3D render of an iPhone with the CAO Handbook on display

How did Prospectus+ help over 10,000 students find a course, in just over a month?

Students can now create a personalised shortlist of courses from every Irish university. Find out how we created this game-changing digital experience with Prospectus Plus.

The CAO Logo

The CAO were researching mobile-friendly prospectuses on Google and came across SMILE’s Prospectus+. Fast forward 5 months and we’ve helped them to successfully create an accessible, mobile-optimised version of their prospectus, also known as the CAO Handbook.

The Central Applications Office (CAO) is the Irish equivalent of UCAS in England, Wales and and Scotland. The CAO processes applications for undergraduate courses in Irish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). 

Each year the CAO produces a handbook. The handbook helps prospects to find the right course and guides users through the process of submitting an application. Traditionally, the handbook had been a printed document, distributed across Ireland. In previous years, approximately 104,000 copies were printed. And at around 100 pages in length, that equates to a whopping 10,400,000 pages printed every year.

The Sustainable Alternative to Print

The CAO identified this as an issue and in the previous year had decided to cut their print run from 104,000 to 10,000 copies, adding a digital version of the handbook to compliment the remaining printed books. The problem was, that the digital version of the handbook was a flippy pdf (don’t get us started on flippy pdfs!). The pdf had some pretty big flaws. Particularly on mobile devices where it was practically unusable, not to mention inaccessible.

Whilst looking for alternatives that would enable the CAO to continue striving towards sustainability but not at the expense of user experience, they came across Prospectus+.

The handbook’s content and user journeys differed from the traditional prospectuses we’d worked with previously. Undeterred we set to work taking advantage of Prospectus+’s flexibility to find a way to make the handbook work for both the organisation and the end user.

Personalisation in the Application Process

Prospective Irish students can now use the digital version of the Handbook, not only to find out how to apply, but also to find out where to apply. Prospectus+ has personalisation at its core. By asking prospects questions about their interests and desirable location, it presents a list of applicable courses for them to shortlist from. Using our in-house EduAPI middleware, we were able to connect to their internal system to synchronise course listings, which link out to institutional course pages for full details.

Users can register to save a permanent copy of their personalised copy, and share it with their influencers.

3D render of an iPhone displaying the CAO Handbook login page

One challenge in particular stood out: The handbook is a resource used by careers advisors working in classroom settings with prospects. Traditionally each prospect was issued with a copy of the handbook and careers advisors would work through it with them, directing them to key sections and pages. However, using the flippy pdf proved to be problematic, particularly for those accessing it on a mobile device. Scrolling around and zooming to find parts of the content was leaving users and advisors frustrated.

Out of the box, P+ offers great flexibility, but we extended this further with bespoke elements in order to meet the CAO requirements. To help users to navigate quickly to key sections of the handbook, we introduced a new card style with content links. Doing so, means a careers advisor can point to a specific piece of content from their printed version of the handbook, and users can find the same piece of content with ease.

Our dev team used anchor points, to get users to content quickly and easily. Clicking a sub-title from one of the new cards automatically scrolls the user to the relevant point in the page. We thought this was an excellent addition so it’s been rolled out a standard feature in Prospectus+.

Three boxes, rising to the left, each containing a statistic about the CAO Handbook usage

The results

Traditionally, the handbook has been difficult to track. Once distributed it is almost impossible to understand how users engage with the book, if at all. Prospectus+ has opened up a world of new insight to help the CAO continue evolving their handbook and measuring its success.

The new handbook was launched at the beginning of September 2022 and the stats are pretty impressive. The handbook has seen over 11,000 unique visitors in its first month. Over 14% of those visitors have taken the time to personalise and save their prospectus. And over 300 users have shared their prospectus. All of this within the first month!

3D render of an iPhone with the Prospectus Plus course selector on display