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The impact of the coronavirus on students preparing for university (webinar summary)

The impact of the coronavirus on students preparing for university (webinar summary)

5 minute read

The impact of the coronavirus on students preparing for university (webinar summary)

5 minute read

The impact of the coronavirus on students preparing for university (webinar summary)

Paige Toomes

Copywriter and Digital Marketer

This is a summary of our higher education webinar with Robert Perry. Robert is Head of Research and Insight at content strategy consultancy Pickle Jar Communications.

Clients who have benefited from Robert’s expertise include UCL, Goldsmith’s, University of London, the Open University, and Bocconi University in Milan.

The webinar highlights the key findings of a recent report Pickle Jar did.  This is a detailed look at how pre-university students are responding to the coronavirus pandemic, what they’re hearing (or not hearing), and what they plan to do next.

Agenda

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted everybody. But perhaps a group most affected is A-level students planning to go to university in 2020. They are at a huge turning point in their life.  We wanted to find out how they have been affected by the crisis, and the impact it has had on their decision-making and plans to attend university this year.

I'm going to talk about what we found, and what that might mean for content you are creating.  We spoke to students in-depth and collected data through:

  • Student interviews
  • Online survey
  • Online observations (social listening)

What we found

We'll go into each of these points in more detail later. But here's a brief overview of what we found:

  • Emotional reactions
  • Missing out
  • "All in the same boat"
  • Parental influence
  • Grading concerns (leading to anger about results day)
  • Information needs (not being met)
  • Personal connections
  • Online experience (they still want to attend)

8 student mindsets

When we spoke to students we managed to identify some broad student mindsets, and driving motivations for why they want to go to university. These were:

  • For the job prospects. To improve their chance of a specific career, job or even working for a specific company. They are concerned about how they are going to get there.

  • For the university experience. Students who want to go to university to experience the social life, making friends, as well as the academic side. They are concerned about having what they feel is the "real university experience."

  • For the long haul. Those doing a longer degree, like medicine, or those who might want to do postgrad and PHDs. They are concerned that the situation will hold them back a year.

  • For the education. Students who are keen on learning and the academic side. They want to know they are still going to get the education they should be getting.

  • For the hands-on experiences. Similarly, those who are considering a practical course like art, or performing arts are concerned about how their courses will work. Is it better for them to hold off a year?

  • For the rankings and reputation. Again, this is their perception of a "highly placed" prestigious university. They don't want to accept a second choice, and are concerned about the new grading process/boundaries and how this will affect their place.

  • For the closeness to home. These people are less concerned about social distancing measures as they don't feel they will be missing out on going to university in a different city.

  • As a back-up. These students may be taking a gap year or going travelling, and they were the most calm group about the situation as university wasn't their primary plan this year.

Next, we’ll go into more detail about some of the key findings in the research we did.

Reactions

With changes to timelines and expectations such as schools closing in March, cancelled exams and changes to grading, students have had strong emotional reactions. Particularly regarding results day, which was going to be made earlier, and then was changed back to August. This caused a lot of confusion, anger and frustration for students, with feelings of abandonment. Here were some of the self-reported emotional reactions:

  • Mostly negative, but not entirely
  • Resulted in a drop in motivation, depending on circumstances
  • Maybe not as stressed as they think they are?

Reactions were pretty negative, but not entirely negative. There were people who were happy and relieved about the situation, and those who adapted quite quickly, reconsidering their plans and thinking about alternatives for their future. It did result in a drop in motivation to do academic work for many though.

Missed opportunities

There were a lot of feelings overall of missed opportunities - academic, social and future opportunities. Things like not being able to prove themselves academically, or have the shared experience of the last day of school, leavers ball/prom, and getting their results like everyone else in previous years. Some reported deciding against university as they hadn’t visited on open days.

“All in the same boat”

That said, many acknowledge that everyone is going through the same thing. There’s a general shared experience and no ill-feeling towards each other. Students can see that effort has been put in to deal with the situation. Although, the longer this goes on, the less tolerance people will have.

Influencers

We found people are starting to rely more on parental and family influence/support. Often, parents are more confused than the students - especially those who haven’t had the university experience themselves. We also found that those who do have connections with teachers and staff at school are now asking for support from these networks too.

Grading concerns

Students are concerned about the new grading process and how this is going to work. There’s a lack of trust around grades, teacher opinions and mock exam grades, and they’ve been told not to ask teachers about the grading system.

