Teenagers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds more likely to ditch university ambitions

Less advantaged teenagers are more likely to decide not to attend university than their more advantaged peers, new research has found

June 22 2017
University lecture hall packed full of students

Early intervention to raise expectations of attending university might increase the numbers of teenagers from less privileged backgrounds entering higher education, a new study has found. 

A survey of teenagers in England, conducted between 2004 and 2010, found that a substantial proportion of young people between the ages of 14 and 17 changed their minds about whether they were planning to apply to university. Their socioeconomic background played a significant part in whether their expectations changed. Those from less advantaged backgrounds were more likely to stop thinking about applying to university than their more privileged peers. 

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Compared with the most advantaged fifth of young people, the least advantaged fifth were shown to be twice as likely to switch from being "likely to apply" to "unlikely to apply". The most advantaged fifth were shown to be twice as likely to change from being "unlikely to apply" to "likely to apply".

How young people's academic performance at age 16 years influenced their decision to attend university also depended on their background. For those with higher socioeconomic status, improvements in exam results were significantly more likely to raise expectations of applying for university.

Jake Anders of the University College London Institute of Education, who conducted the analysis, said that: “Intervening early to maintain expectations, rather than attempting to raise them later, is more likely to be successful as this will ensure individuals engage in steps that keep them on track to be in a position to apply for university.

"However, it may be the case that providing fresh guidance in the light of exam results could play an important part in ensuring young people get the right educational message." 

The study was published in the Oxford Review of Education and used data from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England.

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