UK Higher Education

What’s just happened? Reflecting on the UCAS Deadline

By Kate Wright

Now that the dust has settled following the UCAS deadline, it’s a good time to reflect on changes in applicant behaviour over the last few months to help inform your marketing and recruitment strategies for UCAS Extra, Clearing and 2020 recruitment. Here’s what we’ve found:

In November, December and January up to the UCAS deadline, Whatuni saw the biggest year-on-year increases in users than any other months in 2018, with December in particular seeing a 23% increase, indicating more students than ever are leaving their decision to the last few weeks before the deadline.

This represents a growing trend for UG applicants treating their university research as more of a commercial exercise and exercising their ‘buying power’. For institutions, this highlights the importance of continuing to engage students right through to the UCAS deadline, not just the early part of the cycle.

How has this affected course research?

Whilst the traffic suggests prospective applicants are applying later, the effect appears more potent in certain subject areas. When comparing the early stage of the cycle (September & October) vs the later stages (November and December), there’s distinct subjects that we can predict are more likely to receive late applications vs those receiving early ones (it’s not just Medicine!).



From the graph there seems to be a clear trend in STEM subjects receiving earlier applications while Business, Creative Arts, Social Studies and Nursing are driving later applications.

What does this mean for your marketing strategy? In the longer term looking towards 2020 recruitment, faculties and schools need to focus on opportune times in the cycle to drive their recruitment. However, in the short-term the data suggests that those subject areas with late applicants could be fruitful during UCAS Extra, whereas those subject with early applicants will now likely be waiting until Clearing opportunities become available.

The Impact for Russell Group vs Non-Russell Group Institutions

The 2018 recruitment cycle put the spotlight on some of the changes in applicant behaviours towards Russell Group institutions, which looks to continue for 2019 recruitment. When considering the audiences on our platforms from 1st Nov – 15th Jan, the segment of our sites’ overall UG traffic, researching a Russell Group institution, has increased every year, shifting from 22.3% in 16.17 to 33% in 18/19 – a dramatic shift.

For non-Russell Group recruitment teams, the market will continue to be more competitive, and institutions will need to find creative ways to communicate to students the benefits of their institution (from an academic and lifestyle point of view). For Russell Group universities, marketing teams need to take stock of the fact that more potential applicants are still considering their institution right up until the UCAS deadline, and applications are not a guarantee. Taking a more proactive and competitive approach to engaging students will be vital.

For more articles on trends and insights, click here.

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