Why 2020 is still a good year to apply to university

There are many reasons why applying to university is still a good idea in 2020, writes university admissions director David Seaton

August 10 2020

Prospective students may think they’ve drawn the short straw as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, whether they are going to university this year or planning to apply for the next academic year.

Although the virus has undoubtedly changed what the university experience looks like, the glass isn’t half empty and new students should not be worried about making university plans because of the uncertainty that Covid-19 has brought.

Many prospective students will be wondering whether it might be worth delaying their application and their university experience. My advice to applicants is to consider the long-term situation. By starting higher education now they will be on the path to a graduate-level job.

Also, with the employment market for 16- to 24-year-olds turbulent because of Covid-19, and with the current travel restrictions in place, applicants need to carefully consider what they would do with a gap year.?

For those who want to take a year out and can come back to their university application next year with an enhanced CV, delaying their entry could be worthwhile. The truth though is that it is now harder than ever to set up a career-boosting gap year experience, so for most potential students deferment to avoid Covid-19’s impact on their university experience may not be a good idea.

If you are planning to study this academic year, some universities are giving new students the option to start in February, with the aim of allowing them to avoid turning up at university when social distancing is in place. This may be an attractive option for some.

The important aspect of this for applicants to understand is the study patterns for a February start.?Some universities will offer a condensed first year that could prove difficult for those who don’t want their learning to proceed at an accelerated pace.?


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It may be surprising to hear but in some respects Covid-19 has actually changed the system in ways students might prefer. Depending on the applicant’s circumstances and needs, applying to university does not need to be something to feel anxious or disappointed about.

For a start, with exams cancelled and some confirmation decisions based on grades awarded by teachers, universities are likely to take a broader view of the strength of an application this year. Other school grades, references and the personal statement should all count for more.

When it comes to confirming an offer universities will be prepared to show a greater level of flexibility on the grade requirements and should be more supportive of those who do not quite meet their targets.

Looking further ahead to applications for the 2021/2022 academic year, we might go back to the normal pre-Covid system, but if the virus is still with us and a vaccine or treatment has not been found, we are likely to see the same situation again next year.

Should this be the case, the advantage would be that we have already gone through the same issues this year, so universities would be in a much better position to face it again.

In addition Covid-19 and the social distancing measures that go with it have prompted an improvement in student services, with everything from lectures to the level of care and support by pastoral staff being stepped up.

Since the start of the pandemic universities have been working harder than ever to provide a mix of learning resources and to ensure students are properly supported. A lot of thought and effort has gone in to designing online activities and group-based tasks, as well as live online sessions.

Universities have learned from experience throughout the lockdown. At the start home-based learning was predominantly live online sessions but it is now more varied, as a broader approach was found to be better for the overall learning experience.

Student services have also been delivering telephone support and email advice for students since the beginning of lockdown. Within the first couple of weeks universities launched dedicated sections of their websites to answer student enquiries around remote working and other coronavirus-related topics.

Support staff are motivated to ensure no one loses out because of the lack of face-to-face contact. If a student does have worries or concerns they will find support teams better equipped to help them than ever before.

Although people are worried about applying at the moment, the picture is still positive, with Ucas applications being ahead of where they were last year.?We are seeing many applicants making their decisions later and it is expected that we will see a larger than usual number of Ucas applications at the point of clearing this year.

International students may be apprehensive about travelling to the UK because of the ongoing pandemic but universities have been preparing for their arrival, and student support teams and international offices will be on hand to provide dedicated assistance and advice to ensure their experience goes as smoothly as possible.

According to government advice, students arriving in the UK from a nation outside the common travel area (other than exempt countries) will be asked to head straight to their accommodation from the airport or train station and self-isolate for 14 days.

Most universities have put measures in place to assist students staying?in campus accommodation in getting food and essentials to make sure they are comfortable while quarantining after their arrival. They will also have remote access to their courses and tutors via online learning support and virtual teaching.

Once they have completed their self-isolation period, international students will be able to meet up with their peers in small groups, attend on-campus teaching and access the facilities, such as the library, in accordance to their university’s procedures and abiding to social distance measures. However, many of these restrictions are changing every day so be sure to regularly check travel advice in your home country and for the UK.

Although there will be limitations in place, international students should not be deterred from coming to UK universities since the sector has been preparing for welcoming them and ensuring their safety and security.

Those prospective international students looking to apply for the 2021/22 academic year should rest assured that the measures universities have already put in place this year will even be more polished when it comes to welcoming them in 2021, should these still be required (which hopefully won’t be the case).

It is good to be optimistic and there are plenty of reasons to think that going to university in the current climate can still be an enriching and positive experience, even if some elements of social distancing are still in place on campus or the university experience has changed. After all, some changes could actually be for the better, especially if you consider flexibility of study and the enhanced use of technology.

David Seaton is the assistant director of student recruitment and admissions at the University of Bedfordshire.

Read more:?Your student experience is on hold; career development doesn’t have to?be

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