A collaborative study by all three South Australian public universities, led by researchers at UniSA’s School of Natural and Built Environments has found that almost 51 per cent of year 12 students find it difficult to decide what to study at university.
The research project - What Should I Study? Improving Tertiary Pathways by Improving Support for Prospective Students – focuses on understanding more thoroughly, how students make their study choices and how universities and high schools can better support them through the process.
Key researcher on the project, Andrea Parks says that while the research is ongoing, the results from a survey of year 12 students in 67 SA high schools in September last year, show that most students are exploring their options before they set on a study path.
“About 90 per cent of students engage in a broad exploration of the university environment, browsing websites and brochures about study choices,” Parks says, "but 35 per cent say they find it difficult to understand university program options as well as information about university programs.
“Given that we know making the wrong study choice can lead to dissatisfaction, lack of engagement and ultimately withdrawal from university study, we should be concerned that about 24 per cent of Year 12 students who planned to apply to university had never examined a study plan for a preference.
"Among the group of students who were planning to apply to the South Australian Tertiary Admissions Centre, 20 per cent indicated ‘I am not certain about my preferences but I will apply [to SATAC] anyway and then sort it out later’. And just over 30 per cent of students who are certain about their first preference are not completely certain about what subjects/courses they will study in their first year, signalling a need for more support with the Study Choice process, particularly with the in-depth exploration of preferences."
Surveys and interviews conducted with both university and high school career counselling providers show that in general, teams providing these services are small.
“At schools, career counsellors are usually offering services across several years and they have additional responsibilities in their position,” Parks says.
“And at universities, again small teams are responsible for developing and sustaining relationships with schools, disseminating information, providing a connection and support to several categories of prospective students about the considerable number of pathway options available at their respective university. The teams provide that engagement to more than 15,000 Year 12 students each year.
“Presentations at high schools and visits to the university campus are the most common ways that the universities engage with Year 12 Students but in a final year crowded with heavy study commitments, time constraints for students are a factor.
“There was some suggestion from the data, that more collaboration across the universities could offset limited time and resources and improve access to Year 12 students.
“What is very clear from our work with schools and universities to date is that the people who do this work in both sectors care deeply about the students and want them to succeed.
“There is strong and dedicated support but a more systematic approach in providing that support could be beneficial.”
The research project is continuing and ultimately researchers are aiming to produce a learning strategy and a process model for Study Choice – suitable to the Australian context – that can be used to design new ways to support prospective students and foster student engagement, retention and attainment.
Support for this project has been provided by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training. The views in this project do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.
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