With move-in a distant memory and the academic year in full swing, what lessons can we learn from the Autumn wave of the GSL Index data around first-year undergraduate (UG) student expectations – how do these differ from other students? and have expectations been met?

Accommodation Search Priorities

When searching for accommodation, proximity to their place of study, safety and security, condition and quality of accommodation, and budget are the top factors influencing the search for both first-year and non-first-year students.

However, first-year UG students stand out from others in that the actual bedroom (69% vs 65%) and availability of an en-suite bathroom (67% vs 62%) are much more important considerations. The higher priority placed on availability of an en-suite is driven by UK first-year students for whom this is much more important (68%) than international first years (63%). Given the importance of bedroom when searching for accommodation, it is encouraging to note that 42% of students said that bedroom space was better than expected this wave.

Moving out of home and starting university is a significant transition, so it is not surprising that finding a place that feels like home is also ranked higher on the list of priorities for first-year students (48% vs 41% for non-first years). This difference is also driven solely by UK first-year undergraduate students who are significantly more likely (49%) than international first years (41%) to prioritise a place that feels like home.

Living preferences

First-year UG students are also significantly less concerned (24%) about living on their own than non-first years (45%). This is again driven by UK students who are much less likely (20%) to prioritise living on their own than international students (48%). Instead, living with like-minded people is the higher priority for first-year students from the UK (50%), although this is less important for international students (32%). This is a major difference between UG first-year students and others, with the preference to live alone growing to 40% by the final year – this increase is driven by UK students who are more likely (35%) to prioritise living alone by the final year of their UG studies.

Social opportunities

Unsurprisingly, opportunities for a vibrant social life are more important for first-year UG students than others (38% vs 29%). This difference is driven by UK students, who are more likely (39%) to rate social opportunities as important than international students (33%). Student expectations appear to be largely met in this area—this Autumn, 24% of first-year UK and 22% of first-year international UG students said that social opportunities were better than they expected. Just 9% of international first-years and 8% of UK first-years said social opportunities were worse than they expected.

Moving In

First-year UG students are more satisfied with their overall moving-in experience than others (83% vs 80%). However, the tendency to be less satisfied with moving in is driven by UK students, whose satisfaction with the moving in experience decreases over subsequent years. The GSL Index data suggests that more could be done to make sure that online inductions meet the needs of this cohort, with just 73% of first-year UG students rating their online induction as good or very good compared to 78% of other students.

Again, the lower satisfaction rates of first-year UG students with their online induction are driven by UK students who are less satisfied (72%) than international first years (76%). The reasons for this are unclear – it may be that international students have done more extensive research as part of their preparations to move to another country, or UK students may simply have higher expectations in this regard.

First-year UG students are also less likely than other students to rate arrival instructions and ease of finding their accommodation as very good compared to other students, suggesting that there are opportunities to better meet student needs in these areas.

To get involved in the GSL Index, go to the GSL website: https://gsl.news/index/ to register.