Cornerstones of University Choice: Context, Mental Models, and Decision-Making Processes

Research output: Books and anthologiesDissertations


  • Katrin Obermeit
Prospective students´ choice of their university is a topic of rising relevance worldwide. As competition on the higher education market and the resultant fight for students increases, universities need to deal with questions of how, when, and why young people decide where to study. This knowledge forms the basis for developing adequate and effective communication strategies enabling university marketers to recruit the best and most suitable students for their institutions. Despite extensive research on these questions, there still are fundamental gaps like the nonobservance of sense making activities, the neglected role of emotions and higher education policies, the suboptimal choice of research methods as well as problematic theoretical assumptions previous research is based upon. In this dissertation, I address all of these gaps in three complementary articles. In the first paper, I compare American with German research on university choice by focusing on the three aspects of theoretical approaches applied in previous studies, choice factors, and information sources prospective students use. On the basis of this literature review, I identify major research gaps with a focus on, but not limited to, the German context. In the second article, by using the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET), I identify mental models of prospective students that represent their sense making activities. Through this, I get a profound understanding of which rational and especially emotional issues are relevant for the students when they try to make sense of the marketing messages they are confronted with during their university choice process. In the third paper, I challenge the theoretical approaches previous research is based upon by identifying two very different types of decision-makers with their respective choice strategies and logics. Overall, this dissertation contributes to a much more detailed understanding of prospective students´ university choices by identifying their sense-making activities and choice styles, highlighting the role of emotions and context factors, and refining the theoretical foundations university choice research is based upon.
Translated title of the contributionGrundpfeiler der Hochschulwahl: Kontext, Mentale Modelle und Entscheidungsprozesse
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLüneburg
Number of pages133
Publication statusPublished - 12.01.2016

Bibliographical note

Dissertation der Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, 2016

    Research areas

  • Management studies - Decision-Making, mental models, qualitative research, university choice, zaltman metaphor elicitation technique (ZMET)