Who wants to start a Masters in January 2024?
- January/Spring starts are currently very popular with prospective postgraduates; around 45% of international students are targeting this option
- September/Autumn interest is stickier this cycle, due to pending visa changes and shifting domestic audiences
- January starts are most popular with domestic 'returners', international audiences from Kenya, Ghana and Pakistan, and people considering professional and vocational subjects
The 'pivot' to January or Spring starts is an important moment in the postgraduate marketing and recruitment calendar (and one we've covered in previous cycles). But it's a particularly interesting topic this year, due to upcoming visa changes and some interesting trends in our Pulse data.
I want to quickly highlight those trends before giving you a chance to explore which audiences are most interested in starting a Masters in early 2024. As a bonus, I've also taken a look at how this breaks down by subject area and dug into what a 'January' start actually means to students. Speaking of which...
'January' or 'Spring'?
'January starts' is the familiar umbrella term for courses offering a semester two intake. But it's not as if universities lock their doors between 1 February and 31 August – or that students stop searching for a course they can start asap (trust us, they don't).
So our Pulse survey questions now use 'Spring' and 'Autumn' instead of 'January' and 'September', partly to reflect the range of actual start dates and partly to stop us asking someone if they want to start a Masters in January when it's already February. Because that would look a bit silly.
In most cases, Spring does mean January – you can take a look below.
January starts are less popular overall (but still pretty popular)
One of the unique features of our Pulse insight is the ability to compare cycle-on-cycle, so we don't just see what the current postgraduate recruitment pipeline looks like; we also see how 'normal' it is.
This comparative view is really important. And January 2024 starts are a case in point.
Right now, around 25% of prospective domestic students and 45% of international students are looking to start a UK Masters in Spring 2024. That's a lot of people and it definitely is worth reaching them.
But the numbers for both audiences were actually higher last year:
The above is simply a side-by-side comparison of Pulse data from September 2023 with September 2022. You can see that there's a moderate year-on-year dip in Spring interest from internationals and a big dip from domestic audiences – with most of the swing going to Autumn 2023 (so 'asap').
What's going on?
The international shift will link to the ban on dependents coming in January 2024. The fact that so many still want to start after this point reflects the popularity of Spring starts with internationals (see below) and the fact the visa changes have already been reshaping the pipeline (as Pulse shows us).
The UK shift is more pronounced and obviously not linked to visas. It could be due to other things:
- The proportion of 18-24 year-olds in our September Pulse sample has dropped from 32% to 25% year-on-year, with older 'returner' audiences more likely to study outside the traditional September cycle (see below).
- Domestic audiences are also becoming more confident (as we've been tracking) and taking longer to consider a Masters. This could be linked to demographics, but it might also reflect the time people are taking to prepare for study (including by saving up for it).
The bottom line for your PG recruitment is that there's a healthy interest in Spring 2024, but Autumn 2023 isn't quite done yet.
Explore audience interest for Spring 2024
So, who does want to start a Masters in the new year? I think it's more helpful if I let you explore the data for yourself here.
The chart below plots interest in Spring 2024 for a range of audiences on a timeline going back to Q4 last year. This lets you compare total interest as of the most recent Pulse data, but you can also see where momentum is and isn't building.
This chart plots all audiences by default. I'd recommend you first click the 'enter series to show' box and select 'All'. That will show you the trend for interest in Spring 2024 starts across our full survey audience from Q4 2022 to Q3 2023.
You can then pick more specific audiences to compare. Here are a few of the things I've spotted:
- International students are more interested in Spring starts than UK students, though interest builds steadily for both audiences
- Spring starts appeal more to UK Returners than Continuers, with a steady build in momentum across the year for the former vs a peak in Q2 (so, spring/summer) for the latter
- It's slightly 'newer' international markets like Kenya, Ghana and Pakistan that are most interested in Spring starts, with India and Nigeria comparatively less interested (possibly due to the dependents ban).
Feedback on this kind of more granular 'exploration' option welcome btw – if it's useful we can look at making a few others.
I've put together two additional charts to look a little closer at interest in Spring 2024 Masters.
First, how do intended start dates vary by subject area:
Interest in Spring 2024 is highest for 'professional' subjects and lower for more traditional academic Scienc and Humanities fields (which also plan furthest ahead). This probably reflects the underlying demographics, with more (and more flexible) Returners interested in vocational Masters.
Second, what does Spring 2024 actually mean?
This table shows the exact start date audiences who are considering a Spring 2024 Masters would choose – e.g. it's their preference, rather than their target. Hence why a small proportion would prefer September/October even though they're actually looking to start in Spring (perhaps they missed deadlines or requirements for Autumn 2023).
January is the most popular option within Spring for internationals and it's close for UK (especially if we assume that the 'completely flexibles' would readily choose January). So, 'Spring' most often means 'January' but there are audiences out there for other semester two start dates.
We've explored the impact of the visa changes on international study intentions and perceptions of the UK.
We've used our FindAMasters data to uncover typical UK PGT scholarship values and trends.