Why do prospective students turn down university places?

UniQuest’s core mission isn’t simply to help our clients get more students: It’s to help them win over the kinds of students they want. Part of that means knowing exactly how and why prospective students make decisions.

It’s long been established that a host of factors feed into decision-making, and that what students say informs their decision-making isn’t always what actually does. For example, international students rarely cite geographic proximity to their home country as a major factor in their decision about which country to study in, yet the data quite clearly shows a preference for staying fairly near one’s home country: Indonesian students are far more likely to study in Australia than Britain, for example. Clearly, simply asking students why they ended up where they did doesn’t necessarily provide us with accurate information.

At UniQuest, we collect tonnes of data at every stage of the prospective student journey, and make it available to our client. The table below gives an example of how we quantify qualitative information in order to provide our clients with usable data:

Why do prospective students turn down places?

The table shows a summary of the reasons that prospective international students gave for confirming, declining, deferring or remaining undecided about their offer at a given point in the process. By grouping the myriad reasons given into three broad categories, we’re able to provide our clients with data about the reasons prospects give about how they react to their offers. We see that students don’t often decline offers for purely economic reasons, which belies a lot of the received wisdom about the importance of scholarships. Yet, the high rate of deferrals for economic reasons suggests that making scholarships easier to obtain might be a more important change than making more, or more valuable, scholarships.

The table also shows that ‘academic’ reasons for declining are relatively unusual. This, again, is surprising, given the frequently-reported fears of prospective students that their English isn’t good enough to study at degree level.

I think what’s most interesting, though, is that emotional reasons are the most common explanation prospects give for turning down offers. These include worries about studying away from one’s family (which we can’t do much about), but may also include fears about being welcomed and accepted in the UK (which we, as a nation, probably can do something to fix). This suggests that universities need to work hard on their broader offer to international students, including finding ways to make sure they feel at home on campus from the moment they set foot there.

Obviously, how universities do this is entirely up to them. But it’s UniQuest who – uniquely – can provide them with the power to make fully-informed decisions about how they recruit. To find out more about how we can help your institution, contact Mary Evans at