Lessons learned from September's UCAS Media insight newsletter

Monday 20 September 2021, Support


Lessons learned from September's UCAS Media insight newsletter


And there we have it, another Clearing cycle (almost) done and dusted.

Most students who are going into higher education this year have been placed and now the mass migration of young people begins.

But this year it’s not quite that simple. In what we hope is beginning to look like a post-pandemic world, the impacts of the pandemic are going to live long in the memory (and behaviour) of UK students. 

This application cycle has seen records set and broken, some overwhelmingly positive for the sector and the future, but some that will present challenges in the years to come. Lecture theatres may be shortly buzzing with life again for the first time in almost two years, but ‘back to normal’ is likely still a way off.

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 August 2021:


Our ‘Day 28’ data release is one of the most anticipated of the year, showing how higher education has behaved in the month following results day. 

This year was particularly interesting, given all the debate around the impact of higher results via predicted grades. With more top performers than ever before, how would this affect admissions in a post-COVID world?

Well, in short, it meant thousands more students than usual attained their first choice course and university – 420,750 to be precise. That’s 5% more than this time last year. Plus, acceptance at higher tariff providers also rose by 3% with many of the more prestigious (and selective) universities having shown flexibility to expand their intakes and capture these star students.

Most impressively, 2021 has set a new record with the number of 18-year-olds being accepted into a university or college: 272,500 – a 7% increase. This means that 37.9% of all UK 18-year-olds will be in higher education next cycle!


At the other end of the record breakers is Clearing, where acceptances are 33% down on last year. This is in even sharper focus when you consider that the pool of those who were able to go through Clearing increased, making that drop-off even stranger.

One of the most common reasons for a student not ending up with a place, in any cycle, is a change in personal circumstances – or deciding to reapply/reassess after seeing their grades. And in a year with more personal circumstance changes than ever before, plus the fact that many applications may have been driven by the pandemic and are now being reconsidered in a post-COVID world, maybe these non-acceptances are not strange. Maybe they are simply the product of one of the most peculiar, mutable, and uncertain application cycles in history...

But what this means for higher education is that there are, as we write this, almost 150,000 eligible Clearing students who are still unplaced. Some of these students will now be looking to apply for 2022, so we could be on track for an even more phenomenal influx.

(You can get ahead of the game by utilising the UCAS emails that, when sent to last year’s unplaced applicants, netted open rates of 30% during September.)


And that’s not even counting our PAD22 database, which is made up of the potential applicants from next year, and is now at the highest it’s ever been.

Primarily containing those 16-18-year-olds in college and sixth form who are looking to move into higher education, it represents one of the greatest opportunities to engage early with potential students (and customers.) We know from our research, which tells us time and time again, that the way to build loyalty within this audience is to get there as early as possible. Be front-of-mind, or even in the back of their minds, when it comes to decision making time – and you stand a much greater chance of being the choice they make.

Our PAD22 database is 185% larger (when it comes to email opt-ins) than it was last year. That means more than 400,000 potential applicants – plus another 120,000 SMS opt-ins and 75,000 direct mail opt-ins.

(Our research also tells us that less than 5% of young people have no worries about their application and that almost 75% need more information and guidance first. Being the one to provide this clarity could get you ahead of the game.)

And having spent the time to revamp the registration process for PAD22, the database now covers a wider audience that can be targeted on subject, region, polar quintile, study region of interest, and school.

If you want to steal a march on the competition and start using this data, get in touch.

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