One of the many significant outcomes of the pandemic and lockdowns around the UK has been the record number of applications thus far for higher education this year. With A-level results day around the corner, we decided to delve into our data to see whether demand for higher education via Clearing is also on the rise.
Using our Demand Tracker tool, which tracks the research behaviours of millions of prospective students who browse our suite of student-facing websites, we filtered the data based on Clearing searches at undergraduate level. Demand is therefore reflected from our UK undergraduate websites: Whatuni.com and thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk.
Comparing the Clearing period leading up to a week before A-level results day, the data shows that demand in terms of volume for the top ten most searched subject areas is significantly higher this year compared to last.
Health and Medicine remain the most searched subject area this year and has seen a particularly big increase in volume. Comparing the YoY peaks in volume for the periods 1 July- 3 August 2020 vs 2021, Health and Medicine has seen a huge rise from 2860 user actions to 6303. It’s also increased its percentage share of subject areas from 15.89% to 23.60%. Drilling into the sub-disciplines under Health and Medicine, Psychology saw the highest number of searches and holds 5.31% of overall share.
Before the Clearing period started, applications for Medicine were already at record highs with institutions such as Exeter University offering students a year’s free accommodation and bursaries of up to £10,000 if they agreed to defer their studies by a year. Our research indicates that many more students will try to enter the medical field through Clearing. The impact of the pandemic seems to be having an ongoing influence on rising demand for Health and Medicine. Business, Management and Marketing, Social Studies and Media, and Applied and Pure Sciences are some of the other popular subject areas that all saw big YoY increases leading up to A-level results day. These notable increases in volume are likely to suggest that there will be more applications coming in through Clearing this year compared to previous years.
1 July-3 August 2021: demand in volume
1 July - 3 August 2021: demand in percentage share
The increase in demand suggests that a wider variety of prospective students are now entering higher education through Clearing. There are still many applicants applying because they didn’t get the grades they wanted, but also other types of applicants such as those who have obtained better than expected grade or perhaps missed previous UCAS deadlines.
To support the widening range and growing number of applicants now entering higher education through Clearing, our teams at Whatuni and the Complete University Guide have created new content hubs on both sites to supports students, parents and teachers through the Clearing process. Their aim is to turn the narrative from one of confusion and stress, into one of opportunity and ambition.
Whatuni’s Clearing Squad and the Complete University Guide’s Clearing Concierge are the new tailored content hubs that come with personal advice in the form of written content, animations, how-to-videos, FAQs, top tips and testimonials.
Said Stuart Smith, Director of Product and Marketing at IDP Connect: “This is the most integrated user experience we’ve delivered in terms of blending user, client, content, marketing and commercial considerations together into a great experience, and we’re very excited to see it evolve over the next few months, encapsulating our mission of helping students find the perfect university and course”.
Incorporating a proprietary Clearing course search tool, the hubs enable students to search and filter universities and courses, read Clearing-specific university and course content, get top tips and personalised advice, and call the universities directly. In addition, in a product feature unique to IDP, students can enter their grades and see their chance of acceptance on the courses they select, making them aware of opportunities they may not have known were open to them.
The hubs were developed from research conducted by IDP last year, which revealed a multi-sided view of students’ needs and challenges.
Interviews conducted with students who had been through Clearing showed that A-level results day and the subsequent period are a highly emotional time, with students often being taken by surprise without a clear plan B or any knowledge as to how to go about Clearing to maximise their chances of getting their desired university place.
The research also found that students were often not very open to compromising on their course options, still keen on securing a place that would fit them perfectly, despite many not getting the required grades or being happy with their initial choice. Moreover, the stress of having to change plans at the last minute was often compounded by feelings of failure and isolation from peers who secured their first-choice places.
Recognising that despite many people thinking that Clearing is only for students who don't get their expected grades, IDP’s research led to the creation of focused on 5 distinct types of personas who need Clearing advice:
The Traditional Applicant, as above – who didn’t get the grades they wanted
The Direct Applicant - who missed the 30 June UCAS deadline or is a mature student
The Adjuster - who got better grades than expected
The Mind-changer - who wants to change their course or university
The Parent - who wants to support their child through Clearing
The research revealed that for students, having someone by their side ready to help and support was essential. Parents and teachers are the main influencers in students’ lives, and yet it was felt that there was comparatively little Clearing information out there which would help them help their children and students. Supporting those who support students therefore emerged as a key opportunity for IDP.
Two surveys, one collecting responses from 52 teachers and careers advisors from across the country, in addition to a separate study with 112 parents, formed the basis of developing the content aimed at parents and teachers.
For teachers, learning more about how and when students should start preparing for Clearing topped the needs chart for about 40% of teacher respondents.
And for parents, whilst almost 70% of them were preparing to talk to their child about Clearing and Adjustment, only 30% of them said they were familiar or very familiar with the topic. At the same time, while they said they were very interested to know more about the practical steps of Clearing, parents’ main concern about discussing it with their child was that of not wanting to make their children more anxious.
These findings underlined the need for an emotional approach to Clearing, besides the pragmatic one utilised across many other sites. The insight was that students need more than the generic advice normally dished out, requiring instead more of a handholding experience they can identify with, with stories and content to support them both practically and emotionally during this particularly stressful time of their lives. This is what led to the development of the new content hubs.
Recognising that the different personas require different and tailored advice gave rise to the idea of the Clearing Squad, a team of 4 students and a parent, each of whom has experienced Clearing in a different way, giving bespoke advice to fellow students and parents whoever they are, wherever they are in their journey. The Clearing Squad aims to show students that they’re part of a community of worthy and capable students who are facing a challenge that can be exciting and life-changing, rather than stressful.
The Complete University Guide’s hub stars the Clearing Concierge, students’ personal guide to help them navigate the Clearing process. The Concierge ensures students, as well as their parents and teachers, can easily access official information, rankings, and guidance to help them make more informed choices.
Follow our news page and social media channels for more updates on Clearing trends this week and visit our Clearing and Adjustment page for more detail on how your institution can be featured on Whatuni and the Complete University Guide.