Lessons learned from August's UCAS Media insight newsletter

Tuesday 17 August 2021, UCAS advice


Lessons learned from August's UCAS Media insight newsletter

And just like that, it’s time for Clearing again.

But this is a results phase like no other. It’s been a tough 18 months for young people – from current students, to pre-applicants, and even those with university still a couple of years away. All of the unanswered questions, the challenges of predicted grades, and the will-they-won’t-they of campus lockdowns – they’ve all added up.

But here might be the beginning of a new, post-pandemic, higher education. And there are some big changes in the student psyche that you need to be aware of.

The UCAS Media Insight Newsletter is your monthly snapshot of what’s going on in the sector; how student behaviours are changing, what policy is coming over the hill, and how you can leverage our resources for your benefit. You can sign up here.

Here’s what happened in July 2021:


In September of 2020, the UK was well on its way to a second lockdown. We ate out and helped out, we’d adhered to the rule of six, but we were slowly watching those restrictions being backtracked. 

Imagine, therefore, trying to make a decision about your future whilst riding that see-saw.

When we asked pre-applicants about their commitment to going to university, around 80% of them had made their minds up. Still quite high, all things considered.

But the good news is that this year, it’s up to 87% in June. That’s almost 9 in 10 pre-applicants who have their hearts and minds set on university in 2022.

Cue a busy summer for thousands of young people:

  • 77% are writing their personal statement
  • 64% are picking their university choices
  • 52% are looking at accommodation *
  • 46% are speaking to universities they’re interested in.

*When you combine this with those who have already researched their accommodation, that makes almost 70% of them in active choosing mode. We don’t normally see numbers that high this early. Now might be a good time to get yourself listed on UCAS Accommodation Search, it’s free for the 2022 cycle.

But the main headline for universities is that whilst confidence is up, the majority (74%) still haven’t made their final decision on where to go yet. Everything’s up for grabs.


Every July we release our Student Decision Reports. Included within are comments, feedback, and ratings about the universities that students replied to. Armed with this information, universities are able to improve on their weaknesses and double down on their strengths.

The reports also provide an insight into the type of communication and content which is important to young people, particularly those making big decisions about their future – which may influence not only universities but also accommodation providers, employers, and businesses looking to engage with the Gen Z market.

But focussing specifically on making their final decision between universities, applicants told us that what really mattered to them was:

  • Range of modules
  • Student reviews
  • Social life.

Look closer, however, and it’s more nuanced. Graduate earning potential, social life, and university activities turned out to be more important to males than females – whilst communication is more important than social life for Scottish and Northern Irish students. 

Contact us for the full reports.


But 2022 is something else entirely.

Next year, many undergraduates will have been living with the reality of the pandemic since they were 16 years old. Almost their entire sixth form or college experience has been coloured by COVID-19. Not only does university represent all of the classic escapism and liberation that it always has, now it represents an all new type of freedom.

And with that comes both excitement and trepidation. 

Pre-applicants are talking about different factors than they used to:

  • Financial support during studies (36%, or 51% for first in family students)
  • Mental health support during studies (31%)
  • Additional support, like workload management (26%)
  • Universities close to home (18%, or 26% for BAME students)

And whilst the provision of these characteristics may influence university marketing and communications over the summer, the stalwart influences can’t be forgotten. Many remain as true as ever in pre-applicant decision making:

  • 73% want a course with perfectly suited content
  • 51% want high graduate employment rates
  • 44% want positive reviews from students
  • 42% want high league table rankings
  • 31% want a great social scene.

As for what else might be worth including in promotional material over the coming months, we also asked students exactly what they wanted to know about right now. 

Watch our webinar from July or view the slides for the full insight.

And, of course, next month’s newsletter is going to feature all of the insight for Clearing.

You won’t want to miss that. 

Sign up here.