Young people making biggest financial decision without advice

Over a third of young people surveyed by Which? didn’t receive any one-to-one advice from a teacher or careers advisor when choosing which university to go to.

Ahead of the A-level results due out this week, new Which? research finds 39% of prospective students aged 19 and under didn’t access any one-to-one advice from a teacher or careers advisor when choosing a university. This could mean more than 150,000 prospective students each year making one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives without important information*.

Our new research also reveals nearly half (43%) of young people would have liked more information, particularly about employment prospects, activities and course structure.

Three quarters of young prospective students (77%) also said they want to limit the amount of debt they have when they leave university, half (52%) say they don’t like having to pay higher fees, and half (51%) have researched additional costs of university beyond the course fee.

Graduates are entering the most challenging job market for decades, and a fifth we surveyed (22%) aren’t confident about their employment prospects in the next 12 months.

With increases in fees and young people leaving university with more debt than ever, deciding which university to go to is one of the biggest financial decisions they will make. The recent Which? Quarterly Consumer Report found that young people are feeling the pinch more than any other group – nearly half of young people (45%) always or often run out of money each month.

The figures released today show there is a real need for high-quality research and information, and independent, free and personalised advice.  Which? is launching a new, free website, Which? University, to help everyone applying to university to make the right choices, and have access to as much relevant and unbiased information and advice as possible.

Peter Vicary-Smith, Which? chief executive, said:

“It’s worrying how many young people are making one of the biggest decisions of their lives without proper guidance or advice.  This has huge implications for their future and finances, so it’s vital that they choose the right course and university for them.

“Young people are taking out huge loans to pay for university, so they should seek independent advice as anyone would when making such an important financial decision, especially in the current financial climate. As the Government devolves responsibility for careers advice to schools, head teachers must ensure that young people are getting the advice they need.”

As A-level results day approaches, Which? is also giving tips to help students go through clearing if they don’t get the grades they were expecting. Each year up to 10% of students go through clearing to get a place at university. Many young people also choose an insurance offer that doesn’t give them a good back-up if they fail to get the grades for their first choice.

The top tips are:

  • Do your homework – don’t wait until results day to get prepared for clearing – get phone numbers of your first and insurance choices and find your UCAS number and a copy of your personal statement.
  • Get advice – speak to teachers and careers advisors about your options and make sure friends and family are on hand for moral support.
  • Make the best impression – prepare information such as relevant work experience, awards or achievements that aren’t already on your UCAS form.
  • Don’t panic – places can go quickly, but avoid the temptation to take the first offer – make sure you are happy with the course and university.
  • Remember the four Rs – research the university, have reasons for your choice, rationalise so you are prepared to explain why your grades were disappointing and rehearse answers to questions admissions staff are likely to ask you.

Which? University is being supported by National Union of Students (NUS) who will provide unique content for the website generated by students’ unions.


Notes to editors


* Based on 39% of 408,461 of this year’s applicants that are aged 19 and under (at June 2012).

  1. The free website, Which? University, will launch at the beginning of September and will be available for teachers, careers advisors and parents as well as young people. It will offer expert information with a personalised search function to allow users to browse and compare courses and institutions. Other features will include a function where they can build a shortlist, advice to write personal statements and prepare for interviews, and trustworthy advice from students themselves.
  2. An online survey for Which? by YouthSight of 1010 higher education applicants, including 699 applicants aged 19 and under, who have applied to start undergraduate study in the academic year 2012-13 at a UKhigher education institution, was carried out between 24th July and 1st August 2012.
  3. An online survey for Which? by YouthSight of 1013 graduates within two years of leaving university was carried out between 24th to 26th July.
  4. The Which? Quarterly Consumer Report consists of a Populus poll of interviews with 2006 GB adults online between 8th and 10th June 2012.  Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
  5. According to UCAS 42% of applicants hold an insurance choice with conditions which are harder or equal to the conditions for their first choice. This means that if they miss their grades, they may have no offer to fall back on and need to engage with Clearing or reapply.
  6. The research reveals 16% of young people would have liked more information about employment prospects, 14% about activities and 11% about course structure.


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