SMRS and the UMF - our Future Student Survey 2023


Dan Beynon, Head of Education, SMRS.

At SMRS, we work with over 60 universities on marketing campaigns, strategy, consultancy, and research. Our extensive experience means we understand how much societal factors and current events affect the lives of young people pursuing higher education.

That’s why we partnered with the Universities Marketing Forum (UMF) to investigate the main concerns and motivators facing undergraduate applicants today. Since 2021 we have worked with the UMF to deliver 4 research projects into the UK applicant journey covering both undergraduate and postgraduate courses to help the sector inform the future of higher education marketing.

This time we surveyed prospective undergraduate students applying to 23 universities across the UK about their main priorities, study preferences, and expectations. In total, we gathered 16,253 surveys completed by mostly 17-18-year-olds applying to institutions the likes of Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Leeds, Arts University Bournemouth, Loughborough University, and Birmingham City University.

Thanks to our in-depth findings, we’ve been able to paint a strong picture of how future undergraduates are feeling during these challenging times and what they value most in higher education providers.

It’s clear that the effects of the pandemic are still impacting young people, and therefore affecting their decisions. Most applicants we surveyed are keen to leave home and have a clear preference for face-to-face learning, despite the rise in online learning.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest worry for prospective students is the rising cost of living and whether they’ll be able to afford accommodation costs and university fees. Almost half of the applicants stated that financial concerns could make them change their minds about attending university this year.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Although a lot was revealed about their worries, young people still have a lot to be hopeful about – most of them said they’re excited to go to university and are optimistic about their future.

And while mental health remains one of their top concerns, prospective students feel that support from universities has improved in this area.

Our research also revealed enlightening stats on how many students plan to live in halls vs. at home, subject preferences by gender, this year’s offer numbers to people from ethnic minority groups, and much more.

We’ll be using the invaluable insights from this survey in our consulting and marketing work with universities in the coming months.

We are currently working on another UMF project exploring the current UCAS cycle and the perceived “expectation gap” between realistic and smart undergraduate applications looking at the advice that is being offered to prospective students. There’s more information on this project here.

If you’d like to chat about our findings or get involved in future research, drop us a message or an email or contact