How coronavirus might affect your university application

student working on laptop

This summer’s exams have been cancelled, but you’ll still be able to start university this year

If you’ve been looking forward to starting university this year, you might have a few concerns about how this summer’s cancelled exams will affect your application.

The good news is that despite all the uncertainty, the government has been clear that it is aiming for students to both get their grades this summer and be able to start university as they would any other year.

“Grades will be equally as valid as those in previous years, and their hard work will be rewarded and fairly recognised. There is no reason for the usual admissions cycle to be disrupted,” the universities minister Michelle Donelan has said.

Here are the answers to some of the burning questions that you might have about how coronavirus could affect your university application.

Will universities continue to make offers this year?

Yes they will. Even though you won’t be taking exams this year you will still get grades, which will be used as part of your application to help universities decide their offers.

The exams regulator Ofqual will work with the exam boards and your teachers to “provide a calculated grade to each student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible,” the Department for Education has said.

The government has said that the cancelled exams shouldn’t stop anybody from starting university. The education secretary Gavin Williamson commented, “my priority now is to ensure no young person faces a barrier when it comes to moving onto the next stage of their lives – whether that’s further or higher education, an apprenticeship or a job.”

group of students working together

Will I still be able to confirm my university place?

Yes, you’ll still be able to confirm your university place as usual. The only thing that will be different this year is that Ucas have extended your deadline by two weeks – you should be getting an email from them this week to confirm the new deadline.

Ucas have said that they’ve done this to give you a bit more time to think about where you want to go to university, as well as allowing the universities some extra time to “assess applications and adjust their processes”.

When will I get my grades?

The government has said that it’s aiming to get all the grades out before the end of July.

Should I take an unconditional offer just because my exams have been cancelled?

You should only accept an unconditional offer if it is for a university and a course that you genuinely want to go to.

On Monday 23 March, the government banned universities from giving out unconditional offers for two weeks while Ofqual hammers out the details of how exam grades will be awarded, just to make sure that applicants don’t feel pressured into accepting an offer because they’re worried about all the uncertainty around exam grades.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said that “no student should feel pressured into making a quick decision which may end up not being in their best interest”.

students walking through university cafeteria

What will happen if I don’t get given the grades that I need to meet my offer?

If you’re not happy with your grades, you will get the chance to appeal. You’ll also have the option to sit exams at the start of the next academic year or in the summer of 2021 if you prefer.

Do you think you'll be given a fair grade? Take the TSR poll.

In an open letter to applicants, Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant and Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis emphasised that “it’s important to remember that places are not decided on grades alone.

“Information in your personal statement and reference are part of the decision-making process along with your interview, portfolio, audition and any other information that’s relevant to your potential to succeed on an undergraduate course.

“We expect once grades are available in July, universities and colleges will make decisions on students with conditional offers and Ucas will support you through our Confirmation and Clearing process, should you need it.”

Has the Ucas deadline for replying to offers changed?

Yes – the Ucas deadline for replying to your offers from universities is usually in early May, but  this is going to be extended by two weeks. Ucas will be emailing applicants this week to confirm the new May deadline.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant says that this is to give “students more time to make decisions about their future.”

teenager working at laptpo

Will university open days still be happening?

At the moment, no. The UK is on lockdown for at least three weeks, possibly longer, to help stop the spread of coronavirus, meaning all non-essential travel is banned. It’s hard to say whether this will change before the new Ucas deadline, but it’s probably sensible to assume that you’re not going to be able to make any in-person visits over the next couple of months.

There’s nothing to stop you making a virtual visit, though. Ucas has a pretty comprehensive list of links to virtual tours of universities in the UK, or you should be able to find one on the university’s website fairly easily. 

As well as video tours, some universities, have responded to the COVID-19 lockdown by offering online open day with livestreamed talks and Q and As.

You can also use TSR’s Uni Match if you feel like you need to do a bit more research before you make your final decision. It contains loads of information and reviews from students to give you a better idea of the course and student life.

And you can check out the university’s forums on TSR to speak to current students and discover more about what it's really like being a student at the university.

Will I be able to use Clearing this year?

Yes. Those who have already accepted an unconditional offer will still be able to use Clearing, Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis has said: “Students who accept an unconditional offer will be able to release themselves as part of the Ucas self-release process to explore other options during Clearing.”

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