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Title: Spoiled for choice? : an applicant-centred approach to understanding UCAS decision making
Author: McGrath, Susan Jane
ISNI:       0000 0004 7230 904X
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2018
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Despite the consistent rise in the number of young people entering university, statistics show that class-based disparity in progression continues. Those from advantaged families are over-represented at prestigious institutions to which the less-advantaged rarely apply. A gap in the literature on progression concerns the application process itself: how do young people choose the universities for their UCAS form? Using card-sort tasks within an interview format, six cohorts of Year 13 students (56 in total), described the decision-making stages that underpinned their university choices. Some had researched, longlisted and shortlisted. Others applied only to their local universities. Significant differences in knowledge and understanding were often cohort-specific. As the educational environment became more HE-oriented, students’ ability to use and evaluate resources increased. However, within-cohort variation demonstrated the power of personal motivation to expand or restrict the choice of universities. The conceptual framework drew on two theorists. Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model explores how person-process-context interactions determine developmental outcomes, whilst recognising that less-advantaged families lack capacity to manipulate social environments. Simon’s Behavioural Model of human decision-making acknowledges the need to simplify complex tasks, suggesting UCAS applicants may be satisficing, rather than optimising. Both models recognise knowledge and ‘know-how’ as determinants of behaviour. A synthesis of the two suggested that having a strong knowledge structure at the start of the process was linked to ‘cold’ reasoning and a macro-focussed approach to decision-making. A weak knowledge structure was linked to ‘hot’ reasoning and a micro-focussed approach reliant on family or friends. Pragmatising emerged as an effective decision-making style. The ‘curricular’ approach to UCAS information, advice and guidance in the independent school produced discriminating, well-informed decision-makers. The state sector, ‘opt-in’ model left some students unaware of key resources, even the UCAS website. Providing adequate support for all UCAS applicants might be a step towards achieving parity in progression.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available