK on Whatuni are: Greater London (17.99% share), South East England (12.92%), West Midlands (8.04%), Central Scotland (7.79%) and North West England (7.69%).

Results Day Developments

We’ll be keeping a close eye on data trends for both websites throughout results day, monitoring what types of institutions prove most popular among applicants. Aaron Porter, Director of Insights at Hotcourses Group, says, “For many institutions clearing goes well beyond filling a few final spots on a handful of courses, it will represent a significant proportion of their total recruitment. Not to put too fine a point on it, the fortunes (quite literally) of a number of institutions rests on a successful clearing period, otherwise the consequences of failing to fill those places will be painful.”

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