Customerwise Blog CXWISE: University Admissions Journeys – What can go wrong?

White writing on a turquoise background. It reads, You know business, we know customers. CX Wise. Compliance Wise. Competitor Wise. Customer wise.


“Building a good customer experience does not happen by accident. It happens by design” – Claire Muscutt

female and male students at graduation time

This is as true of universities as any other customer-serving business. With UCAS reporting that EU student numbers applying the UK universities continue to be down (22,400 in 2023, compared with 23,160 in 2022 and 51,310 in 2019), and applications from China showing their first drop in over ten years, it’s never been more important to ensure that your university is offering the best customer experience to its potential applicants from the start. So how do you go about improving your university’s admissions journey?


Like any other business, you’ll have potential customers who:

  • Know exactly what they want, and it’s the right thing for them.
  • Know exactly what they want, but it’s not suitable for them or what they need.
  • Need some guidance to pinpoint what they want/need.


Even once this choice is narrowed down, there are all sorts of steps on their customer journey that will influence their ultimate choice of where to attend:

  • What impressions have they gained online? Almost 64% of Gen Z use social media several times a day, but are also protective of their time and prefer short, interactive content.
  • Did they hear back from the right people, and in good time? The 2023 QS report shows that 60% of students expect a personalised response within 3 days of an enquiry.
  • Were they given correct and helpful information? This might seem like a no-brainer, but in the seasonal flurry of new enquiries, details can be missed.
  • Did the staff with whom they interacted make a genuine connection with them? In studies at Customerwise for our clients, we’ve seen a clear correlation between how well prospective students were engaged with and their intention to apply.
  • Were Open Days informative, inspiring and effective? Did they feel excited about this next step on their life journey? Prospective students not only want to understand what the course will be like, but want to be able to visualise an exciting, fulfilling and supportive university experience. The last UCAS study that looked at this reported that 67% of prospective students visit between 2 and 5 universities, so it’s paramount that your university stands out in their minds at the end of that process.
  • Did any staff do something that put them off? Prospective students will be in contact with people in all sorts of roles during their decision process – administrators, student ambassadors, tutors, accommodation staff, student support, etc. – and just one negative interaction can call into question otherwise positive impressions of a university. Are all your staff and ambassadors on the same page?
  • Did another educational institution do something better than you did? You don’t have a captive audience! Other universities are constantly looking at how to improve their admissions processes and engage more effectively with prospective students, so it’s important to stay up to date with how they’re doing things and how you can do better.


A group of seven people in their early twenties, of mixed genders and ethnicities, sitting on a wooden bench in front of a pink wall. They look like university students. Three of them have laptops on their knees. All the people are looking at the camera and smiling. Their clothes are casual and brightly coloured.


All of these things, and more, will influence how a potential student sees your place of learning, and how inclined they feel to move forward with enrolment with you. While a keen marketing strategy can get the leads to you, a stumble at any of these stages – a poor online impression, a delay in communication, the wrong information, a lack of rapport – can mean the difference between an interested student enthusiastically enrolling, and one giving up and going elsewhere.

Every lead matters.

With the next cohort of Sixth Form students now starting to apply for Autumn 2024 entry, it’s critical to make sure that your university has the right processes and content in place.


An Objective Look

Of course, it’s important to look at feedback you receive from potential students, whether that’s proactively offered via online reviews, or solicited following Open Days, for example. This sort of feedback can only give so much insight, though, for many reasons, including the skew towards very dissatisfied/very satisfied in those who feel motivated to feed back, and the many potential students who disengage very early in the process.

It’s therefore crucial to take a real, objective look at your processes. To achieve this, mystery shopping can be an absolute game changer for your institution when you’re looking at improving your university’s admissions journey.


Student arriving in a class with sitting classmates

Mystery shopping gives you the opportunity for ‘Mystery students’ to experience and feedback on your admissions process (and those of your competitors, too):

  • Initially giving a baseline assessment of where you’re at in all the areas mentioned above, including feedback across the institution, and more granular insights relating to departments, course types and specific processes.
  • Over time, tracking areas of improvement and areas needing continued focus.

If you go with the right provider, each mystery shopping programme can be completely bespoke. Through a process of discovery with your institution, the ideal reporting content, mystery student approaches, and the scope of the end data are all established. This means that whatever courses you offer, whether these are in person or online, and whatever your staff, departmental and administrational structures, an effective programme can be produced to assess how potential students are experiencing their journey to enrolment with your institution.


What then?

A birds eye view of five people sitting around a light brown desk. You can slightly see the tops of their heads, but can mainly see their arms and hands on the desk. One is holding an empty cup, while the others have their hands on laptops or tablets. They appear to be having a business meeting.

Assessing customer experience doesn’t stop there – effective mystery shopping programmes are used as an integral part of continually evaluating and honing your processes. Real change is seen through not just acknowledging a mystery shopping programme’s findings, but using them to inform procedure on an ongoing basis. To this end, mystery shopping also gives you the opportunity to track and record resolution of issues between teams and departments.


One man and two women lying on their stomachs on the grass, propping themselves up on their elbows. They look like university students. The man has short, nlond, wavy hair and is wearing a salmon-coloured T-shirt, and has his hands clasped over a document folder. He is smiling and looking over at the book that is being held by the woman in the iddle. She has long dark hair and is wearing a stripy top, and is pointing at something in the book. The woman on the right is wearing a blue checked shirt, and also has her hands clasped over a folder on the grass. She is also smiling and looking at the book that the woman in the centre is holding.

In summary, potential students have a lot of options open to them, and from their first foray onto your website to their decision of which offer to firm, there’s a plethora of steps for any university to not only get right but to exceed in. Using mystery shopping to assess and perfect your processes gives you real control over your progress towards optimising your admissions journey.

If you’d like to find out more about the services we offer for educational institutions, you can do that here. We’ve helped clients like you in improving their university’s admissions journey, and we’d love to do the same for you.

(You can view the original LinkedIn post here.)





Tamsin Palmer

Tamsin Palmer

Browse More


We’re now MSPA Elite!

new home open doors

3 Reasons for New Homes Developers to open your doors to CX Evaluation in 2024

senior man signing paperwork for a lifetime mortgage on his home

Ensuring FCA Compliance in Lifetime Mortgage Sales


6 Easy Ways to spot a Legitimate Mystery Shopping Company

University Students walking together to lectures through a pleasant light and airy corridor.

Customerwise Blog CXWISE: University Admissions Journeys – What can go wrong?

New website

Welcome to our new website