Direct Applicants are the fastest growing Clearing student group, but they can also be the most difficult to target, connect with and attract. 

But as more and more students are choosing to apply directly to university, this elusive group presents a huge opportunity for institutions in Clearing 2021. 

We recently hosted a webinar, delving deep into the National Clearing Survey data to better understand this persona and how best to engage with the three direct applicant types. If you missed it, you can catch up on demand here, but in the meantime here are the key takeaways that you need to know to make sure you stay ahead of the game this Clearing. 

1. Target Direct Applicants early ​

direct applicant butterfly

All Direct Applicants have one thing in common: they have not made a traditional application through UCAS, therefore in order to build a connection with them it is important to be in-market early, ideally from May onwards. Build awareness of your brand, and capture enquiries and remarketing audiences as this will set you aside from other institutions that leave it too late.

2. Understand their Clearing behaviours

Direct Applicants start researching and actually looking for Clearing places at different stages; for the typical student (aged 17-18) the focus is always going to be around A-Level Results Day, however mature and gap-year students could start to look for Clearing places as early as June or July. And, among the older, more mature audience, a significant percentage will only start looking for Clearing places over two weeks after A-Level Results Day. The takeaway? Having a separate long tail strategy for this segment is vital.


3. Know their situation

Understanding your applicants is key, because their motivations to enter Clearing will vary widely depending on their life stage, demographics and requirements. . Plan separately for each segment based on the factors that are most important to them. Here are some questions to ask before planning your Clearing strategy:

  • Are your students likely to be living with a partner, family or alone?

  • Do they care about being close to home, how to access funding or balancing their work-study commitments?

  • Are they concerned about the cost of study and/or living? 

  • What is their motivation for going to university?

  • Are they looking to socialise, upskill or retrain?

4. Think about your offering

Once you understand your target segment’s motivations and barriers, ensure that you position your offering effectively against these and tailor your comms to their preferred courses. 39% of NCS respondents aged over 30 chose a subject allied to medicine in 2020/21 due to the impact of the pandemic, so can you offer similar courses to your students to increase their stickiness and interest in your institution? 

5. Choose the right channels

As we move through the Direct Applicant group, their use of social and other media changes dramatically. The younger members of this group spend their time on Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok whereas Facebook is still the most popular choice for the over 30s. When it comes to other media choices, TV (both live and on demand) is used fairly evenly across the entire group, however 50% of 17-18 year olds said they do not read newspapers or news sites and 65% of 17-24 year olds don’t listen to the radio. Therefore be careful not to put a lot of budget into the wrong channels. Be targeted with your messaging and plan your channels to suit your segments to make the most of your Clearing spend.

To summarise, the Direct Applicant group is complex. But, understanding the varied segments within this group and planning accordingly is key to making your Clearing campaigns a success. For the full insights into the Direct Applicant and actionable tactics on how to recruit them, catch up with the webinar here and for even more expert insights into how to plan your 2021 Clearing, get in touch today


Article by

Nick Willmer

Head of Marketing