Higher education choices

Gen Z student blog: make me want to choose university

About the Author:
Nickiell St Aubyn-Hiley is a sixth form student in London considering university in the UK and alternatives such as an apprenticeship. Nickiell joined the UniQuest team for a week through a work experience programme offered by his school. While he was here, he shared his experiences and challenges in making a decision about applying to universities, which you can read below.

Student perspective on higher education

My choices
I am a student currently in sixth form, I want to attend university but I’m unsure as to where I would go and whether an apprenticeship would be a better choice for me. I have been in contact with universities and they have told me the benefits I would receive. But, I remain unsure as I still find it hard to get more in-depth details about what university life is like.

Most students are easily persuaded by the few universities that contact them and forget to consider the rest which could mean they have minimal knowledge on other types of courses held by other universities. Many students, such as myself, found that they are undecided on what path they wish to take for higher education; they could go for apprenticeships, university, MOOCS (massive open online courses) or even just abandon the idea all together and go straight for a job.

Even though most teachers advise us against it, students are bound to think of the costs involved with universities. As bad a reason it may seem to some, most people our age want to make money instead of ranking up a student loan debt. The loans may cover it but can become scary when thinking about the money left to pay after.

What this means for me?
I’m in year 12 now and so next year I’m expected to make my UCAS application for university and if I’m being honest, the choice is quite intimidating as the choice is expressed as to “make or break” my life. Such a choice with such minimal knowledge on the process is more than terrifying not only for me but for many of my friends as well.

This proves to be even harder when forced to bear the stress of A-Levels at the same time and sometimes can lead to rushed decisions or putting grades at risk which could lead to not getting into a chosen university anyway. From my personal experience, I found that juggling these things is stress I cannot handle so well and have in fact grown to somewhat fear my second year and the stress it has waiting for me.

Most students end up choosing university without properly considering their other choices and I believe this to be a wrong choice. Although university is a highly praised education system, there are circumstance most students neglect when choosing whether to attend university, such as if this form of education suits them. A few of my personal friends agree that they learn much better in hands-on situations and say they feel would have a better learning experience from apprenticeship than lectures at a university.

How do us students find out about universities?
When I and some of my peers first searched for university the only thing I knew to search on Google was “universities”. Us students don’t tend to spend much time looking for information and rarely ever leave the first page of results on Google as the rest seem irrelevant or are seen as not being as good as the others. The only helpful thing we found was the first link “Which? University” that had only basic information on universities and courses. But the amount of universities with similar courses meant that students got the idea that the courses were the same and would start only considering the reputation of the university instead of what they offered within those courses.

During my time in work experience I learned more about this and I was told about University league tables. These were lists of universities with statistics on them and was quite helpful especially when compared with University league tables from other sources.

What should universities be doing?
The suggested way (typically said by teachers and other blogs I’ve read all say the same sort of thing) is to get as much contact with the university as possible, achieve high grades and have a decent amount of work experience. But, most places don’t say the methods of doing such and the idea of straight up calling a university can be more than daunting for some.

Most students tend to simply ask their teachers or make use of online information instead of asking the university directly and getting the tailored information and any crucial information they could give that isn’t widely available online. Students end up missing out on creating early impressions on the university and potentially making the application process sway more in our favour.

These things aren’t emphasised enough to students and the methods to do it are unclear still, I would suggest the universities start to make methods of contact easier to obtain by perhaps having more interactions with schools, secondary schools, sixth forms and colleges to raise awareness of these things.

Also, I notice that most universities lack presence online. I don’t mean they don’t have a website, I mean they don’t have much awareness spread online that gives students the information they want such as:

  • Courses available to them and what is included in that
  • The average costs involved with the university
  • Their application processes
  • Specific methods of contacts (like to certain departments)
  • What social events are held by the university
  • Information on scholarships

I’m aware most if not all this information can usually be found on the universities websites but as student we usually skim read things and make our judgment based on what we have gathered from that source. This usually ends up with the student judging the university without having access to all the information on the university they would need.

Next steps: Take-aways from UniQuest’s perspective 
The perspectives Nickiell shared through his week with us emphasised what we’ve been seeing in our Stealth student data. Students are increasingly researching universities without making an enquiry, relying overwhelmingly on Google Search to discover options and using university websites to get to know the universities. As Nickiell recommended, universities need to prioritise information that is important to prospective students on their website and make this information extremely quick and easy to find.

Nickiell’s comments also reinforced the importance of proactive outreach from universities. Students want information that is relevant to them but they find it too nerve-wracking or awkward to make the first move. Meet the needs of prospective students by scaling proactive, personal communication with them along their recruitment journeys.

Our Behavioural Insights division analyses both qualitative and quantitative student insights and we’re always happy to share what we’re hearing! If you’d like to chat about student perspectives, please get in touch!