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Mobile Access: Keeping Students Connected

How Handshake's mobile app is supporting student engagement and addressing digital disadvantages.

Why Mobile Matters

At Handshake, we believe every student should have access to the building blocks of a meaningful career - regardless of who they know, where they grew up, or what university they happen to attend. Technology has a huge role to play in unlocking institutional social capital and levelling the playing field.

Digital poverty affects thousands of students - it’s impact has only increased as a result of Covid-19. During the pandemic, 18% of students reported having been impacted by lack of access to a laptop or computer, with 4% saying they were severely impacted.

This is where mobile comes in. 98% of the age group 16-24 have access to a smartphone.

At Handshake, we believe that mobile access is critical to keeping students connected.

Mobile as Part of Overall Service Delivery 

Of course, mobile offerings aren't all or nothing. We like to think of it as a continuum. Having a responsive web experience is critical, especially for students who click on links or find the service through other means. Requiring those students to download an app introduces friction which drives disengagement, which is exactly why a fully mobile site is so important.

Native v Responsive Web Apps

Responsive web apps are built using web designs that accommodate different screen sizes to ensure that content is consistently high quality. If you’re building a product from scratch, a responsive website that allows cross-platform accessibility lowers the cost of production.

In contrast, native apps are developed to run on a specific mobile operating system and are created in a programming language for OS. This provides better performance, as the well-written native app designed to leverage the unique hardware of the device will always run faster than a responsive web app. Native apps require more investment to build, especially if you want multiple operating systems - to have both iOS and Android access, you need to develop two versions of your app.

See this article by Adobe for a full summary of the trade-offs between native and responsive apps.

Handshake app mockups

Why Handshake chose a Native Mobile App

For us, the key things that led us to invest in native apps in addition to our responsive design were: 

  • Performance: By using hardware level APIs and SDKs we can make the app much faster. This is particularly important for things like large-scale career fairs where internet connections are often stretched too thin. Mobile web requires full-page reloads which can be resource intensive. With native apps, most of the code runs on-device using less bandwidth. This is crucial for students who may be trying to engage without the privilege of a high-speed internet connection. 
  • Nudges: Responsive web is good when the student is proactively looking to engage. It's much harder to offer things like push notifications and nudges. These nudges can make a big difference in reminding students to engage, meet deadlines and actually attend virtual events. 
  • Authentication: Mobile web usually requires the user to authenticate every time they want to engage. This is particularly true with SSO which inherits the university's session expiration. On mobile we have much more optionality around keeping the user logged in and using hardware level authentication to verify their identity.
  • User Experience: The devil is in the details. Little things like animations that make engaging with the university feel magical are much harder to do on mobile web.

The Impact of Mobile on Engagement

In summary

These things work together to make native apps uniquely positioned to create a great student experience, in our opinion.

On Handshake, we’ve found that mobile app users are generally more active across nearly all activities on the platform:

88.9% of active users on the iOS app, and 71.5% of active users on the Android app browsed for jobs, compared to only 22.8% on the web browser.
90% of active users on the iOS app, and 71.6% of active users on the Android app browsed for events, compared to only 31.1% on the web browser.

Of course, we also appreciate that the mobile experience doesn't exist in a vacuum and need to be complimented by mobile web.

Learn More

To find out more about Handshake’s mobile offering, you can watch our webinar: A Mobile First Experience.

For more information on how Handshake is tackling digital disadvantages and other obstacles to an equal playing field for students and recent graduates, see our recent executive report, Bringing Humanity Back to Graduate Recruitment.

Level the playing field for your students