An Applicant's View | Pre-applicants: Planning for 2022 | UCAS x YouthSight

HE Thinking | 03 Aug 2021


Take a break from the chaos of Clearing and start looking forward to 2022. We share exclusive insights around how your institution can get a head start on winning over next year's pre-applicants...

UCAS' Senior Customer Success Manager, Courteney Sheppard and YouthSight's Managing Director of Research, Josephine Hansom teamed up once again to co-host the tenth webinar in our partnership series. We share new insights around 2022 pre-applicants, uncovering what information this cohort needs, what support they want from you and how your institution can become part of their early decisions.

The full webinar is available to watch on demand or you can catch up on the highlights below.

Watch the playback

1. The State of Play for Pre-applicants: What are they thinking?

In June 2021 we surveyed 577 Year 12 pre-applicants to uncover where they're at with their university choices and what they're looking for from HE professionals to guide them in their decisions. 

The survey revealed that almost 9 in 10 pre-applicants are committed to going to university in 2022, but 11% are still exploring their options. This cohort is gearing up for a summer of decision-making. 

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Those who were exploring alternative options were predominantly interested in apprenticeships and gap years, which is a contrast to last year, where answers were dominated by considerations of 'deferring a year', likely due to greater uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

Fewer pre-applicants are deciding on their five choices compared to pre-applicants in September 2020, but more are starting on their research early on in the cycle. 96% have already done some advance research.

4% have not decided on any universities or courses to apply to, and these pre-applicants are more likely to be male and first in family.

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Clearly, there's still a lot to play for, and being part of pre-applicants decisions early in the cycle will make them more committed to applying to your institution; which means the next few months will be crucial.  

Worries and concerns

The pandemic continues to have an impact and not being able to visit universities before applying is a continued concern. 52% of pre-applicants are worried about applying without having visited the university in person and this is more concerning for white pre-applicants than BAME. The challenge that institutions face, is understanding how to convey a sense of belonging for pre-applicants through virtual events.

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Pre-applicants top concern is writing their personal statement (63% are most worried about this), which is no real surprise as 77% will be writing it over the summer, making it top of mind. Other concerns include: choosing universities (46%), choosing courses (28%), not having enough information (26%) and completing the UCAS application before the deadline (22%).

Around 1 in 10 have 'other' concerns which include: knowledge-gaps, the impact of Covid-19 on university experience and lack of support. 

Only 4% of pre-applicants don't have any worries about applying to university.

Plus, it's not just the application process that is causing concern...95% of pre-applicants have worries about attending university, which primarily relate to: experience, getting enough support and being able to keep up. Many are also concerned about their future after graduating in terms of student debt and finding a job. 

UCAS: What this means for providers - be transparent!

  • The pandemic continues to impact decision-making - institutions should acknowledge this openly when communicating with pre-applicants
  • Institution support provisions must be communicated early, clearly and authentically to maximise impact
  • The next few months are a critical juncture in decision-making and a key time to make a positive impression on those considering alternative options 

2. Information Sources 

Pre-applicants are already doing their research, but 71% said they need more information and guidance. 

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Most pre-applicants want more information about: fees (58%), the application process (53%) and choosing universities (51%). They also want to know more about: accommodation (50%) the Clearing process (42%), finding the right course (39%), finding the right person for guidance (34%) and application deadlines (32%). 

We saw a notable rise in pre-applicants who want more information on accommodation, which ties into their vision of what life will be like at university. UCAS also note that accommodation is becoming a higher priority for pre-applicants. They're not looking for 5* but they are looking for a home that offers safety and security - and anything beyond this is a bonus. If the accommodation does not fulfil these basic needs, it will impact their decisions. 

Who are pre-applicants turning to for information?

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The fallout of the pandemic is still making it difficult for pre-applicants to imagine life at university and most are heavily reliant on virtual sources: 

  • 98% used a university website 
  • 95% used the UCAS website 
  • 90% used a virtual open day

Information sources by importance ranking

As with the previous cohort all sources of information have increased in importance compared to pre-pandemic life and they are looking for more information at a school/college level.

The chart below maps out how they rate sources of information by importance: 

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UCAS: What this means for providers - be clear and engaging!

  • Fees & funding and accommodation are high on the agenda for many - ensure this information is easily available to fulfil information needs
  • Virtual sources remain a vital means of communication - these need to provide an engaging, two-way communication experience to have the greatest impact
  • Provide additional, authentic reassurance for BAME pre-applicants who are seeking advice from other people  

3. How to Impact Decision-Making

The pandemic has made decision-making more challenging for pre-applicants, but it's not strongly impacting choice. The top drivers of choice continue to be course and employability.

73% cite that course is their key driver of decision-making, whilst 53% said high graduate employment rates are most important (which is especially important for BAME pre-applicants). Pre-applicants are looking past the pandemic and are focused on the future - they want to feel reassured about graduate employability and placement opportunities. 

Pre-applicants also need reassuring that a wide-range of support will be available from universities. Financial, emotional and academic support is high on their agenda and these needs have been heightened by the pandemic. 

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UCAS: What this means for providers - be supportive!

  • The impetus on employability is not going away - ensure communications give tangible and relatable examples of how studying at your institution boosts employability 
  • Support provisions must be made clear to pre-applicants - provide details on how they can get help financially, emotionally and academically 
  • Course remains the pivotal factor of choice, so optimise courses and course information in-line with pre-applicant needs 

Key takeaways

Pre-applicants are not just looking at getting into university anymore. They want to know what life will be like once they're there and what employability prospects they'll gain - essentially, what will their investment lead to. 

Universities need to make employability relatable, providing alumni stories and showcasing previous students' paths to success. 

Support provisions must also be made clear. Pre-applicants are looking for the whole package and they expect to see it referenced in the application journey.

Then finally, the course itself is the key factor in decision-making from initial research to firm choice. Your institution needs to keep module information available to pre-applicants as early as possible.

  • 87% of UCAS pre-applicants are committed to attending university in 2022
  • 74% are yet to choose their university - everything is to play for 
  • It will be a summer of decision-making for many pre-applicants 
  • Pre-applicants require information about accommodation, fees and funding and support
  • Pre-applicants are keen to understand what their university experience will look like (especially true for BAME)

View the full series 

Win over next year's applicants 

We offer research tools that are tailor-made for HE professionals, which take the stress and uncertainty off your shoulders - all available instantly and on a budget that suits your institution.

Find out the answers to your specific questions and challenges and apply them to your recruitment strategy to win over next year's applicants. The tools offer: ongoing insight into the mindset of students, access to one-off reports, solutions to specific challenges or a few quick answers.

Find out more

Webinar Series - Catch up on demand

This webinar is part of a series that is developed in partnership with our client at UCAS, to bring free insights that support HE professionals through these different times. The series will guide you through how your UG, PGT and prospective students are feeling throughout the crisis and what they are looking for from those around them. 

All the previous webinar recordings - including this one - are available to watch through UCAS on demand, or you can also catch up with more highlights from our blog.

View the complete series


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