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An analysis of student characteristics within the student decision making process

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Young peoples' decision making when considering extending their education, obtaining training or deciding on their careers is a complex interactive process. Interests and choices can change due to the information available, which may also be modified by influential parties such as peers, teachers, careers officers, parents and other significant adults. They may also be affected by their own life experiences, either within or outside the class. By examining the selection of a university as a decision making process, much can be learnt which will provide recruitment personnel with a means of choosing more functional tools in achieving their enrolment goals. Many researchers (particularly from North America) have focused on higher education (HE) decision making itself and the information that adolescents require when arriving at their decisions, but there has been very little work performed within the UK. The aim of this article is to report research findings from a large-scale survey (n=674), incorporating a variety of further education institutions (sixth form departments, schools and colleges) within the north west of England, whose pupils were planning on entering HE within the next 12 months. The institutions (some of which were in affluent areas or deprived areas, some of which contained highly academic pupils whilst others did not, some of which were single-sex institutions) were selected using a convenience-based sampling method so that a variety of pupil characteristics were captured. The survey asked questions concerning the early period of who first stimulated the pupils to apply to university (problem recognition), how and when this occurred, through to the final decision of where to attend and why (evaluation of alternatives). Results showed that in the problem recognition phase, boys were more likely to be introduced to HE by their parents than were girls, and those pupils who made their minds up earlier to enter HE (more academic pupils) were less likely to rely upon teachers but more upon parents. In the information search phase, the prospectus was the most important source of information and the majority spent at least three months searching, although females took longer to gather their data than did males. With the evaluation of alternatives phase, course content was more important to females, whereas reputation was more important to males and the most critical factor in causing apprehension was that of grade expectations (particularly by the less academic pupils), with females being less confident than males in achieving the necessary entry qualifications. Another reason to cause one to change one's mind was the 'social atmosphere', as obtained on an open day visit. Also, females were more anxious about moving away from home than were males.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Liverpool John Moores University, John Foster Building, 98 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L35 U2, UK. Business School, Liverpool University, Liverpool, UK

Publication date: 2003-08-01

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