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Coronavirus Student Survey: How Study Plans Are Changing

The Coronavirus pandemic has forced many prospective students to re-think their upcoming study plans. How? We conducted a survey to find out.

Jamie Dobbs
by Jamie Dobbs

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By now, waking up and spending most of your day at home will feel like the norm. You’ll know the four walls of your room better than ever. For many students, it has been a chance to recharge, reflect and re-evaluate their future studies. For those looking to begin study in 2020/21, you may be using this time to work out how, or if, your upcoming study plans will change. At Whatuni, we’re intrigued to know what students like you are thinking, so we can help.

To find out, we surveyed prospective students in S6 and Year 13 to get a sense of how their study plans are changing in light of Coronavirus, including what their fears may be, and what their hopes are for the future. We wanted to get a direct picture as to what was swirling through the minds of those pondering their upcoming first year. 

To ensure that we captured a solid representation of prospective students within our survey, we had it run for the first 2 weeks of April. We really wanted to dive deep into prospective students’ minds, and given the kaleidoscopic nature of the pandemic’s effects, aimed to get as many responses as possible over that period.

We’ll break down what we found amongst the 280 S6 & Year 13 student responses, what the key findings were, and how this can help you with any upcoming decisions you yourself may have to make.

How Are Students’ Study Plans Changing?

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At the beginning of this survey, students were initially asked whether they have considered changing their study plans in any way. Given the choice of ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘I don’t know’, we found that the majority of students (60%) have no intention of changing their study plans. Only 22% are considering some type of change, with 19% unsure at this point. 

Of those that suggested they were going to make a change to their study plans, the most popular change seemed to be applying to university 12 months later (24%). The next most popular change appeared to be switching universities (23%), which proved to outweigh, in popularity, a change in course (13%).

Questioning whether to begin your studies this year has been a current dilemma for many prospective students. Do I stick with my plans  this year or should I wait until next year? How about putting it off for 6 months? According to our survey, the vast majority of students are still looking to begin their studies in 2020 as usual. Only a quarter of students believe they will look to start their degree in 2021, with 5% saying they’re unsure. For those who anticipate changing any of their upcoming study plans, well over half (59%) will still begin in 2020.

When it comes to postponing studies, students in large part were not keen to do so. For those that were, postponing for 12 months - rather than 6 - was the winner. Of those considering a change to their study plans, only 24% suggested they might apply a year later, with an even lower 13% suggesting a January start.

We were also interested to get students’ views on doing their courses online. Students were asked to consider whether they’d be open to starting their course online in the knowledge that it would eventually become face-to-face. ‘No thanks’, you could say. Of all students, only 10% would consider the option. For those intending to change their study plans, a mere 6% favoured this option. Ok but what about switching online completely? This was even less popular. Only 1% of prospective students would consider a fully online course.

Another prominent concern amongst prospective students, in light of Coronavirus, is whether a switch to part-time study should be considered. Our survey suggested that students wouldn’t prefer the switch. Of our total student sample, only 2% agreed that they may look to switch, with only 2% of those changing their study plans favouring a part-time shift.

What Are Students Most Worried About?

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Through this survey, it was important to us that we got to the bottom of what concerned students the most. School performance proved to be a major concern for students. Being given a lower grade by their teacher than they feel they deserve was the most popular concern (10%) amongst all students. This was closely followed by concern about how negatively poor mock exam results would impact final grades (10%), with the struggle to focus on studies since the closure of schools coming in just behind (10%). This suggests that many students would welcome more clarity from their school with how the ensuing months will play out, and are thinking ahead as to how this will affect university entry.

Another concern that arose amongst students was to do with starting university. 9% of students felt that their main concern was whether the course would still start on the expected date. Our survey results also suggested if university was to start online, they’d be worried about not getting the full university experience/making friends (7%). 

However, our results did tell us what students maybe aren’t as concerned about. With Ofqual announcing how all GCSEs, A-Levels and BTECs will now be graded, students don’t seem overly concerned about applying to uni without the traditional qualifications (4%). The further disinterest in taking their course online was reflected in only 3% of students being worried that their school or university hadn’t set up online classes. 

How Do Students Feel About Open Days Being Cancelled?

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With universities being shut for the time being, the likelihood of any on-campus open days going ahead anytime soon is low. Fortunately, through the cleverness and brilliance of the human mind, we now have the technology that allows for virtual open days. You’ll find that many universities in the UK are switching to virtual open days over the next few months, allowing students to tour the campus, hear talks and chat to staff all through their computer. 

So, how do you prospective students feel about this? 43% of all students suggested they will rely on virtual open days and tours instead, with 31% not planning on going to any open days. Only a minor portion of students we spoke to (9%) considered starting their studies later in order to visit the campus in-person first. 

As for the portion of students considering a change to their study plans? 33% were not planning on attending any open days anyway, with 30% intending to make use of virtual open days. However a sizeable percentage (18%) of them believed an on-campus open day was necessary before deciding when to study.

If you are looking to book any upcoming virtual open days, have a mosey on over to Whatuni’s 'Find an Open Day' page. Here, you'll be able to see when any upcoming open days are taking place and book yourself a place.

What Does This All Mean?

All in all, the results of this study are incredibly encouraging. Despite the Coronavirus challenging prospective students to evaluate the months that lie ahead, the majority would like to stick to their original plans, with few students being deterred from studying.

There exists a strong willingness to continue a pursuit of full-time study, rather than part-time. The value of face-to-face teaching & on-campus learning doesn’t appear to be lost on students, with online learning not an overly-preferred option. As for open days? Prospective students are the tech-savvy generation. Attending a virtual open day appears to be just as useful for many students, with a significant portion not needing an open day at all to make their decision.

Naturally final-year students appear to be most concerned with their grades, along with university entry. However, there is solace to be had in these concerns. If students are unhappy with their final grades, they will have the chance to appeal. Clearing isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and regardless of this, teachers will be doing their utmost to develop fair grades for students.

The months ahead may still bring a lot of uncertainty for those looking to begin university in 2020/21. But whether classes begin in September on-campus or online, keep fostering that excitement to begin your university journey. Start researching your modules, attend virtual open days and make the most of the time at home before your next chapter kicks off. We at Whatuni will do our best to keep you informed and up-to-date.



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