For too long, recruiting the best students to universities and higher education institutions has been left to sheaves of prospectuses and impenetrable websites. But as student bodies grow more diverse, their questions are growing broader too. No matter how many smiling students are on the front of your university brochure, it can’t tell every prospective student what they need to know.
What’s more, even the best staff on your admissions team can’t give school students the full picture of life at university. That’s where digital student ambassadors come in: they’ve been there, done it all, and can spread the word with a smile and a welcome dose of honesty.
We spoke to Nik Higgins – co-founder of The Ambassador Platform and Chief Growth Officer – to understand more; what is a student ambassador and why you need them, and how they're going digital to better connect with prospective students.
The power of student ambassadorship
For Nik, the power of a student ambassador all comes back to ‘honesty, friendliness, and accessibility.
‘I could share a wall of statistics on a slide about changing consumer buyer behaviors, or the extent to which students do or don’t trust university marketing comms.’ But Nick thinks success stories speak louder than stats.
He should know. With The Ambassador Platform, Nik’s helped hundreds of universities, schools and colleges harness the power of student ambassadors and see their recruitment numbers bloom.
Take one student, thinking of taking up their place at an Oxbridge college, but concerned about the experience of ethnic minorities at an institution with such an archaic reputation. ‘That’s a huge thing to ask and a huge concern and preoccupation this prospective student clearly had.’
It’s exactly the kind of ‘thorny issue’ the student felt uncomfortable asking a member of staff. Thankfully, in this case, an ambassador was able to ‘give an incredibly transparent and an incredibly powerful answer to the question.’
For Nik, it’s just one perfect example of the real power of student ambassadors to communicate with prospective students.
Even though so much of the world has changed, prospective students are still desperate for content that helps them understand your institution better, imagine themselves as maybe studying there, and, ultimately, make the best decision about their future.
Why have student ambassadors gone digital?
There’s nothing like a friendly face. In-person ambassadors can show school students around your campus and give them the lowdown on quiet accommodation or snug study spots. And they can go on the road to university fairs, painting a picture of university life for your next cohort of students up and down the country.
But crucially, there are two key groups who can’t be reached by ambassadors on the ground. First, international students: are stuck making application decisions from websites and reputations alone. Second, students who – for whatever reason – don’t feel comfortable at traditional high education events.
For students in those two groups, and many others, communicating the unique strengths of your institution is all about addressing what Nik calls the ‘really important, slightly hidden levers’ in their decision-making.
That could be anything from specific, unique questions about accommodation – where to pick for music practice space or quiet weekend lie-ins – or more personal questions about representation and accessibility.
Digital student ambassadors can answer those questions with sincerity and help students wherever they are. What’s more, since the pandemic put conventional tours and fairs on hold, digital engagement has become more important than ever. Digital engagement is here to stay and tomorrow’s students expect a digital insight into the higher education they choose.
What does a Digital Ambassador Program look like?
With digital ambassadors quickly becoming the new norm, what makes a program stand out?
Each program is different, so the first step is understanding exactly what your goal is. Often that’ll look like a ‘pain point’ to begin with: failure to reach international students or legacy issues with accessibility across different subjects.
The best programs focus on such a failure and turn it into a positive mission statement. With the help of professional recruitment heads and student ambassadors you can build a successful digital student ambassador program. You can read all about how to build a student ambassador program for your university, college, or school here in four easy steps.
The process is remarkably simple: recruit ambassadors from your student body (as few as three can be a fantastic start), train them and then check in with some light-touch management and exciting incentivization.
The Ambassador Platform can help with each step of building your program – writing student ambassador job descriptions (click here for a free template) that capture the best of your students; running ambassador training sessions and hosting your smiley students on a seamless social media style platform for prospective newcomers to engage with.
Best of all, you can make an account with The Ambassador Platform and start getting help for free.
How a Digital Ambassador Program can help your students
Not only can a digital ambassador program help you reach new recruitment heights, but it can also provide a golden opportunity for some of your keenest students.
Thamasha De Silva was a student ambassador at University College London for four years while studying there. ‘It really was one of my favorite parts of being at university,’ she remembers. ‘Making new friends with all the ambassadors, meeting loads of brilliant young people, and also feeling like you got in on all of the secrets behind the scenes was all so exciting.’
It’s not just about lifelong memories, either. Being a digital ambassador is a CV gold star for students who come to university today expecting to leave with transferrable skills for a competitive job market.
At the University of Sunderland, ambassadors get world-class training in content creation for social media platforms like Tiktok. On the other side of the world at the University of Auckland ambassadors shadow professional university staff and bag real career experience.
From marketing and recruitment to events planning, being an ambassador comes with a host of work skills. Whatever they do, their experience leaves them with the kind of know-how they’re not getting in the library. As Thamasha says, ‘it’s a lifelong thing you can give to them.’ What could you offer your students?
Ultimately, digital ambassador programs are changing student acquisition not just for admission teams, but for all the students involved. And according to Nik, that’s the best part.
‘We’re all in the business of helping students and with a digital ambassador program, three different stakeholders all win.’
You can hit your recruitment targets; prospective students get relevant info from peers who have lived the experience, and your ambassadors graduate into a competitive job market confident and empowered by scorching hot real experience. Wins all around.
Set up a free trial today!
The winning doesn’t stop there: you can set up a free account in three simple steps and start your digital recruitment journey now! As Thamasha says, ‘the quickest way to get a gold standard ambassador program is to just get started.’
How student ambassadors help institutions build meaningful connections with prospective students
Improve student recruitment conversion through your Ambassador Program
All about the student journey - an interview with student ambassadors from Manchester Metropolitan University