5 mins

Nobody could have predicted COVID-19 and the impact that it would have on every aspect of our lives, not least of all, our online behaviour. In Autumn 2019, we released our 2020 Clearing Predictions. COVID-19 then came along, which led to us releasing our ‘COVID19: Gen Z Digital Behaviours Report’ analysing the behavioural shifts of UK based 16-24 year old’s, between March 14th and June 2020.

We shared this report with the UK education sector, alongside guidance and recommendations to help them navigate this unusual and difficult recruitment period. If you missed it the first time around and would like to receive a copy, please request one here.

We’re now looking back to see how correct (& incorrect) our predictions we made in 2019 were…!


Failing to plan is planning to fail

“Even greater emphasis will be placed on the need for early planning of your marketing and advertising strategy”

This has never been more true. With a hyper competitive day due to COVID-19 that changed the Results Day landscape just a few days before, it was imperative to plan as much as possible so that you could be agile in the run-up and on the day itself.



The number of direct applicants will keep growing

“1 in 5 waited until after they received their A-Level results before submitting an application through UCAS. They’re waiting until later in the year to consider their options.”

This turned out to be true. According to our COVID19: Gen Z Digital Behaviours report 65% of students were planning to leave their decision making as late as possible.

Coming true thanks, in part due to students receiving predicted grades rather than sitting exams, thus giving them greater flexibility, but also a large number of Clearing places were taken by students initially receiving lower than expected grades – 40% of grades were marked down before the government and OFQUAL performed a u-turn.

This all meant that students left it later (by choice or not) than ever before to consider their options and submit their applications.


Personalised messaging will be key

“Ideally, you would target all of these groups separately with messaging tailored to their specific situation, their wants, and their concerns.”

This came true. In a nod to the global pandemic, adverts that contained reassuring messaging performed best. We saw a 42% increase in CTRs for ads that included messaging around being “COVID-19 Secure” and a 15.86% increase in CTRs for ads with an “urgent” call to action (apply now, apply today, etc), plus an 11% increase in CTRs for ads mentioning a start in September.

As the day developed, we began to see that parents were searching for answers for their children, so we changed messaging and added sitelinks to meet these needs to become more reassuring and answer queries for those who were searching.


There will be more clearing places at Russell Group universities

“18 of the 24 Russell Group universities took part in Clearing, each with one or more places available. In fact, we predict that even more of the 24 Russell Group institutions could participate in Clearing next year as the competition for students remains fierce.”

Before the day began, UCAS said that a: “high number of vacancies on courses at Russell Group universities could lead to a record-breaking number of students gaining a place at university through clearing. In total, over 4,000 courses remain unfilled, and seventeen of the twenty-four Russell Group universities still have vacancies on courses”

According to the Guardian, COVID-19 meant that universities faced a serious loss of income, “especially with international students being charged about double the fees of British and European Union students”. This loss of revenue from overseas students suggests that universities were even more keen to fill their remaining places with domestic students.

In the end, around 80,000 students applied through Clearing, up from 73,000 in 2019. Although our prediction didn’t come true, as only 17 of the 24 Russell Group universities took part this year.


For international students, you’ll need to look outside the EU

“With uncertainty from Brexit still looming, it’s unclear how many EU students will apply for university in the UK next year and whether there will be a drop in numbers again. Perhaps in 2020, universities will need to look to other countries to find international students…”

Acceptances from within the EU fell by 15.2%, but international recruitment increased by 2%, perhaps not as large of an increase due to the implications of COVID-19, but nevertheless our prediction came true.

We don’t think we did too badly with our predictions, considering what happened in between making them and A Level results day!


If you’re interested in finding out more about the key themes that emerged and what happened this year to help you plan for a successful Clearing 2021 register for our digital masterclass, taking place on Thursday 5th November 2020, or simply speak to one of our experts, below.

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