A new decision-making model for university applicants in 2020 | UCAS x YouthSight

HE Thinking | 02 Jun 2020


In our fourth wave of research commissioned for our client at UCAS, we look at the decision-making timeline of applicants and discuss the implications for universities.

If you've been keeping up with our webinar series, you'll have seen how applicant views have shifted from the start of lockdown until now. And as the UCAS deadline looms, their journey to choice is becoming even more complex. 

The biggest concern for applicants right now is missing out on the university experience, with one in five stating this to be their main worry - an increase of 15% since the start of lockdown - overtaking concerns about online learning and access to resources. Missing out on experience is a key factor in their decision-making process, and many would be willing to defer a year because of it.

The inconsistency across the sector on how universities will reopen has also contributed to the market becoming highly fragmented. But the good news is that over the course of our research (from March until June), we can see that the number of applicants who are considering changing their mind about university has plateaued, meaning they're confidence hasn't eroded any more than the previous month.

The Applicant Decision-Making Model

Based on our research around applicant decision-making, we identified four segments of the market: 'the uncertains', 'the hunters', 'the dream chasers' and the 'hopefuls'. 

Copy of Copy of Info Student clearing blog (2)


1. 'The Uncertains'

These applicants have not yet made a firm choice about university. They're keeping their options open and this includes the possibility of deferring. They may be slower at making decisions because they want to ensure that they do the right thing. 

2. 'The Hunters'

These applicants are looking to trade up their university choice. They're willing to put in more work and would be open to redoing the year if needed. University reputation is important to them and they will shop around to make sure they find the best offer.

3. 'Dream Chasers'

These applicants are not willing to compromise on their choice. They're keen to go to their chosen university, no matter what. They're not looking elsewhere, nor are they considering deferring.

4. 'The Hopefuls'

This group puts a lot of time and effort into their decisions. They have faith in the system and know that they have options available to them after results day. These applicants are sticking to their guns. 

It's important to keep in mind the four different personas of your applicants and to identify their key concerns so that you can tailor your messaging around this. But the truth is, your applicants may go through several of these personas over the course of their decision-making, which can make targeted messaging difficult.

Are Applicants Ready to Make A Firm Decision?

It's clear from the research that applicants who are considering changing their mind, have not yet acted on this. Their deciding moment could be on Results Day -  with 57% stating that they're waiting for their results before changing any of their university decisions.

Only 26% who are considering changing their mind, have done any concrete research. At this stage they're relying on their pre-pandemic knowledge or doing light research in the way of talking to friends and family. 

UCAS' advice for HE professionals is to ensure you lead with the right information, so that your applicants don't act on their thoughts of switching university choice. Make sure that when they're ready to make their decision, you provide clear, open and well staffed communication channels, making it easy for them to talk to you.

Market Research for HE Professionals

Do you need help solving your own challenges around student recruitment, attraction and conversion? 

Get in touch with our dedicated HE research team to find out more about how we can help.

Let's Talk

Or if you're not ready to chat to us just yet, why not explore our market research services tailored for the HE sector. 

Request a brochure

Webinar Series

We partnered with our client at UCAS to bring this series of free insights to support HE professionals through these different times. The series will guide you through how your UG, PGT and prospective students are feeling throughout the crisis and what they are looking for from those around them. 

Our next webinar will focus on Year 12's and uncover how they are feeling at this time. 

Click below to register for the next webinar or to view the full schedule.

Register / Watch Webinars

Watch the webinars on demand:

Webinar 4: Inside the Mind of the 2020 Applicant

Uncertainty around university experience is slowing down decision-making.

Watch > 

Webinar 3: Thinking about September

How has applicants' view shifted now that start dates are beginning to near?

Watch > 

Webinar 2: Awarding Grades

The second look at our applicant mood tracking data focusing how the grade system has impacted choice.

Watch >

Webinar 1: Getting A Place

Read our latest HE Research Snippet which investigates the future of international recruitment beyond the COVID-19 crisis. 

Watch >

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