Windows of opportunity – postgraduate timing and decision-making

Posted: 18 Oct 2018 - 08:14
UCAS Media postgraduate
Fewer industries are more time sensitive than student recruitment, fewer still than postgraduate. The nuances of degree types, application ages, and university choices make timing a tricky task for postgrad recruitment.


Being able to reach students early in their consideration stage is imperative. The eventual recruitment is made more achievable through the fostering of good relationships and rapport from the outset. But when does the outset start? Our research showed multiple windows of opportunity for this.

Would be postgraduate students on taught degrees begin to ‘seriously consider’ further study approximately 12 months before their course starts. However, those hoping to enrol on a research degree are reaching this stage much earlier, between two – five years prior to the start date. A staggered, multiple campaign approach to building awareness for different types of students is important to capture interest at the optimum time.


In the 12-month window before a postgraduate course starts, intent begins to become action. Again, the research students are giving themselves more time (applying seven – 12 months prior), and the taught students leaving it a little later (three – six months prior). 

The important distinction here is what each set of students is likely to be experiencing in those windows. Whilst we know that the majority of postgraduate students move from undergraduate study without a break, and therefore we can assume their ages quite confidently, the potential nine-month difference in application is significant.

Taught postgraduate students are likely to be finished with their exams and coursework, enjoying a summer of relaxation. Contrast this with those applying for research degrees, who are potentially only just starting their final year of undergraduate study, and clearly the timing of alternate messages and tones of voice becomes a primary concern for marketers.


In the three months preceding a course start date, the majority of students have been through the consideration and application stages. Now they’re tasked with choosing the right university for them, based on the offers they’ve received.

Our research showed there is little difference between the number of postgraduate students who stay with their undergraduate university for further study, and those who move to an alternative. As for the reasons why, clearly there are some that cannot be easily influenced – for example, a third of those who change university do so for a specific course offered. However, marketing messages highlighting the USPs of individual courses and universities is an integral pull factor for decision-making students, particularly when linked to the influential factors from our research:

•    85% of students considered the reputation of the university or college to be important, compared to 70% who thought the ranking of the university or college to be important
•    78% of students considered study resources to be important
•    65% of students considered links with employers/industry to be important

These three windows of opportunity for recruiting postgraduate students are invaluable parameters to build your marketing campaigns around. As the basis of a customer journey, these give you a framework to hang your content and engagement strategies on.


We’re in the perfect position to support brands that want to speak to, and support the verified student audience, with products and services that will make their next step a confident one.

For more information on any aspect of our postgraduate research, or to find out how we can connect your brand to this important audience, please call 01242 544 881, or email [email protected].

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