1 in 5 students unintentionally block themselves from degree choices

New research by Ucas reveals the impact of qualification and subject choice at school on students’ future pathways

New research released today by Ucas in its Where next? report reveals two in five students say they would have made ‘better choices’ before making their degree choice ‘had they had better access to higher quality information and advice in school’.

One in five students say that as a result of this they were unable to study a ‘degree subject that interested them’ because they lacked the right subjects needed, particularly for courses such as medicine and dentistry, maths, economics or languages. Such subjects require a specific set of ‘fixed’ pre-requisite qualifications.

From the analysis, we see that some students would have made different decisions had they had better careers information, advice and guidance – Clare Marchant, chief executive, Ucas

Ucas’s ‘Where next?’ report also makes recommendations for supporting students to make informed choices at every stage and highlights the importance of early engagement in careers information, advice and guidance

The report adds that one in three students understand that higher education was an option for them at primary school, while advantaged students are 1.4 times more likely to think about higher education in primary school than their disadvantaged peers. These students are also less likely to see a door closed to them through their choice of subjects.

Other key findings of today’s report are:

  • 83% of students choose their degree subject before they choose their preferred university or college, highlighting the importance of subject-focused outreach.
  • 99% said their choices at school were influenced by how much they enjoyed the subject – also the primary driver of degree choice.
  • When choosing their degree subject, over 50% said that high graduate employment rates had become more important to them since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • 49% of English 18-year-olds with post-16 vocational qualifications, such as BTECs and OCR Cambridge Technicals, enter higher education, but these students are significantly less likely to attend higher tariff providers than those with general qualifications (entry rate of 3% vs 27%).
  • As well as two in five saying more information and advice would have led to them making better choices, almost one in three say they did not receive any information about apprenticeships from their school.
  • More than a quarter of students would make different GCSE/National 5 choices now they know what their degree course involves – and around a third would choose different post-16 options.
  • One in four students say their parents or carers were their biggest help in determining their choice of degree course, and many follow similar pathways, eg:
    • students with a parent or carer in farming are nearly 20 times more likely to study veterinary science, agriculture or related subjects;
    • students with a parent or carer who is a medical practitioner are eight times more likely to study medicine or dentistry;
    • students with a parent or carer who is an artist are over three times more likely to study arts and design courses.


Clare Marchant, chief executive at Ucas, said: “Students today face more options than ever before. Whilst choice is a core part of the UK higher education system, it is essential that students know how to navigate this. No student should unknowingly close the door to their career aspirations.

“We know that early engagement raises aspiration. The data showing that disadvantaged students tend to consider the prospect of higher education later than their more advantaged peers clearly demonstrates the need to embed careers information, advice and guidance within primary schools and early secondary years to raise aspirations from an early age.

Lack of information

“Ucas data shows that just under half of registered applicants would like more information about apprenticeship opportunities. Despite this, nearly one in three students have told us that they did not receive any information and advice about apprenticeships from their school.

“The sector has long talked about the need for a single destination for students to explore all of their options, and it is our ambition to be the destination for all post-secondary education. Apprenticeships are not just an add on; they are fundamental to the delivery of that goal.

“Importantly, today’s report does not say students have made the wrong choice – it remains, above all, a highly individual and nuanced decision. Instead, it says that students should know the consequence of each and every choice they make along their journey.

“From the analysis, we see that some students would have made different decisions had they had better careers information, advice and guidance. We have recommended a series of ways for this to be achieved, including providing digital access to the full range of post-secondary opportunities through the Ucas Hub.”

You might also like: Fresher finances “resilient”, says new Ucas report


Leave a Reply

Send an Invite...

Would you like to share this event with your friends and colleagues?