Pupils in the Upper-Sixth preparing for university are very positive about the prospect of studying their chosen academic subjects and enjoying the facilities and societies on offer.

But some worry about aspects of their social life and managing their finances and budgets.

These are among the key findings of a new report published as many teenagers are experiencing their first few days on campus.

The report, from the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) and the Girls Schools’ Association (GSA), is based on an in-depth survey of more than 2,000 upper sixth-formers in HMC and GSA schools.

One of the most comprehensive studies of the independent sector, and an important contribution to the relatively new area of analysing students’ motivations, hopes and fears, it highlights the crucial role that universities and schools can play in helping to prepare leavers for one of the biggest transitions of their lives. Its recommendations should make essential reading.

Among the key findings are

> The vast majority are excited or quite positive about their chosen subject.

> The vast majority feel positive about the facilities and societies at their chosen universities.

> Most are looking forward to their social life, but about a quarter said they were concerned or a little nervous

> More than a third expressed concern or some nervousness about peer involvement.

> Nearly half feel concerned or a little nervous about their budgeting and finances at university.

> More than 40 per cent expressed concern or a little nervousness about the prospect of living with new people, though the majority were looking forward to it.

> While most were positive about coping with their academic workload about a third admitted to concern or a little nervousness.

Other findings include:

> Nearly a quarter of respondents declared themselves disabled and 10 per cent come from low-income backgrounds, so the portrayal of the independent school cohort being an entirely privileged elite is a distortion.

> Girls are more anxious about starting university than boys.

> Students have a good grasp of the content of their courses, but they are less sure about the amount of one-to-one teaching they can expect and how to manage their independent learning.

> One in 20 will go to an overseas university.

> Independent school pupils choose university courses for similar reasons to their state school counterparts, but independently educated students are more likely to look at facts and data rather than be influenced by what others say or universities themselves claim.

> Independent and state sectors should work together to ensure student expectations of university are more realistic.

> The survey findings largely chime with new research by HEPI and Unite Students

Read full HMC/GSA report here.

Chris Ramsey, the Headmaster of Whitgift School and Co-Chair of the HMC Universities Committee, said:

“Hugely increased numbers at university mean more students feel more anonymous – though of course it’s also true that students have always felt anonymous, sometimes tragically so, when starting this new life; social pressures have risen (technology for example both facilitates and encourages solitary pursuits, as well as feeding the feeling of urgency in a challenging world); and finally the rise in public exam accountability in schools, which has meant school learning has been more structured, more a matter of unlocking the codes to exams, and codes which candidates have the right to demand are provided.

“These factors all make transition to university learning environments harder. To all of that we can add the generation gaps which education inevitably produces – staff who expect attitudes they themselves had.

“The wonder is that the dropout rate (6.2% in latest figures) isn’t higher, though we should all worry that HEPI research continues to tell us that something like a third of students say they would choose another course or university if they had their time again….

“If we can help students to recognise more clearly what will be different, and how we will help them, and make it clear we want them to be different learners and people, we will continue to improve transition.  As Hamlet said, the readiness is all.”

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

“I welcome this report on how we can better support people on track for university. Its goal of ensuring the best fit between applicants and places is especially important at the moment, when a drop in the number of school leavers means universities are competing more and seeking to disrupt applicants’ choices through more unconditional offers and other incentives.

“Given the recent labelling of students as ‘snowflakes’, it is worth noting that providing additional support for people on the cusp of higher education is not mollycoddling. The transition from the final year of school to the first year of university is one of life’s major turning points. There is nothing weak about new students using any support on offer to help light their way.”

Notes for Editors

The joint Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) and Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) surveys were conducted between 25th March and 31st May 2019. The total number of respondents was 4,796, representing 10.8% of the 44,560 upper sixth students in ISC schools. Of these, 2,815 completed the questionnaire, giving a refined response rate of 6.3%.

HMC (the Headmasters' & Headmistresses' Conference) is a professional association of heads of the world's leading independent schools. HMC has 296 members in the British Isles educating more than 200,000 children, and a further 55 international members and 10 associates. Our members lead schools that are distinguished by their excellence in pastoral care, co-curricular provision and classroom teaching. Members of HMC have met annually in conference since the first meeting in 1869. Now celebrating its 150th anniversary, HMC is a thriving, pro-active Association of leading figures in school education. See