Although students are increasingly cast as consumers wanting ‘value for money’, this study empirically investigated whether students actively seek value for money. In Study 1, 1,772 undergraduates at a mid-ranked English university were asked open-ended questions about what they had wanted from their university learning experience and how that had turned out. Hopes were coded as fulfilled or unfulfilled. Responses were searched for key words related to ‘value for money’. Less than 2 per cent of students referenced ‘value for money’. Those students were significantly more likely to have unfulfilled hopes. In Study 2, 185 first-year science students were asked open-ended questions about why they chose their subject and their programme, and what they had wanted from their learning experience in that programme. None referenced value for money. Students’ reasons for choosing their subjects and programmes were analysed. ‘Value for money’ does not do justice to students’ hopes for university or their programme.