The Covid Cohort: Understanding 2022 applicants

Assets from webinar held on 6 May 2021

A years' worth of research into the impact of covid on 2022 applicants and student recruitment.

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Covid key events timeline

TSR Insight has been tracking the impact of covid on 2022 applicants since the first lockdown. We shared our findings in the Navigating Changing Options reports:

  • WAVE 1 | 2 - 14 April 2020
    2022 applicants are in year 11
  • WAVE 2 |1 - 15 June 2020 
    2022 applicants await GCSE results
  • WAVE 3 | 11 - 26 October 2020 
    2022 applicants are starting year 12
  • WAVE 4 | 27 Feb - 14 March 2021 
    2022 applicants are in year 12


    WAVE 5 | TBC 
    2022 applicants are in year 12 (summer term)

    WAVE 6 | TBC 
    2022 applicants are in year 13

    The impact covid has already had on 2022 applicants

    Exams: 80% of 2022 applicants were happy with their GCSE grades and 63% felt they got what they deserved. Some were concerned about how they would perform in future exams, having not sat GCSEs in 2020. (Wave 3, Base: 587)

    Concerns about their education: In October, we asked 2022 applicants what they were worried about:

    • Motivation to work - 78%
    • Lost teaching time - 71%
    • Impact on grades - 70%

    Applicant poll: Top concerns regarding university applications

    Missing work experience opportunities
    Missing face-to-face university open days
    Missing extra curricular activities for my personal statement
    Missing UCAS/HE Fairs to find out about university

    Wave 3, Base: 604

    Motivation and mental health has gone down the drain and literally everyone I know hates school and their current subjects now... it's like watching their passion for learning just die slowly 🙂
    User, The Student Room

    Student wellbeing and mental health

    Mental health: In March 2021, only 20% described their mental health positively (vs 61% pre-covid).

    Wave 4, Base: 666

    Coping in the pandemic: Just 40% said they felt able to cope with the uncertainty of lockdown (vs 51% in April 2020).

    Connections with peers: Fewer felt able to access a support network or connect with peers remotely.

    Wave 1: 856, Wave 4: 664

    In the first two weeks of March, 4,295 posts from 2088 unique posters on The Student Room mentioned "stress", "anxiety" or "worry".

    Applicant Poll: Which, if any, of the following are you worried about?

    The covid cohort have had issues to deal with which have never affected another group. On top of those listed below. they may have lost loved ones or been studying at home with parents who are trying to work from home. Their parents may have been made redundant.

    Increased since October 2020

    Motivating myself to work (March 2021)
    Motivating myself to work (Oct 2020)
    Catching up lost teaching time (March 2021)
    Catching up lost teaching time (Oct 2020)
    Impact on grades (March 2021)
    Impact on grades (Oct 2020)
    Cramming extra study/coursework into this year (March 2021)
    Cramming extra study/coursework into this year (Oct 2020)

    Decreased since October 2020

    Uncertainty about future lockdowns (March 2021)
    Uncertainty about future lockdowns (Oct 2021)
    Catching covid (March 2021)
    Catching covid (Oct 2021)

    Wave 3 Base: 604, Wave 4 Base: 731

    Impact on future behaviour and decision-making

    email templates

    17% said covid-19 had influenced their subject choice

    Wave 4, Base: 638

    Factors influencing the likelihood of switching subject choice as a result of covid:

    • Grades: 23% of those predicted AAB-BBB said covid impacted their subject choice (vs 14% predicted AAA+)
    • 20% of first generation said covid impacted their subject choice (vs 14% if parents had been to university)
    • Lack of work experience, 68% worried about getting a job (Wave 4, Base 667)
    • Worry that they will not get the grades for their original choice
    • Lack of motivation and self-confidence to pursue high-pressure careers
    • Increased time to consider their options

    I need to go with the safer option as covid as made me realise how easy it is to be out of a job

    User, The Student Room

    13% said covid-19 had influenced their university choice

    Wave 4, Base: 638

    Factors influencing likelihood of switching university choice as a result of covid:

    • Gender: females were more likely to say that covid had impacted their university choice, they were also more likely to be unsure
    • Lacking the confidence that they will achieve the required grades
    • Lacking motivation to apply for universities with high entry requirments
    • Desire to be closer to home (in case of more lockdowns)
    • No opportunity to visit universities
    • How universities are responding during the pandemic/how they treat current students

    Some universities that I considered, have dealt with this pandemic in a terrible way and have treated students poorly. I have decided not to attend those universities.

