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HE Information, Advice and Guidance

A low to moderate cost intervention, with moderate evidence, which suggests it may have a positive impact.

Information about higher education including applications and admissions processes, personal statements, finance and the wider costs and benefits of higher education. A number of ways of providing this information have been used, including presentations, leaflets, text alerts, counsellors, websites, direct mail (email/post). Information may be accompanied by practical help with completing applications.

This information is usually targeted at secondary school pupils, but can also be directed to other people involved in their decision-making such as parents/guardians.


REACH Scotland

The Reach Scotland (Access to the High Demand Professions) programme gives secondary pupils in S4 to S6 from non-traditional backgrounds insights into studying competitive, high-demand professions (such as medicine, law, dentistry and veterinary medicine) as well as practical experience to help support their applications. Successful applications to these degree courses require evidence of career exploration or experience, interview and/or portfolio submission. The programme started in July 2010, and the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews run the programme in their local target areas using different approaches.

University of Glasgow runs the Reach West programme and works with every secondary school in the west of Scotland on or below the average progression rate to higher education, schools in remote and rural areas and other under-represented pupils. S4 to S6 pupils showing an interest and potential to progress into one of the four professions complete a three-year programme, which has been devised with collaborative input from the relevant university schools. A Summer School week is held in each subject area for S5 pupils. Pupils are introduced to professional degree study, complete case study work on their specific subject of interest and attend sessions on the application process. In 2014-15 the University of Glasgow expanded the Reach West programme into to three further professional degree areas: education, engineering, and accountancy and finance.

The University of Edinburgh runs Reach Scotland for the South East of the country as part of their Access to the Professions (AttP) programme, with schools with low progression to higher education in Edinburgh, the Lothians, Forth Valley and the Scottish Borders. AttP offers a wide range of events and activities to support pupils, their parents/guardians and advisers through the application process. Activities include:

•           One-to-one pre-application guidance for prospective students, their families and advisers

•           Guidance on relevant work observation/career exploration opportunities

•           Work experience placements

•           Information on academic courses and extra-curricular requirements

•           The opportunity to meet and shadow current students and applicant mentoring

•           On-campus career visits, exploration workshops and events, including public lectures, Higher revision classes and workshops on personal statements, interview technique and the University Clinical Aptitude Test

•           Portfolio preparation

•           Parent information sessions


For more information on the Reach programme please visit:

Reach West at the University of Glasgow

Reach at the University of Edinburgh

Reach Tayside at the University of Dundee

Reach Fife at the University of St Andrews

The Reach programme at the University of Aberdeen

Target Audiences

In some cases, interventions are targeted to all students of a particular age, however it is more commonly tested on particular target groups, including:

·         Low-income students (in general, or those who are high-achieving)

·         Disadvantaged students

·         Those from groups with low progression rates to higher education.


  • Higher education enrolment
  • Enrolment on particular courses/institutions
  • Submission of application(s)Intention/aspiration to apply to higher education
  • Improvements in knowledge of/attitudes towards higher education

How effective is it?

Most of the evidence reviewed suggests that the intervention has a positive impact on outcomes, although some studies suggest no impact.

Studies that measured the impact of interventions on college or university admissions generally report positive results, though few are significant. Evidence is stronger for an increase in submissions/intention to submit an application rather than actual enrolment.

Outcomes are strongest for those considered most likely to progress to higher education anyway, but there is some evidence of increased applications to selective universities for these individuals.

One study reported a strong impact on knowledge and intent to apply but little change in applications.

One study reported that information about the costs and potential earnings from higher education led to more students with parents classed as ‘lower secondary educated’ choosing vocational post-secondary programmes than their peers with ‘tertiary educated’ parents.

What are the costs?

Limited information on cost is available. The cost per student is often low because of the large number of students reached. Involving staff, through activities including counselling, mentoring or one-on-one application support, would increase the cost.

How relevant is the evidence?

Six of the eleven studies reviewed are from USA or Canada. One is from Italy. The remaining four are from the UK and Ireland, with one (level 1 study) from Scotland.

Given that financial advice and support is a common feature of many interventions evaluated, findings from North America may be less relevant as the fee structures are different to the UK and Scotland in particular.

Things to consider

Interventions included some that provided information and advice about higher education, particularly the costs, in general, and those that provided support and information more directly related to the application process.

Studies that measured the provision of information and application assistance found that these were most effective when delivered in combination rather than isolation. Particularly in relation to costs, providing information alone is unlikely to make a significant difference to either application or progression rates.

Consideration should be given to the method of delivery, with suggestions that targeted or individualised information based on a particular student’s needs, interests and situation is more likely to be effective.

Many factors influence a student’s decision to apply to higher education and multiple other agents are involved in the process.

Further Research Recommended

Although there are several level 3 (RCT) studies included in this review, there remains limited evidence of what type of information and application support is most effective, particularly in the UK context. More studies should be conducted in the Scottish context.

Further Information

In a review of different access strategies in higher education, this report for The Sutton Trust (2014)synthesises evidence of schemes to provide assistance with completing application for financial aid and information about post-secondary options.


Level 3 

Abbiati, G., Argentin, G., Barone, C. and Schizzerotto, A. (2017). ‘Information barriers and social stratification in higher education: evidence from a field experiment’. The British Journal of Sociology, DOI: 10.1111/1468-4446.12332.

Bettinger, E.P., Long, B.T., Oreopoulos, P. and Sanbonmatsu, L. (2009). The role of simplification and information in college decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA experiment (No. w15361). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Hoxby, C. and Turner, S. (2013). Expanding college opportunities for high-achieving, low income students. Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research Discussion Paper, pp12-014.

McGuigan, M., McNally, S. and Wyness, G. (2016). ‘Student awareness of costs and benefits of educational decisions: effects of an information campaign’. Journal of Human Capital, 10(4), pp.482-519.

Oreopoulos, P. and Ford, R. (2016). Keeping college options open: A field experiment to help all high school seniors through the college application process (No. w22320). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Sanders, M., Chande, R., Selley, E. and Team, B.I. (2017). Encouraging People into University. Department for Education, UK.

Level 2 

Constantine, J.M., Seftor, N.S., Martin, E.S., Silva, T. and Myers, D. (2006). Study of the Effect of the Talent Search Program on Secondary and Postsecondary Outcomes in Florida, Indiana and Texas. Final Report from Phase II of the National Evaluation. US Department of Education.

Oreopoulos, P. and Dunn, R. (2013). ‘Information and college access: Evidence from a randomized field experiment’. The Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 115(1), pp.3-26.

Robinson, K.J. and Roksa, J. (2016). ‘Counselors, information, and high school college-going culture: Inequalities in the college application process’. Research in Higher Education, 57(7), pp.845-868.

Level 1 

Ferguson, J. and Griffiths, D. (2018). ‘Preparing versus persuading: inequalities between scottish state schools in university application guidance practices’. Social Sciences, 7(9), p.169.

Smyth, E. and Banks, J. (2012). ‘‘There was never really any question of anything else’: young people’s agency, institutional habitus and the transition to higher education’. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 33(2), pp.263-281.