A study of 6,371 students by The Student Room has uncovered hundreds of cases where young people have found they can’t get on to a course, had to return to study, or who can’t pursue certain careers because they didn't pick the ‘right’ subjects aged 16 to 18.
Lack of careers advice
A quarter of all students who responded to The Student Room survey said they did not have enough information to make informed choices about the degree they should take at university. One third of respondents rated schools’ careers advice as “weak”.
Those from inner cities and low-income families are hardest hit, with fewer than two thirds saying they had sufficient information on study choices compared with those from more affluent backgrounds.
Reasons for going to university
Improved career prospects are now the predominant reason (85%) for going to university, ahead of subject interest (82%), especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Better-off students are much more likely to be influenced on their course or university choices by parents (56%) than disadvantaged students (40%)
Three quarters of respondents from disadvantaged backgrounds said they were expected to go to university, compared with 83% from better off households.
Compared with the same study in 2013, students from better-off backgrounds were 10% more confident about getting a job than those from poorer households.
Course fees a serious concern for many
Disadvantaged students are almost twice as likely to be seriously worried about being able to go, or remain at university, compared with those better off (12% v 7%).
Only 19% of those from disadvantaged backgrounds were aware of agreements between schools, colleges and universities to provide financial support or reduced-entry grades
40% of students from more affluent backgrounds said they would simply ‘deal with’ loan repayments once they kick in, compared with 36% of poorer pupils.
Girls are more likely to be influenced by parents about which degree choices they made compared with boys (47% compared with 42%).
66% of 16 to 18-year-olds said they would consider studying abroad, the same percentage as last year. However, non UK-students put the most effort into making this a reality.
63% of all respondents appeared to have firm career plans, with most already decided on their job.
Only 18% felt there was no expectation to go to university, instead considering alternatives such as vocational courses and apprenticeships.
Talking about uni options "crucial"
Dr Rachel Carr, a former university lecturer and the co-founder and chief executive of education charity IntoUniversity, says The Student Room's Options 2014 report highlights the need for improved careers support for students.
Dr Carr says: "Options 2014, in students’ own words, helps us identify how the UK can better help young people in making the right decisions about higher education.
"Talking to young people about university options from an early age is crucial to ensuring they can achieve their potential.
"We believe more work needs to be done to support young people in preparing for their future careers, and the earlier this can start, the more informed their later decisions will be.
"IntoUniversity works with young people over the long term to give them the best chance of attaining a university place. We aim to improve the academic attainment of the young people we work with while also raising their aspirations and helping them to make informed decisions about higher education."
"Long-lasting" change required
Jason Geall, CEO, The Student Room Group, says: "Our study shows there is a black hole in schools’ careers advice, and that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are suffering the most when it comes to navigating the intricacies of getting into the right universities and onto courses that could set them up in fantastic careers, for life.
"We urge whoever wins the next general election to make immediate and long-lasting changes to schools’ careers advice in the UK, so that students are properly informed, can fulfil their lifetime ambitions, and not have any regrets.”
He adds: "We are organising a summit in Spring 2015, and we invite all the major political parties to attend, to ensure the UK's future workforce realises its full potential."