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Location is still a significant factor
by Glen Owen

The jarring mantra of estate agents   location, location, location  has less resonance where universities are  concerned. Research has shown that students place most emphasis on the content  of the course when filling in their UCAS form, before going on to consider the  institutions reputation and its distance from home.

Yvonne Moogan, a senior marketing lecturer at Liverpool Business School,  spent four years tracking sixth-formers through the application process. She  found that although course content was initially the key factor, its importance  lessened after applicants visited universities.

Location became increasingly important as students looked at factors such as  leisure, socialising and accommodation,she says. Her survey highlighted a  range of social and sexual differences: girls were more fastidious with their  research, while males displayed greater confidence about the decisions they  reached.

She also found that male pupils in independent schools were more likely to  place a premium on the reputation of the university, while stronger students  tended to listen to their parents advice: weaker candidates were more  influenced by their teachers and took longer to make up their minds.

Although the respondents said that their most important source of reference  was the university prospectus, many complained that it was not sufficiently  user-friendly. They often dont detail the aspects which become more important  to applicants later in the process  such as social life and the general  facilities, she says. They often dont say how a course is assessed: if pupils  have taken GNVQs rather than A-levels, they will want to know if a course relies  entirely on final exams. This clarity is particularly important for candidates  whose families do not have a tradition of going to university.

There is also a strong argument for a separate parents prospectus,  explaining the things that they are more likely to want to know about, such as  drugs and pastoral care.

But she adds that the survey is encouraging. It shows that students take  university seriously and choose courses they feel will benefit them, while  aiming to broaden their experiences by moving to exciting and vibrant  destinations