Universities should stop criticising each other if they want to attract students, according to a survey of more than 10,500 students who applied for entry in autumn 2001.
"I changed my mind about my choice of university because they were so arrogant and dismissive of other places," one pupil told Sheila Cooper, general secretary of the Girls' Schools Association, which conducted the survey in collaboration with other independent schools organisations.
Another pupil said: "The way the tutor undermined the courses at all competitive institutions was unprofessional and off-putting."
The survey, published today, analyses what pupils think of being invited for an informal visit before any offer is confirmed. Most applicants found them useful, but others complained that the visits were just sales pitches.
The survey also found that six institutions accounted for 30 per cent of these invitations. They were the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham, Manchester, Southampton and Leeds.
Ms Cooper said: "Over 90 per cent of students found the experience helpful and worthwhile. They understood the need for institutions to put their best face forward but disliked aggressive salesmanship."
The study also looked at the formal interview process. About half of the pupils who participated in the survey had at least one formal interview.
Nine institutions accounted for 35 per cent of of formal interviews. They were the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham, plus London's University College, Imperial College and King's College.