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Professionals working in the education field are no strangers to the seasons of higher education marketing, and right now, it’s Clearing season in the UK. After UCAS results were released, universities nationwide are in a heated race to fill their remaining slots by vying for students who were not accepted into their preferred universities.

The importance of the Clearing process to universities in the UK is growing. Since 2012, places filled through Clearing have increased by 100%, making up more than 64,000 enrollments.

UK University Clearing Campaigns are designed to capture students’ attention and move them through the funnel as quickly as possible. As a result, the Clearing season brings about some pretty impressive and creative marketing campaigns, and even though the process is specific to the UK, there’s a lot that schools worldwide can learn from the tactics UK universities are using.

What is Clearing? A Brief Introduction for University Recruitment Professionals

The UK’s university enrollment system is a little different from most countries. All university student applications are funneled through a centralized system called UCAS, where students receive their notice of acceptance or non-acceptance. Most acceptances, however, are conditional and hinge upon a student’s A-level or IB scores. If students don’t get the grades they need for acceptance, they are back at square one, and that’s where Clearing comes in.

Once exam results are released, all unplaced students are entered into Clearing, where they can log onto the UCAS website and view all the leftover course slots still available at universities. Students then contact the university directly, usually by phone, to explain why they are a good fit. The entire process happens very quickly. 12% of all Clearing students are placed into a course within 48 hours, and another 67% within a week.

While students still have to pitch themselves to universities for acceptance, universities have an even larger job promoting themselves to students. Because the clearing season moves so fast, universities must use short and focused marketing campaigns to generate interest in their remaining courses and demonstrate that their university is an excellent second choice, perhaps even better than the students’ first choice.

UK universities’ tactics for Clearing campaigns can inspire any large-scale or short-term marketing campaigns your school may need to run throughout the year. For example, you may need to run a short-term campaign to fill enrollments before the term begins, or you may want to make a big splash to raise awareness of a brand new program, or you want to target as broad an audience as possible. Whatever your needs, these well-planned, expertly executed campaigns can give you plenty of ideas.

Advanced Planning & Teamwork is the Key to Success During Clearing for Universities

While Clearing campaigns are relatively short, they need to be planned well in advance for maximum success. Many universities that run groundbreaking, stand-out Clearing campaigns begin preparing as early as April.

Successful Clearing campaigns typically have many parts, from social media and video to web design, blogging, and paid advertising. Additionally, because applications must be dealt with quickly, these marketing efforts must attract the right kind of student who will be a good fit for the courses. Because of all the different elements, involving and consulting with several departments, such as admissions, marketing, and even faculty, is beneficial.

Your school can follow this advice for planning marketing campaigns, too. Planning will allow your school more time to think creatively and ensure your marketing campaign is well-executed across your target audience’s most influential digital channels. In addition, asking for different departments’ input will help foster collaboration and may inspire some unique and practical ideas your school has never used before.

Cross-department communication can also be the key to ensuring your campaign’s messaging and branding is consistent, and everyone is on the same page regarding managing and responding to student inquiries.

Showcasing Your Offerings Front & Centre on Your Website Can be Crucial for University Recruitment

During Clearing season, most universities will create a designated Clearing page on their website that lists courses with available slots, contact details, and other important information. Typically, universities will have a designated email address and phone number monitored by staff with detailed knowledge of the available courses to help students make the right choice.

Example: the University of Salford Manchester, an institution known for its creative and successful Clearing campaigns, has a dedicated Clearing section on its website. The page offers prospective students a course finder, contact information, the ability to request a callback, testimonials, guidance about Clearing, and information about why Salford is an ideal choice. The page functions almost as a condensed version of Salford’s website, making it an easy one-stop-shop for students exploring their Clearing options.

university student recruitment

Some universities will also create blog posts, especially for Clearing season. The blogs may provide helpful tips for finding the right program, explain the UK University Clearing process, or even highlight specific courses the school has available places for.

Schools worldwide can learn much from how UK universities use their website and blog during this period. If you want to promote a specific course or program and drastically increase university recruitment numbers in a short amount of time, you need to create targeted content of real value, and place it front and center on your website.

Use Social Media to Generate Buzz During University Clearing Campaigns

Another important tool for Clearing campaigns is social media. During this period, UK universities need to reach as broad an audience as possible and often aim to convince students who have shown no previous interest in their school to apply within a matter of weeks or even days.

