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How students evolve from Freshers to final year

As students move through their degrees, it’s no secret that their behaviours change. After all, a first-year student arriving on campus for the first time is going to have very different priorities to a final-year student preparing for exams and getting ready for the world of work. native’s latest research delves a little deeper into what changes for students as they move through their degrees – and what stays the same.

Living situation

Students’ living situations will differ from one university to the next; as some grapple with localised housing crises, others will find multiple options across campus and within the private sector. If we look at the country as a whole, students are equally likely to be living in uni halls, living with their parents or caregivers or living in private rental accommodation with peers – just under a third fall into each category. Privately-owned halls are slightly less popular: 9% of students live in this type of accommodation.

The most common scenario is still for students to live in uni halls in first year, then move into a rental property after that. Just under half of all students start their university experience in a uni-owned hall, finding their feet among other freshers. After that, it becomes more common to move into a rented home with peers – 37% of students midway through their course and 41% of final years are doing this.

Slightly more surprising is the high number of students across all year groups living at home with their parents or caregivers; just under a third. This doesn’t fluctuate over the course of their degrees. Every student will have their own unique reasons for living at home – but as the cost of living soars, and renting becomes ever more difficult, it could be that students cannot afford to move out, or are struggling to find accommodation close to uni.

Financial priorities

That brings us onto the next point: financial priorities. The stereotype of the cash-strapped student has long dominated popular culture: but in reality, it’s a little more nuanced. From the moment they start their degrees, students are thinking about ways to supplement their income: one in three first-years will look for a part-time job in their first year. This becomes less of a priority for mid-and-final-year students, who either have one to tide them over, or because they want to focus on their studies instead.

Part-time work is popular for students across their entire degrees, but it peaks in mid-degree years, plateauing off again in final year. 42% of first years have a part-time job, as do 52% of mid-year students, and 45% of final-years. Meanwhile, the number of students who say they don’t have a job so they can focus on their studies increases over time – 13% of first years say this, rising to 17% in final year.

However, as students move away from part-time work as a source of income, their spending habits change. Overdraft use in students increases over time, as does use of Buy Now, Pay Later services – both peak in final year. This is slightly concerning, and indicates that this group could use more financial support as they prioritise their studies.

Also grappling with the expenses of uni life are students on one-year-long degree programs. A huge 62% of the overall student population has a student loan, but just 25% of one-year-degree students have one. This could leave them in a more precarious financial situation – and indeed, one in three spend their studies looking for a part-time job.

Engagement with campus 

Gen Z students have their own way of engaging with campus life, seeking out a hybrid blend of digital and IRL. But you know this all too well. The real question is, how does students’ engagement with campus change as they move through their degrees?

First years spend significantly more hours on campus per week than other year groups – an average of 25.2 hours, or around three working days. Mid-degree students will visit campus for around 16.6 hours per week, and final years are there for about 13.6 hours per week. Over in the digital realm, 72% of first years visit their SU website at least monthly, with the majority checking in weekly. Students on one-year-long degrees are, on balance, less likely to visit their campus in person, but more likely to engage with their SU digitally.

The priority shift occurring for final years is palpable; as well as spending the least time on campus, they are less likely to use their SU facilities, attend events, and visit their SU website. As this cohort approaches the end of their degrees, their focus hones in on those looming last exams – but there could be a case for more study, wellbeing or exam-focused initiatives in place to nurture these students.

But there’s one event that will guarantee footfall from all students, regardless of year group: the Freshers fair. 43% of first years, 48% of mid-degree students and 38% of final years make a beeline for it. The spike in interest among mid-degree students is a testament to the value of Freshers fairs – they likely attended or heard about it in first year, and came back for more. Their interest could also suggest a desire to engage with what university has to offer, and try new things as they begin a new academic year.

Along with our SU partners, we’re currently working on lots of exciting events and media to welcome students to campus in Freshers 2023. Want to know more? We’d love to chat with you.