The Student Mindset 2022 | Applicant Decision Making | UCAS x YouthSight

HE Thinking | 24 Mar 2022


How confident are 2022 applicants feeling at this stage in the recruitment cycle? Are they committed to their choices? What can HE providers do to sway their final decisions? Our latest research reveals the answers...

For the last two years we've been working in partnership with our client at UCAS to launch a series of webinars that reveal the Student Mindset. In our latest wave of research we uncover how applicants are feeling and what's impacting their decisions.   

Overall, the research highlighted that applicant confidence is high (much higher than last year's cohort) and considerably more stable compared to when we started this insight series at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.  

YouthSight's Head of Insight, Andréanne Orsier teamed up with UCAS' Head of Consumer Growth for Education, Rebecca Hopwood, to discuss the findings of the research, offering practical guidance to HE professionals that want to win over this year's applicants. Watch the webinar via the link below or continue reading for the full highlights. 

Watch the playback

1. The Applicant Mindset 

Positively, the vast majority of applicants (91%) are confident they will get a place at university this year. Overall confidence is stable and to a greater extent compared to 2021, with an 8% increase in applicants who feel 'extremely confident' about getting a place.  

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Applicants are feeling a mixed bag of emotions. Some feel a sense of anxiety and nervousness about their application, which is to be expected. But they're also feeling positive about the outcome and many are looking forward to their future. 

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Applicants this year are more committed to their preferred university and are confident in their decision. 61% are certain of their first choice, 28% are still deciding between two options and 11% are yet to decide. And we can see a marginal difference in gender; 63% of applicants who are 'very committed' to their university are more likely to be female and 34% who are 'somewhat committed' are more likely to be male. 

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We dissected this question further and found that the majority (85%) who were certain of their first choice, felt it was 'likely' that they'd get their required place - revealing confidence in university choice is echoed by confidence in achieving the required grades.

But it's worth noting that this year's applicants didn't sit formal GCSE exams (due to the pandemic), so we can't help but question... are they being over-confident? Will the lack of experience in sitting formal exams impact performance at A Levels? 

This confidence extends to feelings of preparedness. Almost all applicants feel at least somewhat ready to start university this year (particularly among those who are feeling confident about getting a place) and a quarter feel completely prepared.

Despite feeling prepared, there's scope for universities to provide more support. The chart below maps out the areas where applicants want more information: 

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There is appetite for campus visits and information around the course / university itself - applicants are ready to engage with your institution and by opening the appropriate channels for students to engage (and by being forthcoming with the information they're looking for), you'll help them feel more prepared and stay top of mind when it comes to their decisions. 

Three Top Tips for HE providers 

  • There is an opportunity to influence decisions for those who are still deciding 
  • Positive reassurance in your comms will help alleviate nerves and anxiety
  • Be mindful that the reality of results day may not reflect the current positive sentiment of applicants   

2. Assessing Alternatives

With greater certainty over university / college places this year, applicants are less worried about needing to delay their application and far fewer are concerned about having to change their plans, considering alternatives or preparing to go through Clearing.

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Apprenticeships are an option that some applicants are considering, but it appears that those who are considering this route, would prefer to go to university / college given the choice. Females are less likely to consider doing an apprenticeship and there is a 6-point decline in considerers overall, compared to last year.  

The changing outlook on the pandemic also means that applicants are less concerned about moving away to study. Only 5% are considering switching to a distance learning course (vs. 14% in 2021) and 35% are considering studying near home (vs. 40% in 2021).  

Three Top Tips for HE providers 

  • The expected numbers for 2022 applicants look positive 
  • Students considering moving away have increased (your accommodation could help sway their decisions)
  • Despite YoY decline, a third of applicants are seriously interested in apprenticeships 

3. Impact of Exams and Assessments

Getting back to normal methods of assessments appears to be boosting confidence among applicants. Almost half (45%) say they feel more confident sitting exams rather than getting teacher assessed grades.

But, this is not universal. Almost 1 in 5 (19%) would have been more ambitious if they were given teacher assessed grades. And these applicants are more likely to be from a BAME background (25% vs 16% white).

Over half (52%) said they'd feel more confident if they knew more about Clearing and just under half (47%) felt that they'd be more confident if they knew that could change their choice after the UCAS deadline. 

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Reassurance will be crucial, especially within BAME applicants. Providing information about options available (during and after the application process) is likely to boost confidence and alleviate stress. 

Three Top Tips for HE providers 

  • Students feel more confident sitting exams, but still need reassurance from universities and colleges
  • They are committed to their choices, but want to know they have options and flexibility 
  • Some students played it safe so Clearing could be a mix of under and over achievers

4. The Registrant Mindset 

We zoned into the data to see how the registrant mindset differs from applicants.

We spoke to 124 registrants (those who are on the UCAS database, but didn't submit an application) and uncovered that the majority (68%) are likely to apply to university / college  and almost half (48%) are firmly fixed on their choice.  

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Generally, registrants are intent on applying to university / college and they have made their decisions - but they can still be converted. 

The majority (20%) said they didn't have enough support or information to complete their application and a further 10% want to visit the university before making any firm choices. 

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Almost one third (30%) are holding off on completing their application until they have more information. There's a strong opportunity to convert these late applicants (with an upward trend this year), by HE providers helping to fill their knowledge gaps.

Key takeaways

The overall findings paint a positive picture for the sector. Applicant confidence is high and many students are firmly set on starting university this year, with fewer considering alternative options.

And there's still a lot to play for. Many applicants and registrants are still researching and need more information before making firm choices. It's fantastic that this cohort are more optimistic this year round, but bear in mind this positivity may all change come exam time and Results Day. 

HE providers have an opportunity to boost conversion by providing greater reassurance around the application process, the options available to them and more information on the course/university itself - this is the information they're looking for right now.   

  • 91% are confident they will get a place and are more committed to their choices
  • Fewer students are concerned about needing to change their plans
  • We need to be mindful that confidence may not reflect reality of results
  • Applicants want to receive more information from universities and colleges
  • 68% of registrants are still likely

View the full series 

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Webinar Series - Catch up on demand

This webinar is part of a series that is developed in partnership with our client at UCAS, to bring free insights that support HE professionals through a challenging time. The series will guide you through how your UG, PGT and prospective students are feeling throughout the recruitment cycle and what they are looking for from those around them. 

All the previous webinar recordings - including this one - are available to watch through UCAS on demand, or you can also catch up with more highlights from our blog.

View the complete series


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