An Applicant's View: What are 2021 Applicants Thinking? | UCAS x YouthSight

HE Thinking | 22 Sep 2020

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In our latest webinar with our client at UCAS, we return to the beginning of the recruitment cycle to look at how 2021 applicants are feeling about going to university next year. We shed light on what their concerns are, what resources they’re using and what stage of the decision-making they’re at.


We asked our pre-app cohort (students who have just returned to school as year 13s) how Covid-19 has impacted their decisions about applying to university and what information they need to commit to their firm choice.

Planning for 2021: will competition run high?

Reassuringly, the research paints a positive picture for the sector, as 4 in 5 pre-apps are saying they are committed to going to university in 2021. This group is confident and comfortable about making decisions and are conducting their own research as opposed to relying on advice from family and friends.

We can also see from our research that course choice remains generally unaffected by the pandemic with 83% saying their decision has not changed.

But what next year’s applicants are not so set on, is their choice of university. Only 27% have chosen their final 5 universities and 1 in 10 haven’t made any decisions at all. So, this year it’s all to play for as pre-apps are open to new opportunities. The pandemic made their world small and they now want to expand it again.

Recognising and addressing applicant concerns

We asked our pre-app cohort what worries they had about applying. 59% were concerned about not being about to attend real-life open days and 54% were concerned about completing their personal application.

Then when we zone-in to those who were considering changing course choice (17%), many were making this decision because they were concerned about the difficultly of the course, which highlights their concern about their disrupted education – a worry that we often see crop-up in our research and through our community blog.

Information needs, drivers of choice and research resources

All information sources have become more important to pre-apps. And their top go-to resource is university websites. 99% of pre-apps have conducted research using a company website.

This is your most important marketing tool right now, and it should be updated regularly, have accessible information, be dynamic and be relevant to their information needs.

So what information do next year's applicants want from you? One of the key takeaways from this wave of research is that these applicants are thinking long term. They are faced with the scary prospect of leaving university in an economic downturn, so it's no real surprise that employability is high on their agenda.

They will be looking at universities who have a good graduate recruitment record, offer good work placement opportunities and are high in the league tables. Alumni may just be your secret weapon in your upcoming marketing campaigns.  

Key takeaways to help plan for 2021

There is an overwhelming number of pre-apps who are committed to going to university next year. They are open to new opportunities and looking for reassurance to commit to their firm choices. Information needs to be practical, but also appeal to their emotional needs.

Virtual events have become more popular and these are your platform to help pre-apps visualise being at your university. And as well as this, they are thinking well beyond HE. Tailoring your messaging to employability opportunities will offer the reassurance they're looking for.


Win over next year's applicants 

We offer a suite of research tools tailor-made for HE professionals that 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 suite offers: 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

We partnered with our client at UCAS to bring a series of free insights to 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 and here you can also register for the next event.  

Register / Watch Webinars

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