Education copywriting is not as simple as getting down with the kids

by Sophie Cole

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Great education copywriting can give universities the edge in a fiercely competitive world. Aside from rival institutes, universities have to compete with government-backed schemes that encourage learning on the job. Being able to address students properly is a crucial factor in education writing, and there are other attributing factors as to why education copywriters are struggling within the industry. Trying to sound modern and progressive, as well as credible, can be difficult for universities steeped in tradition and heritage. Education copywriting in this context is therefore about striking the balance. After all, you’re not going to win any hearts and minds with “blue-sky thinking”, or ancient Latin.

Listening to the market

At the age of 18, people gain a real sense of independence. Do young people, therefore, need to be told what to do and what to think by a university? Tone of voice is crucial. Students need to feel that university life is an exciting path to choose and not the only option. Today, they know university doesn’t hold all the answers and that earning a degree doesn’t equal employment. An inclusive voice works best. Consider what they can do for you, as much as what you can do for them. Telling them something they don’t know might resonate – but avoid preaching.

Gen Z also wants different things from university. With so much choice in front of them and an uncertain future, reputation and results matter more than ever. The 2019 international student survey found that 57% of applicants believe that quality teaching is the most important factor when choosing a university. More students than ever also want universities to embrace technology and remote learning is becoming more and more sought after, as students seek to remove the obstacle of physical distance.

Instead of using gimmicks and cringey slanguage, focus on what truly matters to today’s young people. The best education copywriting will show them that their future can still be bright, despite the uncertain state of the world, and speak to them like the intelligent, rational adults they are – even if some temporarily leave their brains behind during freshers week.  

Money talks

Student debt is a big turn off, but education writing should not shy away from this. Marketing needs to include details of costs in a clear, coherent sense. Tuition fees now surpass the £9000-a-year mark and the average cost of basic student living (rent, food, travel) is more than £800 per month, according to the National Student Money Survey 2019.

Advantaged students are still more likely to go to university than disadvantaged students. With this in mind, universities need to really scream and shout about their opportunities; financial aid, bursaries and scholarships are a major influence. Many students also stay at home and attend universities on their doorsteps to save money – institutes need to consider this in their marketing, honing in on the benefits of being a local student.

Students also need clear information on courses and potential economic gains – forget the fluff, what are the facts? Courses need to meet the interests of career prospects. Outline salary estimations and provide real evidence and examples of routes to work for each degree. Young people are aware that university is a costly venture, but with a clear idea of money at the onset, they can consider this as part of the whole picture, not solely focus on it.

The social network

Facebook, the world’s largest social media site, was invented to help Harvard students connect. Now, social media is one of the most powerful ways universities can reach their students, both existing and prospective. According to a study conducted by EAB in 2019, more than 86% of high school students felt that “every college or university should have a social media presence”. What’s more, almost 26% of students revealed that they had “discovered” a higher education provider on social media.

The youth of the world have migrated away from Facebook. A study found that 64% of young people check Instagram at least once a day, compared to just 34% for Facebook. TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat are also popular among Gen Z, with 42%, 62% and 51% respectively logging on daily. And as many of the world’s institutes spend millions on marketing every year, they must have a proper content strategy in place to make sure they’re spending it on content for the right platforms.

Virtual tours and prospectuses are also popular ways to engage potential students. But, without the help of a friendly tour guide who knows just the right things to say, these powerful tools can fall flat. Engaging, genuinely informative education copywriting can help you narrate your tour and give students a sense of your university without them ever needing to step a foot inside.

As in other sectors, social media marketing in education needs to be strategic. Storytelling is the best way to achieve this, with stories of people and their achievements and their interests, or how people have found their university journeys so far. Student-generated content that tells stories creates empathy and engagement; it is the most effective form of marketing as it directly speaks from one equal to another. It’s real evidence. Using alumni can also be effective but ensure that these people aren’t out of touch – a lot has changed in the past few years for graduates.

Future plans

Further education is still a natural progression for many of the UK’s young people. For the first time, the Department for Education revealed that 50.2% of England’s 17 – 30-year-olds enrolled in an undergraduate course in 2019. Student numbers have been rising steadily over the last five years and show no signs of slowing down yet. Even the uncertainty of Brexit is yet to put off students further afield, as 2019 saw the number of EU applicants to UK universities increased by 8%.

But amid sector-wide uncertainty, heritage and history might have to take a back seat for a while, as universities focus on looking ahead. Some traditions should be cherished – ceremonies, long-standing societies etc – but these won’t help prospective students make their final choice. All universities have these traditions. What makes yours different? Does your university offer a future with career prospects and tangible success?

The right tone of voice and clever content writing can show young people that it’s going to be worth the money, and the effort, to pick your institution as the setting for the best years of their life.

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