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Student choices: motivations and experiences revealed

More than thirty universities from across the country joined marketing and recruitment specialists SMRS in London and Leeds this month to celebrate the first year of a unique online student community, Revisions & Decisions: My Journey.

Revisions & Decisions: My Journey brings together more than 50 college students for the duration of their college education and allows them to share in detail their experiences, concerns and emotions as they journey towards university.

The students hail from a wide range of social backgrounds, locations, course interests and college institutions, providing a rich understanding of the experiences of students. Students’ thoughts and experiences are captured through a mix of online group discussions, short surveys, quick polls and online forums.

“Universities are telling us that the first year of Revisions and Decisions: My Journey has really helped them get to grips with the student journey, both the practical and emotional journey. It has helped plug a number of gaps in their understanding and supported and dispelled some long-held suspicions”, said Dan Beynon, head of education at SMRS.

Highlights of the student journey shared with universities earlier this month include:

  • Most students had decided what they will do post-college – go to university – by years 10 and 11, supporting the need for schools and colleges to engage with students early
  • Students indicated that the information and guidance they received from college in their first year was too general, not course specific enough and dominated by the academic side of university. Given that students expect more than a qualification from university, there is a case for colleges to provide more information on university life from year one
  • The overall reputation of the university is an important consideration for many students and this was primarily determined by the university’s heritage (its back story), course quality, demand for places, league table ranking and entry requirements
  • Although there was a strong expectation that students will go to university, partly influenced by their parents, students are still keen to hear about the alternatives to university so they can feel they’ve made a fully informed decision. Many students felt their school/college was too focused on encouraging them to progress to university rather than considering all the options
  • Students indicated that by the Summer term of year 12 university shortlists are being drafted. For some these shortlists are driven by the overall reputation of the university and for others by course reputation
  • Several students experienced stress whilst at college. For some the shift towards applied knowledge was a source of stress. Four key periods of stress were identified – at the start of year 12, in January, at Easter and in May, demonstrating the need for schools and colleges to provide emotional support at these most stressful periods.

Students indicated there was a strong expectation that their school or college will, in year 13, plug the information gap identified in year 12 and provide more information on the university experience and the full range of post-college options. Revisions & Decisions: My Journey will tell us if students feel they have succeeded.

Over the coming months, the student community will also enable schools, colleges and universities to get to grips with students’ experiences of writing their personal statements and visiting their first choice university and any changes in how open they are to alternatives to university.

Finally, December will see the launch of a second student community, Revisions & Decisions: Graduate Decisions. Building on the success of My Journey, R&D: Final Call will bring together 40 final year undergraduates for the duration of their final year at university and allow them to share in detail their experiences as they finalise their post-university plans, thus closing the loop on the student journey.

Posted by Katherine Newton on Tue, 31 Jan 2017

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Katharine has been working in research for twenty years, mainly client side for a diverse range of businesses (including the Co-operative Group, ASDA, Iceland and N Brown), delivering insights with commercial application and informing the strategic agenda. She is now insight manager for recruitment marketing specialists SMRS, working on a range of projects to inform business tenders, creative campaigns and media plans for both commercial and education sector clients.

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