Cambridge recently set out an aspiration to improve the means by which it communicates with prospective applicants in the UK. This has resulted in a series of projects under the ‘Be Cambridge’ title aimed at prospective undergraduate applicants in Year 12 or equivalent (i.e. 16-17 year olds) from under-represented groups.
The project began with a scoping study to look at use of new media by our target audience. This included a detailed analysis of social media use, as well as focus groups across the country. The main findings were:
- Digital media allows better connection with the brightest students, from a greater variety of backgrounds
- Film material is an effective mechanism to inspire potential applicants
- Material produced should appeal to emotional (“Is Cambridge for me?”) as well as rational considerations (“Why study at Cambridge?”), and should depict the reality of life at the University
Based on these findings we produced a series of short films to guide students through the entire process of applying from researching their options to settling into University life.
- To create a series of films in time for the 2011-12 admissions round, which contain engaging information to support students through the application process, and that communicate the following key messages:
- An education at the University of Cambridge creates unique opportunities
- The University is for the best and brightest, regardless of background
- Cambridge is a diverse community to which anyone can belong
- To increase the number of applications to the University in 2011-12 admissions round from academically-able students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds
- To produce material which stands out from other films produced by the HE sector aimed at prospective students
The films were delivered on 19 August 2011, to coincide with the publication of AS Level results and almost two months before the 15 October deadline.
The 2011-12 admissions round is still taking place, but initial indications are that applications to Cambridge (including under-represented groups) remain buoyant despite a national decline in application rates reported by UCAS.
We anticipated that each film would be viewed up to 20,000 times a year – a total of 120,000 views for the whole series. In mid-November (13 weeks after launch), the total views of all six films on YouTube reached 100,000. As of 7 March 2012, the number of views per film are as follows:
- Choosing a course 45,585
- Choosing a College 33,848
- The application process 45,537
- Interviews 26,566
- Student finance 18,547
- Settling in 18,471
- Total 188,554
As of 7 March 2012, 93% of the likes/dislikes received on YouTube were positive. Comments include:
“Very useful! :)”
“Really encouraging video :) hope I get an interview...”
“I've attended the interview at the beginning of December, and to be honest, this video is actually quite true :) If you're passionate about your subject, you'll find the interview both mind-stimulating and enjoyable. It's a great experience, really :)”
We have also conducted focus group research with Year 12 students during the production process to ensure that the material met the information needs of our target audience and communicated information in an appealing way.
Analytics indicate an impact on the number of visits to our web information about applying. We have seen more unique visitors coming to the site, more pages being viewed, more time spent on each page and lower bounce rates than the same time last year.
Look and feel
Ultimately we wanted to produce material which stood out amongst other university-produced films. Our approach has been to combine animation with live footage across a series of connected but free-standing films. This allowed advice to be provided from a range of staff/student perspectives, while graphics reinforced the key messages and introduced humour.
We have taken advantage of popular social media platforms to deliver information usually found in hard copy to a mass audience. All six films have been promoted through the following channels:
- University website: High profile links from the University homepage in the lead up to the application deadline made the films easier to locate, and effectively directed prospective students immediately upon entering the site.
- Social media: In the lead up to the application deadline, each film was promoted in sequence via the University’s Facebook pages for prospective undergraduate applicants, potentially reaching over 5,000 people.
- Banner advertising: A campaign was run on The Student Room website during September (between AS Level results day and the Cambridge application deadline). As the site is visited by students of our target demographic this presented a way of promoting the films to applicants who were not already considering Cambridge as an option.
- Events: The material has been shown at recruitment events organised by the University. Branded bookmarks have been distributed to increase awareness of the material and encourage visitors to view online post-event.
The style of the films fits with our growing ‘Be Cambridge’ brand, and we are currently producing more film material with the same look and feel.
We were careful when scripting the films to ensure that the information given was not time-sensitive and would not date too quickly, so unless any significant changes are made to the application process, the films should be usable for the next two or three years.
Use within the University
The films have been used for internal training. For example our film setting out the costs and the benefits of studying at Cambridge has been used to inform staff about the changes to student finance being introduced.
Some departments and Colleges have embedded the films on their own websites, allowing a greater number of prospective applicants access to our films. An example can be seen on the Computer Science website.
Use by schools
Similarly, some schools have linked to the videos from their own websites, to support their students research their university options. An example can be found on Loreto College’s blog for prospective Oxbridge applicants.