The UCAS application period is often stressful for many students. The same questions are thrown about each year: Is this university and course right for me? Is my personal statement good enough? Will I get in? But this year, students may have very different questions to ask, and careers advisors might find they do not yet have answers. That’s why I’ve been speaking to various universities around the UK to find out how the admissions process for 2021 entry will change, and what you need to make your students aware of.

Competition and number of places

In August, we saw a lot of universities encouraging students to defer after the exam results U-turn. It could be assumed that this will result in less places and more competition for students applying to university in 2021.

An admissions manager at Newcastle University told me that “Newcastle University worked hard to place all applicants who met the terms of their offer following the revised examination results to the year of entry requested. We will continue to consider applicants for 2021 entry in a fair and equal manner.”

Other universities echoed this, saying that the amount of deferrals wasn’t significantly higher than normal and that competition will be equal to other years. Most universities will not yet have finalised their student intake number for 2021 entry as some courses depend upon external allocation of funding and placement opportunities, but students should not be concerned about not getting a place.

Entry requirements

Getting accepted to a university often rides on getting the right grades, but after a strange year of learning from home and cancelled exams, students will understandably be worried that entry requirements to their preferred university might differ.

When asked, both the University of Chichester and the University of London Institute in Paris said that they would not put up entry requirements as a result of coronavirus and deferred places. Newcastle University added: “Our entry requirements will not be increased as a result of any additional deferred places offered during the 2020 admissions cycle. Entry requirements are carefully reviewed each year as part of the planning process for admissions and offer making.”


Being able to stay in university accommodation is a right of passage for many first years, and is where many life-long friendships are made. However, with the potential for a larger intake and social distancing measures still in place, it might still be a different experience come autumn 2021.

Diane Fothergill, an admission officer at the University of Leicester, told me that although “we don’t know the exact amount of places available for 2021 entry yet, we are able to guarantee accommodation for all first year students who make their application for accommodation by the 1st of September.” She also said that the University of Leicester is working on it’s facilities and will be able to accommodate more students soon: “We are currently building more student accommodation close to the campus which should be ready for September 2021.”

Students applying to university in the coming months should be aware that it is likely that social distancing measures will still be in place in some capacity this time next year. The best way to learn about university living during a pandemic is to talk to current students – the guinea pigs of student life in a pandemic. They will be able to present first-hand advice and offer tips and tricks. If a student is worried about the risks of Covid-19 and sharing communal spaces with strangers, then they should contact the student support service and accommodations services for the specific university they are applying to.

Coronavirus safety

I asked the universities ‘What measures has your institution put in place to help stop the spread of coronavirus?’

The overwhelming responses were positive. Universities are putting in place many measures, such as social distancing, extra Covid-19 signage, healthcare information (printed and electronic) readily available for students and staff, one-way systems, a combination of online and in-person teaching, targeted cleaning areas, screens and barriers, and antibacterial hand-gel dispensers in communal areas. The University of London Institute in Paris has even updated their teaching by adding “new audio-visual equipment to facilitate improved distance teaching and learning in the event of quarantine or lockdown.”

Scientists are constantly learning more about Covid-19 and the infection rate is always changing. Because of this, the government’s advice and rules about how to stay safe is always evolving. This means students will have to keep an eye as their universities will alter their approach to fit in with new regulations.

Some universities, such as the University of Leicester, have created a dedicated website to make it easier for students to stay up-to-date. Leicester also told me that “students will be issued with a personal safety pack including a washable face covering, thermometer and hand sanitiser”. Universities across the country are coming up with innovative things like this to keep students safe, and it is a good idea for prospective students to research how their preferred universities responded to the coronavirus and how they took care of new students in September 2020.

Advice for prospective students (UK and International)

Lastly, I asked the universities if they had any advice for students applying in 2021. Here’s some of the responses I received:

University of London Institute in Paris (Louise Lyle, Admissions Officer):

“Many students who originally intended to enrol in 2021, including those who planned to take a gap year as well as EU nationals wishing to benefit from home fees parity prior to the end of the Brexit transition period, ended up doing so in 2020. Given the consequent rush in September 2020, we are not particularly concerned about over-subscription being a problem in 2021, and we would encourage candidates not to panic.”

“Treat 2021 as a normal recruitment year. Coronavirus will probably still be with us, but we will gradually learn to live with it until we are able to eradicate it with an effective vaccine.”

Newcastle University ( Admissions Officer):

“Check the entry requirements for each university and course that you apply to. Attend Open/Visit Days. Pay particular attention to your personal statement.”

And for international students:

“Newcastle University welcomes international students and will continue to encourage applicants for our degree programmes. The course information available on our web pages provides advice and information for international applicants including equivalence information for a wide range of qualifications, and for English Language test requirements. Applicants are encouraged to contact the university for further information and for answers to individual queries. As outlined above, the University has closely followed all guidance to ensure a welcoming environment for all students.”

University of Leicester (Diane Fothergill, Admissions Officer):

“Try to visit the University on one of our virtual open days and obtain as much information as you can prior to making your final choices. We can offer a small number of campus tours which can be booked via our website.”

And for international students:

“There will be more virtual opportunities for you to join this year. They include virtual open days where you can get an insight into the courses we offer and also give you a good feel of the university and campus. You will have a lot of information available to you which hopefully will help you to make a much more informed choice about where to study.”

For more advice, head to Indigo. Our Unis module contains a wealth of videos with real-life reviews of what a course or uni is really like from current and recent students.