Aspiring to Higher Education? Choice, complexity and confidence in secondary students’ decision-making

Zeta Williams-Brown, Gavin Rhoades, Matt Smith and David Thompson


This article reports on a programme designed to encourage young people who are currently in secondary school (age range 11-18) to apply to university. Explore University is a collaborative outreach programme provided by a small group of Higher Education Institutions in the West Midlands and Staffordshire areas of the UK. Participants were 46 high school students aged 14-16 years old. There has been increasing importance placed on the value of appropriate Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) for students considering attending university in the UK (Diamond et al., 2014). A wide range of diverse factors, contexts and behaviours impact on how IAG is accessed and consumed, and how decisions about progression to higher education are made (Moogan & Baron, 2003). Q-methodology (Q) was used in this study as it was believed that this approach could find communalities in participants’ perspectives that may not have been apparent had more traditional data collection methods been used. Four factors were produced that represented a range of different perspectives on attending university. The findings were associated with young people’s self-perception as learners and the influence these perceptions had on their strength of commitment to attend university. These findings are relevant to any consideration of both IAG at secondary school and widening participation in higher education at a time when there are increasing financial pressures on university recruitment, and smaller pools of diverse potential applicants being targeted.

Brown, Z., Rhoades, G., Smith, M. and Thompson, D. (2019) Aspiring to Higher Education? Choice, complexity and confidence in secondary students’ decision-making. Educationalfutures, [online] Vol. 10(1). Available at: [Accessed 21 Apr, 2024].