Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Applicant Days - Successful Subject Sessions

With winter setting in and the Christmas break not far away, it’s time to think ahead to next year’s Applicant Day cycle starting in January.  From now onwards and throughout the spring term, applicants will be receiving offers from their prospective institutions.  Their task is now to hone their five or so application choices and decide where they really see themselves studying and living for the next three or more years. And that’s where Applicant Days are designed to help.

By the time Applicant Days come around, the priority for most applicants is figuring out the distinctions between courses at different universities.  It’s likely that they’ll be visiting elsewhere too, and directly comparing institutions and courses.  Our cycle of Applicant Days running between January and the start of May provides opportunities for applicants to visit us throughout the period that sees their offers come in and decisions having to be made. 
The subject sessions at Applicant Days are the perfect opportunity for departments to engage with their applicants at this stage in the application cycle and really show off the many benefits of our courses.  It’s then our job in MRA to build the rest of the days around these sessions and help reinforce the value of the whole ‘Chester Experience’ – the result hopefully being to convert attendees into budding 2013 entrants. 
I’ve been having a look at some of the survey feedback about what prospective students most enjoyed about last year’s Applicant Days, plus things they thought could be improved upon.  A summary of this data will be forwarded to Faculty Deans over the next couple of months.
In the meantime, here are a few illustrative quotes from last year’s survey and our top tips for planning successful subject sessions.

Friendly information from the experts

Given that applicants are taking the time to visit us to find out more about their course, it’s important that they’re able to meet with relevant subject staff where possible.  Being able to meet and ask questions of the people who will actually be teaching them leaves visitors better informed and able to envisage what their time with the Department will be like.  Previous visitors have also been impressed with the friendliness of staff and an altogether personable approach that really helps Chester stand out from the crowd: 
"I liked the relaxed, friendly atmosphere” 
“Very friendly and welcoming Professor, plenty of opportunity for questions” 
“I was pleased to meet a member of staff I will be working with in the future” 
“A specific course teacher would have been helpful” 
“It would have been nice to have talked to someone who actually ran the course”

Help from current students

Of course, the real experts in student life at Chester are our students!  We know from visitor feedback there’s nothing better than getting information straight from the horse’s mouth.  Involving current students in subject sessions -  perhaps through Q&As or tours of the department -  is a great way of contributing to the day’s personal touch , not to mention a great resource and help to staff.
  “There were students from first and second year speaking which helped to get a feel for the university from a student’s point of view”

Timely and relevant information

A number of those who decide to visit us on an Applicant Day will have already visited us at one of our recent Open Days.  It’s worth being mindful of this when planning what you will be delivering on Applicant Days as it shouldn’t simply be a case of repeating the same old formula.   
“It was disappointing that it was exactly the same information and presentation that I had received on the Open Day I attended”
 Notwithstanding this, remember that our visitors are further along the applicant ‘journey’ than before they applied: they will now be seeking specific information about modules, field trips, assessment methods and so on, and comparing this to their other offers.  They are also likely to be in a better position to absorb positive messages about graduate employability at this stage; another key area for differentiation between institutions.

Keeping it informative, engaging and professional

… Not too much of a tall order, right?!  First and foremost, applicants want to come away equipped with in-depth, relevant information about what their chosen course will entail.  But as the recent parent’s blog post on our campaign site highlights, visits to events like Applicant Days are all about getting a ‘feel’ for the place and people at a university.  We’ve had some great feedback from applicants who have been really inspired by meeting enthusiastic staff and students, seeing departmental facilities and engaging in activities as part of the subject sessions:  
“Great tutor.  Interaction.  Ability to ask questions.  Good to see equipment”  
 “I enjoyed it when we did a small workshop as it was fun and not too pressured”   
“I enjoyed seeing the facilities and previous students’ work”   
“We enjoyed the way [the tutor] sold both the course and the University.  He was informative, interesting and held our attention throughout the session” 
This is all worth thinking about when planning the format and delivery of your sessions.  In terms of timing, do make sure to use the full time allocated for the subject sessions (this is your one chance to really sell the course – seize it!).  Equally, please make every effort not to overrun as delays tend to impact on the rest of an applicants’ day, which was noted by some in last year’s survey feedback.
Of course, there are always going to be latecomers, and occasions where the best planned schedules go awry!  Due to the variety of our programmes and the nature of Applicant Days as being designed around applicant choice, it’s inevitably difficult making ‘one size fit all’.  The best feedback from staff and students has been where sessions have been adaptable and  tailored to fit the occasion – often, this is when we are able to demonstrate Chester’s personal touch at its best:
“It was small and informal ... it made it very easy for me to ask any questions and get the most out of my day” 
Finally, think about the overall impression given by the materials you use on the day and update them as required.  If you’d like any advice on printed materials or would prefer to use a PowerPoint template that integrates with other materials used by MRA, please let us know.
Myself and Mark Hoddell will be in contact with relevant colleagues about the forthcoming Applicant Days – but if you do have any questions or queries in the meantime please get in touch:
Thanks all,


Monday, 3 December 2012

Read all about it

If you’ve read one of my previous blogs, you’ll probably be aware that one of the consistent themes is often based around the premise of creating a stronger bond with the prospect and developing some sort of sense of loyalty to the brand.  It’s fundamental to any business that wants to be successful or even survive.  And it’s why so many businesses now work so hard to encourage you to leave your personal details with them.  They want to know exactly who you are, and what your buying habits are, so they can begin to interact with you in a way that is relevant to you.  Customers are always the lifeblood of any organisation and universities are no different.

Whilst our immediate goal may not be repeat business, which is often the main objective of building brand loyalty, it is necessary to keep our prospects and applicants engaged and interested throughout the various stages of their decision making process.


In my previous blog, I discussed the aftermath of the Open Day, putting it into context of where it falls in a prospect’s decision making process.  With applications now starting to flow into the admissions office, the process of making offers has begun.  Hence, it is now that the arduous task begins of trying to convert these applications into enrolments.

Extra, Extra… 

In terms of how you can begin to engage with your applicants, a department or course e-newsletter is a good starting point.  Universities are in a very fortunate position that makes it relatively easy to engage with our prospects.  By virtue of an applicant’s application, not only do we know that they are considering the University as one of their five choices, but we also have a wealth of information on exactly who they are and what they are interested in.  This immediately gives us the ability to create very powerful personalised and targeted marketing communications.