Purpose: This paper aims to make a contribution to the current lack of literature in the Australian context by reviewing qualitative feedback collected from students in five private higher education institutions. In particular, the paper seeks to examine factors influencing student choice to study at private higher education institutions and student perceptions of such institutions. Previous studies on this topic are mostly focussed on universities with lack of research with the booming private higher education sector. Design/methodology/approach: This study draws data from five different private for-profit higher education institutions in Australia. It involved feedback from 120 students undertaking higher education courses in different discipline areas at different stages of study. The study involved 15 focus group interviews with eight students in a group. The selection of students was based on the representation of different characteristics of student such as: male/female, domestic/international, and discipline areas. Findings: An analysis of the data collected from the students across these five institutions indicated that the main factors influencing student choice can be grouped in six domains. These are: student perception; access and opportunity; learning environments; quality of teachers; course design; and graduate success. This study reinforces that student perception of the private for-profit higher education institutions is an important factor in influencing student choice to study at the institution. Research limitations/implications: The limitation of the study was the ability to interview more students from larger colleges, across all discipline areas. However, the time and length of the focus group interviews was largely managed by the five institutions. Originality/value: The private higher education sector has experienced consistent growth in the last few years in Australia. Currently, there is no qualitative research done in Australian private higher education on factors influencing student choice to study with private institutions. The rise of such providers require research on insights about student choice, student expectation and their experience. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.