Boost student numbers by reimagining the university application experience

By Iris de Jong
Reimagining the University Application Experience to Boost Student Numbers

If ever there was a time for significantly reimagining the university application experience, it’s now. The enrolment outlook for UK Universities from both domestic and international students isn’t looking rosy. But in trying to boost student enrolment numbers, the struggle many universities face is that there’s often not a lot that differentiates one university’s online experience from another.

Information is scattered across the website, the application experience is confusing and disjointed, and it’s often hard for students to get a cohesive picture of what life outside the lecture theatre would look like – let alone in it.

So, to convince students that your university is the right one for them, you need to make it easy for students to identify how your institution meets their needs, academically and beyond, and create a streamlined application journey that takes them from identifying your university as one of many possibilities, to their first choice.  

Here's where to start with improving the University application experience:

1. Make it easy for prospective students to find the answers to their questions

When considering a university, or other higher education facility, the key pieces of information a student is looking for is whether your university:

  • offers the courses/degrees that will help them achieve their career goals
  • will be an enjoyable place to attend – including life outside of the classroom
  • is one they can afford – both from a tuition point of view and cost of living/accommodation

While the information on your website has to cater to all potential students who could apply, this isn’t something a prospective student is going to want to have to wade through. They want the information that’s relevant to them and their situation at their fingertips. So, your job is to make it easy for them to find the answers to their questions and make this life-defining decision.

2.    Provide a personalised experience from the moment students land on your website

Let’s say you have a student applying from overseas. They engaged with one of your geo-targeted social media ads so you already know a key detail to start providing a more personalised experience. For example, displaying what the tuition fees are for international students and information about how to apply for a visa or find financial aid.

But this is just a single step in providing a more personalised journey for a prospective student.
If you’ve piqued their interest enough for them to engage further, make it easy for them to find the course or degree that’s relevant to their career goal. Rather than make them trawl through the hundreds of courses and degrees on offer, why not incorporate a search tool that allows them to enter their goal career, with the results populated with courses relevant to that path?

Asking for further details like what they’re good at and their priorities can help narrow down the options further, identifying the most applicable course for the student.

3.    Make the journey easy to return to with an applicant portal

Often, a student won’t start building a digital profile with a university until they’re going through the formal application process. 

But what if they could start that profile as part of their decision-making process to make it easier to return to that information later and be reminded about why your university is a viable choice?

This portal also doesn’t have to be limited to pure course-related content and a place to house their application documents. Rather, this is an ideal place for them to explore other aspects of university life – accommodation, clubs, what to do in the area – and start to build a more cohesive picture of what life at university could look like and get them excited about attending.

Having this online portal would also allow you to provide personalised content that’s relevant to them, their interests and goals, and even make suggestions based on the profile they’ve built of themselves or connect them to other students who have a similar profile so they can start building relationships before they’ve even set a foot on campus.

4.    Meet applicants’ expectations of what a great online journey looks like

The students you’re looking to recruit now are digital natives. They grew up with the internet, social media and smartphones. To effectively engage these students, you need to create an online experience that mirrors what they get elsewhere and meets the expectations of this digital-native audience.

This will mean building immersive and interactive content experiences, such as virtual campus tours, programme explorers, and student life videos. 

Additionally, the use of conversational AI and chatbot support could be used to provide instant, on-demand assistance throughout the user journey and means that no matter where in the world your prospective students are located, they can get the information they're after in their time zone (and even native language).

5.    Continue to evolve the process as your student expectations change

However, it’s also not enough to play catch-up to align current application journeys with today’s student expectations. The journey will need to continue to evolve so you can engage future students as well. 

This will require regular user testing, A/B experiments, and iterative optimisations to continuously refine and improve the digital experiences based on real-world data and user feedback.

A select number of universities may be able to rest on the laurels of their prestige. But for the majority, standing out in this sea of sameness requires a reimagined application experience that aligns with what today’s digital native students expect, makes it easier to find information that’s relevant to them and their career goals, and allows them to imagine what life would be like on and off campus.


To discuss how our digital experience expertise can reimagine your prospective students’ application journey into an engaging and informative experience that sets you apart, get in touch