Lessons learned from April's UCAS Media Insight Newsletter

Friday 16 April 2021, UCAS advice


Lessons learned from April's UCAS Media Insight Newsletter


If knowledge is power, then insight is the key to the kingdom. 


There is great potential in the petabytes of data and statistics generated within the higher education sector, but interpreting them in a way which serves the end user is where the magic happens. Universities may look for different insight to employers, who might in turn seek different answers to brands and retailers. 


We have launched a UCAS Media Insight Newsletter designed to put some context around student behaviours. Each month, we’ll issue a snapshot roundup of the previous month and compare it to recent and annual trends. The aim is to equip providers and agencies with the insight, the keys, to more effectively communicate with their student market, the kingdom. You can sign up here. 


Here are the top three lessons from March 2021: 




The PAD21 audience (PrePotential Applicants Database 2021) is made up of 16-17 year olds in their first year of further education. They are in research and discovery mode, considering their options for higher education. 


When it comes to their decision-making phase, we know from experience that it’s the early investment that often comes up trumps. Awareness made before they disappear into the summer, and before the pressure of their final year in FE, often pays dividends in the long run. 


Through UCAS, you can engage with the PAD21 audience from March in any given year.  


And that’s exactly when you should be starting it. 




These would-be students are at their most active during March, April, and May. And whilst it would be extremely unwise to discount the thousands of young people reachable throughout the rest of the year, it’s an early start in these key months which will repay you handsomely. Also note that the opt-ins run in the opposite arc, meaning those post-May months include a growing number of new prospects. 


They become applicants in the following year, and then it becomes a recruitment strategy. 


Don’t wait until your numbers are down before you act, because you may miss this high-performing window of opportunity. 




We know, there’s always a hot new thing on the scene when it comes to social media. 


But pinches of salt are very important, and when it comes to the headline statistics then a handful of salt might be more appropriate. For example, we know that the popularity of Instagram has risen from 50% to 82% since 2015, in the same time that Facebook has fallen from 85% to 57%. Taken at face value, this would drive many marketing departments into a conversation about reallocating budget. 


But whilst students may say one thing, their actions say another. Last year, Facebook accounted for 75% of all UCAS engagement in social media advertising. Another 10% came from Facebook-owned Messenger. (Instagram, by comparison, was 15%.) Goliath, for now, is holding his own. 


Now it wouldn’t be a social media update if we didn’t mention you-know-who. 


TikTok has had its fair share of critics. Many people wrote it off as a cheesy karaoke and dance platform when it bounded onto stage in 2019, and its disruption has been so deep as to lead many countries to attempt (or succeed) to outlaw it. Whatever your opinion on the video sharing platform is, it’s hard to argue with its 689 million active users. 


It’s also hard to argue with some of its success stories. Take Lancaster University, for example, which handed the reins over to its social-savvy students and in return generated a 10m impression and 90k click campaign to promote their online open day. For a university with 16,000 students, that is a phenomenal achievement. 


Like in most things, diversification is rarely a bad thing. And it seems clear, therefore, that any social media strategy needs to pay its dues to the old guard and the new. 




With COVID-19 highlighting cracks in the NHS, you would be forgiven for thinking that the shine of healthcare may have been dimmed for a few years. Those deciding between medicine and another career may, for a moment, have leant towards the latter. 


Not so, at all. Applications from school leavers have risen by 27%, and mature students (those aged 35 and over) have reached 10,000 for the first time on record. That’s a 39% growth from last year. 


(Both of these increases vastly outstrip the national averages for university applications from both age groups.) 


Plus, three of the top five subjects searched on UCAS.com in March 2021 were medical: Medicine (1) Nursing (2), and Midwifery (5). For the PAD22 audience, Medicine retains its top spot. 




For the full version of March’s UCAS Media Insight Newsletter, and to sign up for future snapshots, please click here.