It suggests that some able students are put off applying to the most selective institutions by the cost of living, distance from home and future job prospects.
The study, commissioned by the Sutton Trust and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), surveyed more than 13,000 students with at least three B’s at A-level to examine why they chose to apply to particular universities.
It found that just 42 per cent of high achievers who went to state schools submit two or more applications to the UK’s 36 leading institutions, compared to 73 per cent of those educated privately and 53 per cent of those at grammar schools.
Sutton Trust chair Sir Peter Lampl said the findings show that there is a group of bright students who need extra support when choosing where to continue their education.
According to a Sutton Trust report published in 2004, around 3,000 teenagers with good enough A-level results to win a place at one of the UK’s 13 most selective institutions did not end up studying at one of these universities.
Yesterday’s report reveals that the most important factors influencing decisions on where to study were the degree course and its content, but the findings also show that bright students applying to the top universities also based their decisions on an institution’s prestige and academic excellence.
Sir Peter said: “This research delves behind the raw data showing that thousands of young people don’t choose the best university for them, and reveals a group of bright students who need extra support and encouragement to make the right decisions.
“It is vital that universities work more closely with schools and colleges so that talented young people from non-privileged backgrounds at comprehensive schools and colleges study the right subjects and gain the same level of confidence as those at independent and grammar schools.”