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Is the cost of living impacting students’ university choices?

Across the UK, student interest in HE is changing. On Unifrog, which is used by 2,300 UK schools and colleges, we’ve seen a 1.1% drop in students making university shortlists compared to the 2022 entry cycle. Could the cost of living be playing a part — and if so, are less students going to university as a result?

Unifrog’s latest student survey reached over 11,000 students across the country. Of these, 65% indicated that they were worried about money, and over half ranked fees and accommodation costs as one of the top three factors affecting their university choices.

Unifrog’s mission is to level the playing field when it comes to students finding and applying for the best post-school pathways for them. One of the ways we do this is through our shortlisting tools, where students can compare university, apprenticeship, and college and sixth form opportunities across the world. On these tools, we provide filter and rank buttons to help students tailor their results to their preferences. For example, they could find an engineering degree that's part time and within 10 miles from home, and then rank their results by the cost of rent.

Data from these tools shows us that between autumn 2021 and 2022, cost was one of the top ten groups of factors among the ranks and filters students selected. Even more telling, for the 2023 cycle, there has been a 281% increase in the number of students using cost-related ranks and filters to conduct their searches on Unifrog. This suggests students were prioritising courses with lower fees, better value for money, or in locations with lower costs of living.

As a university, you can make the most of insights like these by first reiterating the support you can offer to prospective students before they even apply. This could be in the form of webinars on budgeting from finance teams, or promoting on-campus work opportunities. You could also add a financial hub to your website to make information on bursaries and hardship funding easy for prospective students to find. 

Getting students to see the value of going to university — if it is the right pathway for them — is another way Unifrog supports students. We work with two thirds of UK universities (our HE partners) to create guides on what their university is ‘really like’, talking through deciding factors like location, accommodation, and student support. Our HE partners can also sponsor Unifrog guides that highlight the unexpected careers different degrees can lead to, helping students understand the versatility of a degree and feel reassured of their investment and their university choices.

In addition, HE partners at Unifrog have access to our Insights tool, a live dashboard that allows them to analyse regional student demand, and how this compares to their competitors. As a partner, you can use this to spot any changes in demand that might occur as a result of issues like the rising cost of living. Crucially, you can then identify potential problems ahead of the application stage. 

Though cost is seemingly playing a key role in influencing students’ decisions, by capitalising on data from Unifrog’s insights you can help your university to adapt to these challenging times.

Want to know more about becoming a Unifrog partner? Get in touch with our HE team and we’ll be happy to share more of our expertise.

Unifrog are a sponsor of the Higher Education Marketing Conference 2023 taking place on 22nd June in Central London. FIND OUT MORE HERE