Isn’t it overwhelming deciding where and what to study at university?
There are thousands of questions just from this one decision to pursue higher education: Which university should I pick? What’s it like to study X programme there? How’s the course load like? Where should I live?
You can Google the answers to these questions, but university websites can be pretty generic, vague, impersonal or all of the above – they try to be everything to everybody. Rankings sites aren’t exactly the most accurate too, what with annually changing methodologies and research-heavy considerations (when all you want to know if there’s a Koreatown in the area).
You need answers. Personalised answers. And these sources just aren’t cutting it anymore.
It may be time to check out peer-to-peer platforms like Unibuddy.
Unibuddy is a platform which connects student ambassadors with prospective students from around the world, providing them with information beyond the formal information available on university websites.
If you ask Unibuddy Chief Customer Officer Jonathan Tinnacher, students are “hungry for this sort of connection”.
Better than turning to influencers
Since its launch with five universities in 2017, Unibuddy is a tool that has really resonated with universities. It now works with over 250 institutions globally, enabling prospective students to make personal connections with current students to help them spring into action.
In the early days, universities used student ambassadors to attend open days or school visits to share their experiences with prospective students about university life.
More recently, universities have turned to social media influencers to provide prospective students with Instagram stories or posts about campus life.
For Tinnacher, these are great ways of getting across snippets of what life at a particular university could be like, in addition to details about the places they go and the courses they’ve taken.
But it’s not exactly answering students’ more personalised questions.
“Unibuddy itself has a blogging site on it, and [student] ambassadors can put up posts and videos about the things that they’re doing. But what really gives Unibuddy the strength is you can then reach out to that ambassador and have a direct, one-to-one conversation with them about the things that matter to you most,” he said.
Tinnacher, who has extensive experience in student recruitment in universities, explained that the conversations that take place on the platform could be asynchronous – like WhatsApp – with conversations taking place over a few hours or even days, depending on students’ time zones and availability.
‘Being able to ask somebody who you have some affinity with’
Students who use Unibuddy do so at different stages in the university enrolment process.
Some haven’t applied or done much research on a particular university, and use the platform to reach out to student ambassadors to ask basic questions about what it’s like to study a particular course at the institution.
Others who have already accepted offers from university also use the platform to ask specific questions about their course, or on questions about the social aspects of university life, such as where to live or about the campus facilities.
“I think it’s 100 percent about the personal connection and about being able to ask somebody who you have some affinity with,” said Tinnacher.
While the platform’s concept has a universal appeal to it, he believes international students and those from non-traditional backgrounds, such as first-generation university students, can especially benefit from their service.
Due to the cultural differences from their country of origin and their study abroad destination, international students might want to speak with somebody from their own country and background as they are more likely to understand the worries and concerns these students might have.
Meanwhile, first-generation university students may not have peers, parents or even siblings who have attended university and may have a stronger need to connect with somebody who has gone through that journey.
Postgraduate students are more likely to ask current students questions surrounding career support and job opportunities, in addition to in-depth questions about the course than prospective undergraduates.
The student’s voice and the power of persuasion
Check out this great report from @Kerrie_ThePIE into our research with @Intead! “Peer-to-peer interactions influence the majority of students when deciding where to apply to study”https://t.co/BZwOVlwhMb#intled #highered #admissions #emchat
— Unibuddy (@Unibuddy_) February 3, 2020
Unibuddy is not the sole player in the field; similar peer-to-peer platforms have also sprouted, including The Access Platform.
Access Oxbridge, which has a somewhat similar concept, serves as an online mentoring scheme where current Oxbridge students mentor pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them win places at Cambridge and Oxford.
But does this suggest peer-to-peer communication is increasingly being seen as important tool in student recruitment?
A recent study by Intead and Unibuddy found that prospective students increasingly find student ambassadors to be an influential resource in their decision-making about study abroad.
Their study found that 57 percent of students said peer-to-peer interactions influenced their decision.
Moreover, they said these online conversations were the most helpful resource they used when deciding where to apply.
That’s compared to 47 percent saying friends and family, who were previously viewed as the most influential reference for students, were the most helpful, said the report.
Their findings are based on a spring 2019 survey of international students who were accessed through 40 universities in the US and UK, and data from 370,000+ peer-to-peer conversations on Unibuddy.
The study notes that peer-to-peer interactions don’t work as an attraction tool, but rather as a resource that students use to deepen their knowledge on institutions they are already familiar with.
Student ambassadors are also powerful influencers in the application and enrolment processes. They are especially valuable to graduate students, even though graduate students still consider friends and family a more helpful decision-making resource than undergraduates.