Posted on 26 May '22

How Do Prospective Postgraduates Prefer to Contact Universities? – Postgraduate Pulse Insights

Social media, website contact forms, online chat and, of course, the venerable email address… chances are you’re using at least some of these in your postgraduate recruitment – and that’s before we start thinking about virtual or physical events.

The truth is, universities are all a little bit ‘omnichannel’ these days and, with limited resource, it can be difficult to work out exactly what prospective students want or expect. There’s a simple solution though. Ask them!

And that’s exactly what we’ve done for this month’s Pulse deep-dive.


  • Being able to send an email to a general enquiry address is top of the list for postgraduates
  • Level of study, age and current situation have little effect on communication preference
  • Of those who use social platforms, WhatsApp came out on top

Email remains king

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most popular form of communication is still sending to a generic university email address, with 43% of Masters students and 42% of PhD students selecting this as a preference. This method allows prospective postgraduates to outline (in detail) their thoughts and requests, and – done correctly – it can provide you with a paper-trail and all-important lead in your CRM system.

The priority here is to make sure your email addresses are front and centre on your website and easily available for prospects. It’s also worth thinking about who you want prospective postgrads to contact. Is it a faculty address, a programme lead or a specific supervisor?

None of us want to spend hours looking for a contact so have the email clearly visible on your subject/programme listings and have service-level agreements in place to ensure a quick response.

Those percentages are pretty similar across the board for domestic and international students, as well as current situation (at university vs not at university), indicating that email is still the dominant platform for people in different situations seeking different levels of study. There is a slight increase in preference for email for the over 35s thinking of doing a Masters (47%) which could be due to the technology or platforms they’re more used to using in their daily lives.

Despite email being the most popular, it’s worth noting that less than 50% of our survey audience select this. This could mean that email is being seen as just one of a number of touchpoints for potential students, opting to use multiple platforms for different enquiries.

Conversations within a university’s website

Chatting online to a student ambassador was a strong second preference for both prospective Masters and PhD students. In a previous Pulse insights focused on what postgraduates want from open days, wanting to talk to current students was high on the agenda for all groups, so it’s not surprising that platforms such as UniBuddy are proving popular with universities and students alike.

PhD students were slightly more inclined towards chatting online with a student ambassador, which may reflect a desire to access insight into the personal and individual experience of PGR work. Masters students, on the other hand, appeared equally happy to fill out a contact form on the university’s website.

The main takeaway here is that both interactions can easily occur on a university’s website, so you’ve captured your audience’s attention in an area that is completely controlled by you.

WhatsApp dominates social media

For those that said they were happy to talk to universities through social media, it was WhatsApp that came out on top (71% for Masters and 62% for PhD students).

It’s worth stating that, of those that selected social media, a significant proportion were international and so this could be the reason for the high WhatsApp count. WhatsApp has more than two billion users (2021) across 180 countries and is the most popular messaging app in all but 25 of these countries (according to Think Impact).

Another thing to bear in mind is that we’re asking about platform preferences as a follow-on question for those who say that social media is their main contact preference. That probably introduces some bias towards communication services like WhatsApp and Messenger vs networking platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter.

Either way, we’re not suggesting you stop all other channels and get onto WhatsApp as your main platform for two-way communication but it can help to supplement your other communication channels and provide a more conversational approach to study options, rather than pushing marketing messages constantly. It also promotes the real-time response, similar to what students have access to at events such as open days.

How do you feel about WhatsApp?

We asked some of our friends in the postgraduate marketing and recruitment world if they were using WhatsApp and there was a mixed response. Some have adopted it and are finding it useful, especially in the UK market. Some are trialing it currently and others just said no so it feels as though this is still a relatively new platform for higher education which could have a positive effect on market share for early adopters.

Want to know more?

We worked with our colleagues in Keystone Education Group on a 20,000+ global student survey and we're sharing the emerging trends and insights (including more information on communication preferences) in our May and June webinars. Catch up on the overall picture from May, and save the date for a postgraduate specific deep-dive on Wednesday, 22 June at 3pm BST.

FindAUniversity take pride in being experts in postgraduate education. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for regular insight, comment and case studies.

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