New Sutton Trust research, published today, shows a high level of concern among young people. 

  • Three quarters (73%) of university applicants are worried about the negative impact of Covid-19 on university social life, with two thirds (67%) concerned about loss of face-to-face teaching
  • One third (32%) say the pandemic has made them less likely to begin university this autumn, but many remain undecided before results day
  • Worries about receiving lower grades due to exam cancellations are driving concerns, with 30% saying they are less likely to get into their first-choice university as a result of the pandemic

Young people have significant concerns about getting into university and what student life will be like, according to new polling published by the Sutton Trust ahead of A-level results day. Three quarters (73%) of applicants are most worried about how the pandemic will impact their ability to take part in university social life, and two thirds are worried about the impact of little or no face to face teaching. Just over half (54%) are worried about the possibility of catching or spreading Covid-19.

The polling of 502 university applicants by YouthSight also highlights how many university applicants remain unsure about whether to go to university this year. Almost a third (32%) say that the pandemic has made them less likely to begin higher education this autumn. Of those still uncertain, half (50%) are worried about achieving the grades to get into their first-choice course, while two fifths (42%) are worried about the quality of education on offer due to the pandemic. Other students report considering changing their plans in order to live at home while studying. 36% of working-class applicants and 42% of BAME applicants are worried about moving away from home.

The polling also shows that a third of students overall (34%) say they’re more likely than usual to go through Clearing this year due to changes in the way grades have been awarded. Previous Sutton Trust polling showed that almost half (43%) of applicants expect their grades to be negatively impacted. Almost 1 in 3 think that this year’s grading process will make getting into their preferred university less likely, despite warnings about university places being undersubscribed due to a drop in international student numbers.

In April, the Sutton Trust published an impact brief looking at the initial effect of the coronavirus pandemic on university admissions and current university students. It recommended that university applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds who have narrowly missed their offer grades should be given additional consideration. This is more important than ever, given the recent upheaval in schools and the cancellation of exams.

Over the summer, the Sutton Trust is delivering its flagship summer schools and other access programmes through Sutton Trust Online. This is a new platform developed through a partnership with Bloomberg to support 6,000 year 12 students (16- and 17-year olds) across the UK to make informed decisions about their next steps. It comes as almost all face-to-face university access programmes are unable to take place this year due to social distancing restrictions.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said:

“Today’s research shows there is a huge degree of worry and uncertainty amongst young people applying to university.

“This year has been unprecedented. But what is of upmost importance is that students from low-income backgrounds don’t lose out. If these students narrowly miss their grades tomorrow, universities should give them the benefit of the doubt, given the upheaval in their education and the cancellation of exams. They should be given a break given how much they’ve been affected by the pandemic.

“Many young people are extremely worried about what student life will be like in the upcoming year, and the impact of the pandemic outside the lecture hall should not be underestimated. Three quarters of applicants are most worried about how the pandemic will impact their ability to take part in university social life, and two thirds are worried about the impact of little or no face to face teaching. Just over half are worried about the possibility of catching or spreading Covid-19. It’s an extremely difficult time for students to be applying to university.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • The Sutton Trust is committed to improving social mobility from birth to the workplace. Founded by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997, the Trust has supported 40,000 young people through evidence-led programmes and published over 200 pieces of agenda-setting research, many of which have influenced government policy.
  • YouthSight surveyed 502 young people across Great Britain who applied to university this year through UCAS, with polling carried out online through their applicant omnibus between the 16th and 22nd July 2020. The applicant omnibus is weighted to be representative by gender, age and school type.

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