Parents/guardians of new students survey – the results

Felicity Wild
Thursday 10 November 2016

Following on from the launch of our new taught postgraduate course pages, and as the next stage of our digital prospectus project, the digital communications team have been developing new undergraduate (UG) course pages to improve the way that UG courses are advertised on the University of St Andrews’ website.

The first stage was comprehensive research and development, including competitor analysis, a survey of prospective students and workshops with staff from across the University.

An issue raised during the staff workshops was that we hadn’t considering that parents often play a big role in the university decision-making process. To rectify this oversight, we ran a parent/guardian survey to see what information they considered important when helping their student decide where to study.

Participants were asked about why their student had applied to St Andrews, what information was most important when helping their student decide where to study, and if they thought this information was successfully provided by the University of St Andrews. They were also invited to leave any further comments on the application process if desired.

The survey was run over two weeks in October 2016 and was publicised through a parental newsletter distributed by Development. We received a total of 212 responses.

The results

The three factors that had the most impact on prospective students decisions to study at the University of St Andrews, as reported by parents/guardians were:

  • the University’s reputation
  • the course/subject
  • the town.


The top five pieces of information that were rated most important to parents/guardians when helping their student decide where to study were:

  • information about the University’s national and international rankings
  • modules they can take in their subject(s)
  • how students will be taught
  • entry requirements
  • the type of degree they will graduate with.


The majority of respondents agreed that the University of St Andrews successfully provided important information to applicants. However, some reported frustrations with navigating the website and confusing visa information.

Respondents also generally agreed that the University had successfully communicated with their student about coming to St Andrews once they had accepted their offer.

Differences between parents/guardians and prospective students

There were some interesting differences observed when comparing responses from the the parent/guardian survey and the prospective student survey.

What had the most impact on your student’s decision to study at St Andrews?

Prospective students and parents/guardians both agreed that the University’s reputation is the number one most influential factor in deciding to study at the University of St Andrews, signalling that this information should be displayed very prominently on the UG course pages.

The course/subject was also rated by both cohorts as the second most important factor, this confirms that improving the way that courses are advertised on the University’s website should be a top priority.

Parents/guardians also rated the town as an influential factor in the decision-making process, something that was not reflected by prospective students (51% versus 7.5%). This is possibly because safety is a big concern for parents/guardians, so the small town and close community community would be very appealing. Information about the town could be signposted alongside information about the University’s reputation.

What information was of most importance to you when helping your student decide where to study?

Modules, entry requirements, teaching format and University rankings also featured in the top five answers selected by prospective students in response to this question, highlighting that these are essential pieces of information that must be included in the UG course pages.

However, parents/guardians also rated the type of degree their student will graduate with as an important piece of information, whereas prospective students selected extra curricular activities. This reflects the difference in concerns between the two cohorts – parents/guardians are concerned with long term prospects, while prospective students are thinking about their life at university when considering where to study.


Based on the results of this survey, and comparisons with the prospective students survey, we have the following recommendations for the design of the UG course pages:

  • Information about the University’s reputation is very important and should be prominently advertised on all UG course pages.
  • Modules, entry requirements, teaching format and University rankings are essential pieces of information to include in the UG course pages.
  • Information about the town should be signposted alongside information about the University’s reputation.

Next steps

Based on the results gathered in this survey, the prospective students survey, extensive competitor analysis and workshops with academics, the digital communications team has been creating prototype UG course pages.

The next step is to engage with Schools and Departments to gather feedback on these pages and to ascertain what information, at the individual course level, it is important to include.

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