How 2022 applicants are selecting their firm university choices

university applicants

The UCAS deadline has passed, but will applicants firm your university when they receive your offer? We used our monthly omnibus survey, TSR Asks*, to find out what is influencing applicants’ decision-making and what support or information they would like from universities.

Are 2022 applicants committed to a firm choice yet?

Assuming you receive all the offers you want, have you decided on your firm and insurance university choices?
(110 responses, 2022 entry applicants)

Three out of five respondents (59%) said they had not made a final decision about which university to firm. Of these students, 23% had not made a choice at all, and 36% had picked a university but felt they might change their minds.

With so many students still undecided, we were curious to find out what turns students on or off a university. So we asked them:

Which of these factors (if any) might influence your final decision? – Select all that apply
(110 responses, 2022 entry applicants)

The top responses from 2022 applicants were:

  • 71.8% How you feel about the campus (e.g. atmosphere/vibe)
  • 69.1% Location (e.g. nightlife, crime, culture, beautiful countryside/town, things to do)
  • 67.3% Whether it feels right and I can picture myself there
  • 61.8% Course content and assessment methods
  • 51.8% Accommodation
  • 39.1% League tables/university ranking
  • 36.4% Current students’ opinions about a university
  • 36.4% – Whether you like the faculty (e.g. teachers, professors)
  • 35.5% Opportunities to take a work placement
  • 35.5% Sports, societies and facilities
  • 34.6% Your experience of the course content (e.g. a taster lecture/seminar)
  • 31.8% University’s employability prospects

It’s clear that 2022 applicants’ perceptions about the physical environment (your campus, accommodation and local area) are top priorities in their decision-making.

Each year, students also say that they value the chance to meet current students and faculty members, and these responses show the 2022 cohort is no different.

In terms of influencers, applicants were most likely to be affected by family members’ opinions about a university (25.5%), then by what they hear in the media (24.6%). Friends’ opinions came out as the least important, but still have significant influence (20%).

Will applicants attend offer holder days?

Have you attended/are you planning to attend an offer holder day?
(110 responses, 2022 entry applicants)

The vast majority of students we surveyed were at least considering attending an offer holder day. 61% of respondents said ‘Yes’ and a further 22% said “I’m not sure” to this question.

As we have seen, a students’ experience of the physical environment can have a huge influence on their final choice, so maximising attendance and delivering a positive experience will be key this cycle.

What can you do to help applicants choose your university?

What information could universities provide to support your decision-making process?
(89 responses, 2022 and 2023 entry applicants)

This was an open question designed to get authentic and detailed opinions from 2022 and 2023 applicants about what support they need from universities. It was encouraging to see several student comments saying that universities are already doing a great job of providing information. If you want to up your game further, here are some suggestions from applicants:

Relevant course information

By far the highest demand from applicants was for universities to share more information about the course they will be studying.

Broadly, they want to know about: the course structure, example timetables, assessments, time commitments for studying, projects, and detailed insights into module content. Many were also keen to attend sample lectures or seminars.

Here is just a sample of the student responses:
“Example timetables for courses so we can see what our life might look like while at uni”
“course content with detailed support network in place for struggling students”
“Information about average time spent doing work on the course”
“The overall balance between online and in-person classes”
“More on course structure, examinations and teaching style”
“Clearer about course assessments and how they will handle possible covid outbreaks”
“videos explaining info about the course”
“What are the lectures like? What will I need to know?”
“They could give a detailed look at the course you are interested in and show what type of writing/ work you would have to do”

Current student experiences

Students told us they wanted to hear the genuine opinions of current or previous students to get an unbiased view of student life and student satisfaction. In addition to student talks or Q&As, many would like the opportunity to speak to students directly via forums or email:

“forums could be useful which we can connect to both teachers and students”
“a chance to talk to students that are taking the course I want to take”
“details about student satisfaction and concerns”
“statements from previous students describing an honest reflection of their time at university”
“Informative talks from current/past pupils on their experiences”
“to talk with current students to [get] an honest opinion, not just what the university wants them to say.”

Employability prospects

From finding part-time jobs to understanding the graduate labour market, this is a cohort which highly values career outcomes:

“more detailed career prospects”
“Statistics into what careers people go into from each course”
“[Reassuring] me that this is the right course to study to be able to reach my goals”
“Information on helping you find part-time jobs”
“How many graduates start full-time careers in their desired career after they finish?”
“ways in which a university helps employment, providing a range of skills that employers are looking for”

University life and finances

Students wanted information about all aspects of university life, but in particular, they were interested in budgeting, accommodation, and extracurricular activities.

“Finance information as university can be costly”
“Other options other than student loan”
“Make it easier to access all the facilities and benefits offered at the particular university”
“The extracurriculars on offer”
“The difficulties students face and how the uni has helped supported them.”
“Fees, accommodation prices and events and societies”
“Tour of the department. Chance to look around accommodation.”
“Accurate accommodation costs”
“More detailed information about accommodation with more images available online”

We also saw several comments from international students who were worried about funding their studies:

“Scholarship for EU students”
“How affordable they are (especially for Indian students, because Indian market is quite huge)”

The application and offer-making process

Mainly, students wanted more detail about the process of applying, but many also mentioned that they wanted faster responses from universities and a clear timeline for when offers would be made:
“Clear information about the admissions timelines and how long it may take to get an offer.”
“How the whole process of applying to university works and everything that you need to do.”
“Physical prospects booklets, easy to navigate website and virtual tours of campuses/lecture halls on website”
“Information packs, or steps on what to do, and be very effective with replying to messages”
“More detailed advice about the timeline of applying (including when to apply for student finance, accommodation etc)”
“They could get back on offers quickly – waiting a long time or lack of communication puts me off going”

Events (both in-person and virtual) were also frequently mentioned by students. Students wanted more on-demand events and information about upcoming dates for university events:
“More offer holder days/remote via zoom”
“Open days would be very helpful”
“Information about open days be it virtual or in-person”
“the only reason I won’t likely go to one is how far from my home they are. My parent can’t afford to miss a day of work at the moment”
“More digital tours etc for those that may not be able to attend in-person open days etc”
“Going [to Cardiff University] for an open day just reinforced how much I wanted to go.”

Our top tips for what to do next

  1. Update key information (beyond the basics) – such as details on the application process, example course timetables, videos and imagery, employability information and where to apply for finance
  2. Communicate with your applicants – especially about timelines for offers (it’s stressful waiting to hear about such a major life step)
  3. Connect applicants with your current students and faculty – one way to do this is to use Official Rep accounts, but you could also set up live talks or connect with students using popular social channels like TikTok
  4. Create and promote a diverse range of events – students expect a choice of virtual/on-demand and in-person events. We can promote your open days on The Student Room and The Uni Guide sites
  5. Contact your Account Manager at The Student Room – they can advise on the best ways to get information to your target audience – whether that’s sponsored content, email, online engagement or a wide range of other effective solutions

Get in touch:
0800 999 3222


*TSR Asks, Online omnibus via The Student Room Community, Base 199 (varies by question), Fieldwork 5 – 7  February 2022 – questions were added for the purpose of this research. We do not share clients’ questions with external parties.