Being certain about higher education by age ten or earlier means a child is 2.6 times as likely to end up at a more competitive university than someone who decided in their late teens. The most advantaged young people are more likely to be focused on university at a young age than their more disadvantaged peers.
Over 16,000 recent applicants responded to the UCAS survey asking about the motivations and influences behind their university choices, and the factors that deterred them.
Proportion of respondents placed at higher tariff universities by the age they felt sure they would apply to HE (Q1 – least advantaged; Q5 – most advantaged):
6,500 people told UCAS why they didn’t apply to the ‘higher tariff’ group of universities
- Nearly half (49%) thought the entry requirements to these universities were too high – more would have applied if they had known they had a chance of getting in. One who felt it wasn’t safe to apply to a higher tariff university because the published offer was AAA, was upset when a friend got on to the same course with two grades lower.
- 41% believed none of these universities offered the courses they were interested in – there was a lack of understanding of career pathways from ‘academic sounding’ degree courses. For example, some students were disappointed they could not apply to forensic science and did not know that a degree in chemistry from a higher tariff university could actually lead to the same career.
- Three quarters said they would have applied to a higher tariff university if they were offered a travel voucher for an open day.
- A quarter of the least advantaged students who didn’t apply to higher tariff universities said they felt the cost of living would be too high. In the report, UCAS recommends that all universities provide accessible information about accommodation, transport, and day-to-day living costs.
The survey also asked what students felt about the relationship between their higher education choices and employment. The least advantaged were 30% more likely to think the degree subject studied was key to employment, while more advantaged applicants were 50% more likely to think the university they went to was more important for securing a job.
Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS' Chief Executive, said: “This report is clear: the earlier children set their sights on university, the more likely they are to go. We need to reset the barometer reading for progression to HE to a much earlier age – ten or younger. Having a focus on university helps provide the rationale for working hard and doing well at GCSEs, which is the strongest predictor of success in higher education”.
About the report: UCAS’ report ' Through the lens of students: how perceptions of higher education influence applicants’ choices (3.87 MB) is based on the survey responses of over 16,000 UK applicants who were aged 18 or 19 when they applied – whether they were ultimately accepted into HE or not.
About UCAS: UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, is a charity and the UK’s shared admissions service for higher education. We manage applications from over 700,000 applicants each year, for full-time undergraduate courses at around 380 universities and colleges across the UK.
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