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The Top 3: What Tertiary Students Want

By Alex McLean • March 17, 2016

Did you know that education is in the throes of a one-sided revolution? On one hand student needs are changing; there are higher expectations, demands for flexibility and a desire for career-ready gradation. On the other hand, universities and other tertiary education providers are struggling to keep up with this rapidly changing market. Needs are evolving but providers are not. 


orange-quotation-marks-hi.pngOver the next 10-15 years, the current public university model in Australia will

prove unviable in all but a few cases. 

- Ernst & Young 

So as an institute of higher learning trying to attract and market to prospective students, what do you need to know? As anyone who has every had much to do with marketing, you will understand the need for solid, accurate and insightful buyer personas to ensure an amazing inbound marketing plan. The most important part of forming your buyer persona is research. Assumptions are not enough! 

A successful inbound education marketer understands what their potential students are looking for and what they want from their education. So, without further ado, here are some information nuggets about what Australian students are looking for: 

  • Quality of Education
  • Career Opportunities
  • Specific Course Offered

1. Quality of Education

This is an obvious one! Students want a quality education; its a big investment so they want it to be worth the time (sleepless nights, exam anxiety, awkward group projects) and cost (ramen dinners, crappy sharehouses, excessive pasta consumption). The whole school system is designed around an ATAR score which dictates access to the top-tier institutions - in other words, students will often choose the best course or institution they are accepted into.

'Quality' is dictated by a few factors. Students will research the courses that they are interested in; relevant/interesting subjects, reputable teachers and attractive facilities. Outside of their own research, reputation is invariably a contributor. A recent EY study says that reputation/image sits at number 7 in the top 10 considerations for student choice. However, it makes sense that this is closely linked with 'quality of education'.


Top-tier universities have the benefit of an excellent reputation - many students will aspire to attend these universities if their desired course is offered. A student already knows that Harvard, for example, is a good university with an excellent quality of education. It is more about considering if that university is the right fit for their circumstances. So despite its lower ranking according to student responses (no one wants to admit they're choosing a university based on its image), do not underestimate the importance of your institution's reputation and image. Reputations are an instant lure. 


2. Career Opportunities

The reason for going to university (apart from delaying entry to adulthood) is to become qualified for a good career. Students want to graduate with prospects and vocational skills. They want to be desired by employers. 

This is increasingly important is today's market. Millennials and the next generation soon to enter the tertiary system are more aware than they have ever been. Unemployment is a major concern for graduating students. Its hard out there. More and more people are tertiary qualified. Desired professions are hugely competitive. Gradate jobs are won through 5 round interviews over 5 month periods against thousands of other applicants (in 2012 I interviewed for a Telstra graduate position, we were told we were among 10 000 applicants). 

Students want to graduate with an appealing, job-ready skill set. Course development needs to reflect this need. Internships, work experience, exchange programs, volunteering, leadership experience; these have long been a part of the university experience. However, they need to be better marketed. These opportunities need to be made more obvious and more strongly linked with desirable career results. 

3. Specific Course Offered

Apart from all the lost souls that choose arts degrees (guilty as charged), a lot of kids leave school with an idea about the course they're interested in. So its important to to focus on the types of students you want. Some institutions have a reputation for excellence in engineering, or law, or research, or arts. So students interested in these areas will be be looking for an institution that a) offers their desired course b) offers a quality education (see above) in their desired course. 

For those kids that don't know what they're hoping to study, they probably have an idea of the university they'd like to go to and the vague area they're interested in. It's likely where their friends are headed or convenient or has an excellent reputation. In these cases, the variety of courses and overall quality of education is important, as they will likely apply for a number of courses at the same institution.

So it really is essential that course offerings are made readily available and understandable to prospective students. The bureaucracy of finding simple course information or access to help can be very off-putting. Course information needs to be clearly presented! And marketed! Make sure prospective students understand how cool your course is, how its interesting, valuable, career-focused or industry leading. Find your edge and exploit it. 

So there you have it - from the source we have what students are looking for! Don't forget these three factors when considering your inbound marketing approach. When formulating your buyer personas, weave these factors into their stories, understand why these matter, and you'll be on the right track.



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