What freshers buy for university

Posted: 26 Jul 2017 - 14:49
Purchasing decisions (freshers)
How the ‘emotional journey’ to university influences the spending habits of young people.  

Lily was in the homeware aisle of a supermarket, ticking off the things she needed for university, when it suddenly dawned on her: ‘I hadn’t given a thought to just how much stuff I’d have to buy,’ she says. ‘Who’d have thought a masher would make it onto my essentials list?’

Bags packed, ready to go

Shopping for university is a rite of passage for most students. Even in today’s world of online ordering and home delivery, most buy in advance, arriving at their digs with a carload of new stuff and a sizeable dent in their bank account.

The considerable spending power of students is no secret. On average, 75% of students purchase essentials once they’ve been accepted – including technology, cooking equipment, stationery, clothes, toiletries, and more.

What’s interesting is the way students spend their money as they prepare for university and in the first few weeks of term. UCAS research reveals a distinct pattern in the buying habits of freshers, based on where they are in their ‘emotional journey’ to university.

Stage 1: Celebration

Euphoria is high following exam results day. Within a few days of Confirmation, students buy their first item. This is usually a tactical and easy purchasing decision – in other words, it’s solid proof they’re off to uni.

‘My first spend was a reliable bag that could carry a load of books,’ says George. ‘I prioritised shoes as my campus is huge and I needed a pretty but decent pair to get from one end to the other,’ says Munibah.

Stage 2: Preparation

This period lasts the longest. It’s when bigger decisions are made, like which student account to open and which laptop to buy. Students tend to draw on external influencers, including parents and friends, to help them make these decisions.

At this stage, we can see different behaviours emerging in consumer attitudes. Some students will research all the options to find the best deal, while others are led by ease of purchase.

‘It took two weeks to open my student account, but that’s to be expected with everyone applying at the same time. I chose Santander for the free railcard,’ says George.

‘I did zero research,’ confesses Catrin. ‘After results day, I was sent an email by my bank to convert to a student saver account. I just had to click a button. And let's face it, when it's that easy – why not?’

Stage 3: Realisation

Once they’re at university, a new spending habit emerges. As freshers settle into their new life, they focus on making a great first impression – whether socially or in the lecture hall. Purchasing habits at this stage reflect their desire to fit in and make friends.

‘My new excuse for buying clothes? It’s for uni!’ says Catrin. ‘I’m getting new clothes for freshers’ week because I want to look nice,’ says Lily. ‘Don’t quite know how it’s possible to spend £50 on toiletries – but I have!’ adds Catrin.

Learning to budget

On average, students spend £286 during freshers’ week, including £128 on entertainment, £82 on alcohol, £40 on food, and £36 on lifestyle.

As you would expect, this lavish consumption doesn’t last. After the highs of freshers’ week, most young people reign in their buying habits. The reality of living on a budget can be a shock – 68% of our respondents had just £8 spare a day after accommodation costs and bills.

Talk to us

To find out how our insight can maximise your freshers’ campaign, call 01242 544 881 or email ucasmedia@ucas.ac.uk.

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