A survey of 2132 Upper Sixth-formers has been carried out to gain a picture of their attitudes as they start university life. This is the first study of its kind.

The poll, by HMC and GSA, is designed to inform the work schools and universities are planning to prepare pupils for higher education.

Findings summary           

The survey finds that the young people:

  • Are serious minded and focussed, looking forward to their studies, not just to university as ‘fun’
  • Are most looking forward to their studies and their course content
  • Fear money worries and workload. The first few days are shrouded in mystery and this may contribute significantly to any feelings of nervousness they experience.
  • Feel well-informed in the main, and find a variety of resources to help them
  • A significant minority worry greatly about social life
  • Are not impressed by expensive facilities; they want and expect value for money
  • Their main hopes are for independent study, interacting with new people, and a good social life
  • Are not thinking much about employability yet - going to university continues to be more about opportunities and meeting stimulating people

Full report available here.


Chris Ramsey, Headmaster of King’s School Chester and universities spokesperson for HMC said:

“This has been important and fascinating early work in understanding what today’s students want and expect, and their hopes and fears. We must be wary of thinking they are mercenary and wowed by facilities: it seems they are serious about their studies and open to opportunity and to diversity of views and thoughts.

“Their teachers have prepared these young minds well, and now schools need to understand more about the pressures students are putting themselves under. Universities are giving out good information but could do more to explain what happens on arrival and how to manage the workload.

“Schools and universities need to understand more about the pressures young people put themselves under as they look forward to their adult lives. Above all, we must find more subtle ways of gauging their needs: it’s not all about employability and facilities for them – the softer skills matter too. “ 

Sarah Brennan, Chief Executive of Young Minds said:

"We know from experience that transitions are times of added stress and vulnerability, especially when you are young and leaving home for the first time. The findings from the HMC survey reflect the findings of YoungMinds’ own survey* of over 5000 young people aged 11 -18 where concerns about academic success were crucially important and were causing considerable anxiety and stress. We need to ensure young people develop all aspects of their potential and help them take this next step with confidence and excitement - and a safety net should times get tough.”

*2013, 5,000 young people, details available

YoungMinds has asked its ’activist’ community of young people to collaborate on top tips for young people going to university (see link below).

Former Government mental health tsar Natasha Devon, whose Self Esteem Team visits schools regularly to discuss mental health issues, welcomed the survey, which she said chimed with what she understood from young people.

She warned that PSHE should be maintained throughout pupils’ school life and said:

“There is a lot of evidence to show the onset of mental health problems can be caused by times of turbulence or change in a young person’s life. University should therefore be considered a time when teenagers are particularly vulnerable, especially as they might not be familiar with what help and support is available to them in their new communities.

“By making mental health a priority throughout education, from primary right up to sixth form, we can ensure teenagers are as prepared as they possibly can be to face the challenges of university life. But most schools cannot do this without significant funding, training and resources and without a shift in what is being valued in education at government level. “

What’s happening in schools?

Queen Anne’s Caversham and Benenden School are both bringing in new approaches to helping pupils prepare for university.

Queen Anne’s is running a BrainCanDo educational neuroscience programme to teach girls how their brains work so that they can regulate their emotions, be challenged in their thinking and adapt to new situations, to assist with independent learning.

They have built a new 6th form centre specifically to form part of the transition to university, featuring  different spaces to traditional classrooms, new technologies, more opportunities to work together and alone, and a different way of teaching.

Headmistress Julia Harrington said:

'To prepare our students for university they have to understand that they have to drive their own learning, without the certainty of knowing they're going to be right - which perhaps they've got used to. They have to know how to handle themselves when they don't know the answers; to be creative and unafraid.

'They won't always get things right, and they shouldn't always get things right. If they had all the answers they would be wasting their time and money.’