School differences on whether and where students apply to university

Lucy J Prior*, George B Leckie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Going to university is a key route to enhancing life opportunities for young people and for promoting social mobility. Despite the action of widening participation programs, substantial sociodemographic inequalities in participation persist. Few studies have focused on the role that school attended may play in exacerbating or mitigating these inequalities. We explore these issues for England via analysing student-level linked DfE-Ofqual-UCAS administrative data. We find substantial variation in application rates across schools, particularly regarding applications to Russell Group institutions. Crucially, meaningful school differences persist even after adjustment for school differences in student prior achievement and sociodemographics. These findings suggest that unmodelled school-level policies, practices, and context may be influencing students’ decision making. We conclude that policymakers and university admissions teams would benefit from closer monitoring of differences in application rates across schools and potentially using this information when devising interventions to widen participation and act on higher education inequalities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1161-1181
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology of Education
Issue number7
Early online date8 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Secondary Data Analysis Initiative grant ES/W000555/1. This work was produced using statistical data from ONS which is Crown Copyright. The use of the ONS statistical data in this work does not imply the endorsement of the ONS in relation to the interpretation or analysis of the statistical data. This work uses research datasets that may not exactly reproduce National Statistics aggregates.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


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