    User, The Student Room

    email templates
    email templates

    10% were more interested in staying local for university

    Wave 4, Base: 608

    Are 2022 applicants more likely to stay at home for university?

    • For most (71%) their plans haven't changed
    • 19% wanted to move further away, while 10% wanted to stay local
    • Some wanted to be able to get home easily in case there is another lockdown

    I want to be in university away from home so I can enjoy myself but close to transport so I can leave last minute and quickly if anything happens.

    User, The Student Room

    WEBINAR ATTENDEE POLL: Are 2022 applicants more likely to want to stay at home?
    Have you noticed a change to your local recruitment? (144 responses)

    No noticable difference

    Parental influence on university decisions

    Wave 4, Base: 603

    Poll: How, if at all, are your parents/guardians/carers currently influencing your university decision-making at the moment?

    They're not influencing my decision
    Encouraging me to stay closer to home
    Encouraging me to stay at home for university
    Encouraging me to consider options further away
    Encouraging me not to defer/take a gap year
    Encouraging me to defer/take a gap year

    First in family/free school meals respondents were more likely to be encouraged to stay at home for university.

    email templates

    How 2022 applicants are researching universities

    (Wave 4 Base 604)

    • 55% of 2022 applicants plan to use virtual open days to research university.
    • 41% of respondents had already attended a virtual open day before March 2021, and of these 81% found them useful. (Wave 4 Base 606, 253 respectively)
    • 71% of respondents would like to attend both in-person and virtual events if restrictions allow. (Wave 4 Base 604)

    Other popular choices for research were: UCAS, Google, online forums (like The Student Room), league tables and university comparison sites (like TheUniGuide).

    WEBINAR ATTENDEE POLL: What does your plan for summer open days currently look like? (195 responses)

    On campus, in person open days (restrictions allowing)
    Virtual open days
    Hybrid of on campus and virtual open days

    What 2022 applicants want

    What they want from open days

    61% are looking forward to visiting universities in person. (Wave 4 Base 662) We also asked what they want from virtual open days, and these were the most popular responses (Wave 4 Base 599):

    Specifics of the course: 76%

    Taster lecture/workshop: 69%.

    Meet teachers: 53%

    Meet students: 48%

    Access on-demand: 47%

    What information they want from universities

    Most in-demand were: (Wave 4 Base 572):

    Course information: 90%

    Application/personal statement guidance: 79%.

    Interview/audition information: 70%

    Flexibility of entry requirements due to covid: 67%

    Work experience requirements in light of covid: 66%

    Accommodation information: 64%

    How covid will impact studies/student life: 62%

    What they want after lockdown

    96% want to keep some features of their lockdown lives. On average, students picked 4.5 aspects that they would like to maintain.

    The most popular requests were: (Wave 4 Base 656):

    Flexibility to work/study at a time that suits them: 57%

    Flexibility to work/study from home: 51%.

    Want to continue studying more independently: 47%

    Key takeaways

      1. 2022 applicants are struggling with mental health issues, low motivation and a lack of confidence
      2. This cohort want more flexibility around when, where and how they study
      3. They want to know what allowances/plans you have to mitigate the impact of covid on their studies, employability and student lives
      4. They notice how you treat current students during the pandemic and are making decisions based on this
      5. They want to visit your university in person
      6. They have lost a lot of teaching time, so may be feeling under pressure or underprepared for university
      7. They need supportive, clear communications

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