More than 61,000 undergraduate students were accepted through Clearing for 2014. The final number for 2015 entry will be even higher. That means that around 12% of freshers will have arrived at their universities through Clearing.
For every eight students, one of them has chosen their university only in the last few weeks of their 18-month consideration process after not achieving the grades to join their top choices. It might follow that Clearing students are less satisfied with where they end up.
YouthSight’s long-running Higher Expectations study lets us test this idea. Our extensive research project reveals that Clearing students are less satisfied with their choices and more likely to be ‘detractors’ of the university. This suggests that they are less likely to feel part of the community and more likely to drop out. Universities serious about recruitment should also be serious about giving Clearing students an especially warm welcome.
Clearing freshers are less positive about their early experiences
Higher Expectations has recorded for the last eight years the quality of incoming students’ early experiences. Each of the 11,000 respondents each year are asked to rate their early weeks as ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘OK’, ‘poor’ or ‘awful’. The below graph (figure 1) shows how the prevalence of excellence among Clearing freshers compares to other kinds of students with similar grades.
On average, Clearing freshers are considerably less likely to rate their early experiences as ‘excellent’. Across all eight years, the prevalence of excellence has fluctuated at between four and ten percentage points lower for Clearing students. On average, the difference between all students with similar grades and clearing students is seven points. It’s clear that excellent early experiences are less common among Clearing students.
This is particularly significant as our other work reveals a strong correlation between the prevalence of excellent early experiences and non-continuation after the first year. Excellent early experiences are more about induction into the university community and how friendly the environment feels than the condition of the buildings. Excellent experiences are therefore not dependent on infrastructure or reputation, but are affected by choices university professionals make in students’ early weeks.
Expectations are also less likely to be met
New students who came through Clearing are also more likely to rate their university as not having met their expectations compared with non-Clearing students with similar grades, as figure 2 below shows.
Less happy students means fewer active promoters
Higher Expectations also captures a standard measure of satisfaction: the Net Promoter Score. It is calculated by subtracting the percentages of detractors (not likely to recommend) from the percentage of promoters (very likely to recommend). When making the same comparison between Clearing students and those with similar grades who did not come through Clearing, the effect is magnified. For 2014 entry students, the Net Promoter Score is 22 points lower. In previous years, the gap was even larger.
Students who have arrive through Cleaning, therefore, are much less likely to actively promote their university and much more likely to be active critics. As students are credible messengers for those seeking information about the quality of a university experience, negative messages can affect future recruitment.
So, Clearing students are significantly less satisfied after their early weeks of university, and less likely to recommend the university. By catering better for students coming through Clearing, and focusing on integrating them quickly into a university they haven’t necessarily engaged with before, universities have the chance to prevent drop-outs and improve their likelihood to recommend. For any university serious about recruitment, Clearing students need special attention.
Of course, the picture varies considerably between institutions. Higher Expectations allows subscribers to drill down to the level of each and every university in the UK and compare it against individual or groups of competitors, mission groups and the sector.
This analysis has been based on our annual Higher Expectations study. Higher Expectations shows HEIs how they compete at the individual level. It gives complete and transparent benchmarking across the whole sector so you can see where you’re going right, wrong and how to focus and improve. This year’s results are available now, with some major improvements. For the first time, all aspects of the study are delivered in your own simple, flexible, and secure online dashboard and qualitative video reports.