A Level Results Day 2021: The Top 5 Trends from this Year's Comms

HE Thinking | 20 Aug 2021


Last year chaos reigned on Results Day, as A Level grades and Scottish Highers were assessed by teachers for the first time. This year however, students had a different mindset. The mood was calmer and students were more confident about their grades – a far cry from the confusion and uncertainty of last year.

In our annual report we reveal the top five communication strategies in response to this year’s Results Day and why it’s so important for universities to get it right!

Your marcomms is a top driver of choice

Data from our tracking product Undergraduate Success, reveals that “dealings with me” (i.e. the university’s marcomms) is the fourth most important driver of university choice – ahead of university reputation (see chart below).

Blog image - A Levels Comms 2021

We also know that for students who are still deciding on their university after Results Day, “campus social life” and “dealings with the university” play a greater role in their decisions (Undergraduate Success, 2021). It shows just how important your marcomms are during this time and that there’s still a lot to play for - it’s not the time to be complacent.

Changing perceptions around teacher assessments

Students were feeling more confident in the build up to receiving their results compared to last year. Click the link below to hear directly from Year 13s in the week prior to getting their results.

Watch: A Level Students Before Receiving their Results

These students had reason to feel confident. The majority achieved top A Level grades this year, with a record high (44.8%) getting A* or A grades (BBC News).

In this video we hear students talk about their grades on the day they received their results.

HubSpot Video


It’s clear that this year’s students are in a different headspace to last year. They’re more content with their results and happier with the grading system (although, they would have still preferred to sit exams).

Top 5 communications strategies

Our Higher Education research team have been tracking the response from across the sector and below we reveal: the key themes surrounding this year's marcomms; how these have changed from previous years; and whether these strategies resonate with this year’s applicants.

1. The tone was empathic - a far cry from the humour we've seen in previous years

Last year we reported that empathy had replaced humour, reflecting the general tone of 2020. This year, universities have taken the same stance, avoiding the light-hearted approach of pre-pandemic times, and steering towards a more serious and informative tone.

Blog image - A Levels Comms 2021 (8)


When publishing empathic, supportive content it’s essential that universities open two-way channels for applicants to respond. It’s something we’ve been advocating in our webinar series with UCAS (The Student & Applicant Mindset) and it’s great to see so many institutions putting it into practice.

Blog image - A Levels Comms 2021 (6)


Blog image - A Levels Comms 2021 (10)

2. Generating buzz – eradicating the stigma around Clearing

Clearing has previously had a negative stigma attached to it. Universities are working to break these barriers and show the exciting opportunities that Clearing offers, rather than it being seen as a fall-back option.

Blog image - A Levels Comms 2021 (11)

Source: University of Brighton, Instagram Source: Coventry University, Instagram


Blog image - A Levels Comms 2021 (13)

Source: Edinburgh Napier University, Instagram Source: University of Leicester, Twitter


Our research indicates that students are becoming more open to applying through Clearing and 16% of applicants are now using it because their grades were better than expected (Marcomms Success, 2021).

Selling the benefits of Clearing could win over applicants who are not even on your radar yet.

3. Being relatable is key – students sharing their stories offers authenticity 

We’re often shouting about the importance of having an authentic voice in marcomms and this year we saw so much of it shining through in university strategies. Undergraduates and alumni who share their experiences gives students the genuine reassurance they're looking for.

Blog image - A Levels Comms 2021 (14)

Source: University of Brighton, Student Blog Source: Loughborough University, TikTok


Blog image - A Levels Comms 2021 (15)

Source: University of Southampton, Facebook Source: University of Brighton, Facebook


4. Recycling content – are universities putting less effort into their comms?

One of the key differences we noted this year, was the gap between universities that posted regularly and those who didn’t.

Universities who posted more often, tended to target their content to different platforms and audiences. Whereas, infrequent posters often used the same media across channels.

Blog image - A Levels Comms 2021 (16)

Source: University of Exeter, Twitter Source: University of Exeter, Facebook


Blog image - A Levels Comms 2021 (18)

Source: The University of Sheffield, Twitter Source: The University of Sheffield, Facebook


What makes more impact? There’s an argument for less is more. However, more personalised comms will achieve greater cut-through with audiences.

5. Creating a sense of belonging – a popular angle to win over applicants

Last year students wanted reassurance around what life will be like at the university if Covid restrictions are in place.

This theme continued this year with the use of imagery centred around student and campus life. This helps applicants visualise themselves at the university and creates a sense of belonging, which is important when applicants are relying on virtual open days.

Blog image - A Levels Comms 2021 (19)

Source: University of Brighton, Twitter Source: Coventry University, Facebook


Universities such as Loughborough opened up campus tours outside of open days and the University of Bristol's Instagram account has a city tour highlights reel.

Blog image - A Levels Comms 2021 (20)

Source: Loughborough University, Twitter Source: University of Bristol, Instagram


But, with so many universities taking the same approach, some of the personality and individuality that we've seen in the past, has become lost along the way.

Our verdict:

There is greater confidence among students this year. They have better insight into what life will be like at university during a pandemic and they are realistic about possible restrictions being in place when they start in September.

Fewer applicants are considering deferring this year compared to last year and our latest UCAS webinar revealed pre-applicants are also showing similar confidence levels, with almost 9 in 10 stating they are committed to going to university next year (click here to read the full blog).

Despite feeling confident, students are still hungry for more information and support, which many universities have delivered. What’s missing now is brand differentiation.

Many strategies relied on the laurels of their 2020 approach. But this year's applicants are different – they are excited and more certain about their futures – so it’s time to bring back the personality to your marcomms!

Related Content

If you found this useful, you can also read last year's blog to see how attitudes that impact choice have changed in the past 12 months.

Undergraduate Success

Securing applicants is one of the toughest challenges, especially as attitudes and behaviours can change so drastically from one recruitment cycle to the next. A subscription to Undergraduate Success will reveal what is driving applicant choice - for your institution and sector wide.

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Book a demo today. We offer instant and remote set up, so you can dive straight into the data and learn what drives conversion at your institution. 

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Undergraduate Success is one of four tracking products from our HE Success Suite. Each product is tailor-made for the HE sector and is designed to empower universities to achieve their attraction and conversion goals. The products deliver unrivalled market competitor knowledge and years of back-data that solves challenges around the entire recruitment cycle. 


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