Lessons learned from October's UCAS Media Insight Newsletter

Wednesday 20 October 2021, UCAS advice

by UCAS Media

Lessons learned from October's UCAS Media Insight Newsletter

UCAS Media

UK students are into the swing of what they’re hoping is an academic year showing signs of normality again. As towns and cities bustle with the energy of undergraduates, sixth formers can now, for perhaps the first time in two years, look forward to the university experience they expected.

And for providers looking to engage with next year’s applicants, we’re presenting our research into what drove 2021 decision-making, in order to help them get ahead for 2022.

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 September 2021:


The results are in from our 2021 Clearing Survey, which this year polled more than 3,000 students who found their places through Clearing. Providing a temperature test of student sentiment and insight into their decision making, it provides a rich resource for providers looking to improve their content, marketing, and recruitment strategies.

The headline: what matters most has changed dramatically.

With another uncertain year ahead and a year of restrictions behind, Clearing’s 2021 students arrived at university in an altogether different manner to their predecessors. More desk research, fewer open days, and greater uncertainties about a post-pandemic world means that what they were looking for is different to those who came before.

TEF rating was seen as almost 20% more important in 2021 compared to 2020. Good student reviews is a major factor to 86% of respondents, compared to 74% last year, and the quality of staff/teaching is now almost universal, up to 92% from 86%.

And of the main 8 factors we track, students told us that all but 1 of them are more important than last year. Challenging courses were important to 62% of students last year, but this time around it’s only 55%. Last year’s intake arrived after missing considerable chunks of education via lockdowns and homeschooling, but this year’s had a more structured experience. The lessening importance of a course’s challenge may suggest that confidence is returning.


This year’s results also busting one of the oldest myths about Clearing: that you’ll end up in a university you weren’t interested in.

Almost a quarter of all students in the 2021 cycle found a place at one of the universities they’d already applied to - and more than three quarters at a university they’d researched. Just 5% were placed with a provider they knew nothing about.

This is a trend that has been growing year-on-year. Clearing is now firmly entrenched as an integral part of the application cycle, not just another step tagged onto the end of it. With the majority of students finding themselves re-researching or re-applying to providers they already know, your January deadline campaigns are just as important as your Clearing campaigns.

When it comes to deciding on your channels, 45% of researching students are using UCAS to discover more about potential providers and courses (through the website and Clearing Plus), whilst another 38% go directly to university and college websites, but social media is quickly becoming a chief repository of information.

Instagram, despite being a relatively text-free platform, is leading the way with 36%. Its almost universal appeal and easy interface make it a breeze to find content. Facebook comes next, perhaps the more natural platform given its groups and message board style, followed by YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Even those who chose to stick with traditional website research can’t deny the impact of social media, with more than half of Clearing students having seen adverts for their eventual placement on social media (+10% from last year.)


Last month we told you about PAD22, our database of next year’s potential applicants, and how crucial it could be in looking to engage with future students. 

And whilst it’s difficult to quantify the importance of building brand loyalty before the application cycle begins, we can put a figure on PAD22 itself. A few figures, in fact…

PAD22 now contains more than 800,000 would-be students who have yet to submit their application, with significant growth in 23 subject areas and all 5 POLAR quintiles. It also stretches internationally, with more sign-ups from key markets like China, Spain, and Australia. This record-breaking number, coupled with the fact that 71% of pre-applicants have told us they need more information to choose providers, gives you the who, why, how, and what of your next marketing campaign. 

Now you just need to decide when. Get in touch.

For more like this, and to sign up for our Insight Newsletter which is released every month, register here.