As a result, social media is often used to raise awareness about remaining course slots, disseminate information, and successfully position a university’s unique brand to prospective students. Using creative and fun hashtags is one way UK schools encourage potential applicants to get involved in the online conversation and ensure their posts are found during Clearing.

Example: The University of Bolton promotes its Clearing spots with an inspirational quote and a phone number. The post is accompanied by the school’s hashtags #AndSoItBegins and the widely used hashtag #Clearing.

university student recruitment strategies

Some universities are even beginning to use web chats and live Q&As. These tools are especially useful for capturing the interest of students casually exploring the school’s digital channels, creating a personalized connection, and encouraging them to begin moving through the funnel as soon as possible.

Your school can emulate the social media efforts of UK universities during Clearing by recognizing the power of social networks for creating buzz, excitement, and conversation about your school online and ensuring social media is made a priority for digital campaigns.

UK Clearing Campaigns Show the Value of Video for University Student Recruitment

It’s no secret that video content generates more engagement than text and images, making it one of the best university recruitment strategies to promote course spots during Clearing. When you need to reach such a broad audience quickly, you want to use the most effective tools possible.

While video production can be expensive, it can pay off, and there are ways of producing it cost-effectively. A student at the University of Lincoln created one of the most well-known Clearing videos in 2011.  The video is quirky and funny, and with over 157,000 views, it’s capturing prospective students’ attention.

YouTube video

Even if you run a campaign on a far smaller scale, you can learn from this approach and recognize the power of video marketing. Having your students produce video content, like the University of Lincoln, can also be an option for generating content inexpensively, as well as a fantastic way to encourage students to get involved with your online channels.

Universities That Run Successful Clearing Campaigns Are Willing to Push the Boundaries

Many universities use Clearing as an opportunity to push the boundaries and get creative with their online communications. Because Clearing campaigns are time-sensitive and need to reach a wide audience, receiving a lot of exposure quickly is vital, and university recruitment professionals will often take risks to get results.

Humour is a great way to pique the interest of prospective students, as it helps schools seem more relatable and approachable, which is especially important for students who may have been denied a place at their first-choice university and have now ended up in Clearing.

Example: The University of Salford created a “matchmaking app”– similar to Tinder – that allows students to swipe left or right to clear courses that interest them. While the app was a risky move for a university, it performed tremendously. On A-level results day, over 10,000 students used the app. In addition, the university website’s engagement increased by 264%, and offers made during the Clearing season increased by 28%. The campaign received praise from The Guardian, The Telegraph, and The Times.

YouTube video

Universities looking to create significant buzz around their school’s brand should consider a similar approach. While creating campaigns that push the boundaries and are unexpected may be riskier, if done right, they can improve your university student recruitment initiatives.

The Importance of a Follow-Up Strategy for Clearing Campaign Success

As mentioned previously, most student inquiries into Clearing spots are made over the phone, and because students tend to shop around, follow-up is crucial. Thus, top UK universities have a solid plan for following up with each student individually to ensure no prospect slips through the cracks.

To be successful, universities pour additional resources into their admissions department by providing proper training before results days, increasing the number of staff on the phones, and monitoring social media accounts and chats.

You must be prepared if your university wants to run a large-scale campaign similar to Clearing campaigns. You may need to train admissions staff on the program you’re promoting, schedule extra staff to answer inquiries or increase your hours to have someone monitoring your school’s social media accounts outside your regular office schedule.

It’s also important to remember that prospective students are likelier to opt for a school that engages with them immediately and demonstrates their eagerness. You can ensure that a lead doesn’t opt for another school by following up as quickly as possible and being easy to reach.

Even though Clearing is unique to the UK, schools worldwide can be inspired by the impressive campaigns created for the season and the tangible results they achieve. Getting creative, using humour, pushing the boundaries while leveraging important channels like your social media, website, and blog, and having a good follow-up plan are all tactics and strategies your school can use to create effective campaigns, no matter where you are.

FAQ’s To Consider:

What is the clearing process in UK universities?

Once exam results are released, all unplaced students are entered into Clearing, where they can log onto the UCAS website and view all the leftover course slots still available at universities. Students then contact the university directly, usually by phone, to explain why they are a good fit.

How long does clearing take?

The entire process happens very quickly. 12% of all Clearing students are placed into a course within 48 hours, and another 67% within a week.

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