For some, this is leading to worries and anger about A-level results day. There’s a general feeling of abandonment, and confusion as to why results day hasn’t been moved forward to leave more time for them to make their decision. They feel they can’t ask or talk to anyone about these concerns. They want some certainty.

Information needs  

So, what do students want to hear? Key things were information on the grading process, leniency from universities and provision in September. We also looked at where students are getting their information. Here’s what we found:

Bar chart showing where students looked for information. Most popular were gov.uk, news and university websites.

Another thing that we found was that students felt university communications were particularly frustrating. They said comms and emails felt impersonal, weren’t addressing concerns, and were even dismissive of concerns.

Real, personal connections

That said, any communications that seemed to come from a real person and addressed concerns in a human way were received positively. These communications stood out to students. One student cited an online Q and A which worked well, and another said they received a speedy response from a professor when asking about the course work.

Online experience

Students are still worried about the whole university experience, and don’t want to miss out on the lifestyle the others have experienced when everything is online. Many are considering deferring their place because they don’t want to pay student fees and miss out on the ‘real’ university experience.

Plans for September

However, even though students are unsure about what’s happening. there are many students who still want to go to university and have a goal in mind. Some understand that the pandemic is (hopefully!) only for a short period of time and won’t have that much of an impact on their studies in the long-run.

How do we address these issues?

Having gone through all of this, the key issues that stood out were:

  • Students feel abandoned (even if they aren't really!)
  • Communications don’t address their needs
  • They don’t know what is happening

So, what do we do with this information? How can higher ed institutions help students in such a difficult time? Here’s how you should approach it:

  • Show humanity
  • Honesty
  • Empathy
  • Acknowledge their concerns
  • Tap into conversations

We know it’s difficult for institutions, and it’s been a stressful time for everyone. But even if colleges, schools and universities can’t answer questions in full, just showing you understand where students are coming from and giving them the information you can give them is a positive step. Let them know they are being listened to.

Watch the webinar

Watch the full webinar for more examples and direct quotes from the research Pickle Jar did. You can also read the full report to gain a deeper understanding of student mindsets and issues they face during the pandemic.

This is a summary of our higher education webinar with Robert Perry. Robert is Head of Research and Insight at content strategy consultancy Pickle Jar Communications.

Clients who have benefited from Robert’s expertise include UCL, Goldsmith’s, University of London, the Open University, and Bocconi University in Milan.

The webinar highlights the key findings of a recent report Pickle Jar did.  This is a detailed look at how pre-university students are responding to the coronavirus pandemic, what they’re hearing (or not hearing), and what they plan to do next.

Agenda

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted everybody. But perhaps a group most affected is A-level students planning to go to university in 2020. They are at a huge turning point in their life.  We wanted to find out how they have been affected by the crisis, and the impact it has had on their decision-making and plans to attend university this year.

I'm going to talk about what we found, and what that might mean for content you are creating.  We spoke to students in-depth and collected data through:

  • Student interviews
  • Online survey
  • Online observations (social listening)

What we found

We'll go into each of these points in more detail later. But here's a brief overview of what we found:

  • Emotional reactions
  • Missing out
  • "All in the same boat"
  • Parental influence
  • Grading concerns (leading to anger about results day)
  • Information needs (not being met)
  • Personal connections
  • Online experience (they still want to attend)

8 student mindsets

When we spoke to students we managed to identify some broad student mindsets, and driving motivations for why they want to go to university. These were:

  • For the job prospects. To improve their chance of a specific career, job or even working for a specific company. They are concerned about how they are going to get there.

  • For the university experience. Students who want to go to university to experience the social life, making friends, as well as the academic side. They are concerned about having what they feel is the "real university experience."

  • For the long haul. Those doing a longer degree, like medicine, or those who might want to do postgrad and PHDs. They are concerned that the situation will hold them back a year.

  • For the education. Students who are keen on learning and the academic side. They want to know they are still going to get the education they should be getting.

  • For the hands-on experiences. Similarly, those who are considering a practical course like art, or performing arts are concerned about how their courses will work. Is it better for them to hold off a year?

  • For the rankings and reputation. Again, this is their perception of a "highly placed" prestigious university. They don't want to accept a second choice, and are concerned about the new grading process/boundaries and how this will affect their place.

  • For the closeness to home. These people are less concerned about social distancing measures as they don't feel they will be missing out on going to university in a different city.

  • As a back-up. These students may be taking a gap year or going travelling, and they were the most calm group about the situation as university wasn't their primary plan this year.

Next, we’ll go into more detail about some of the key findings in the research we did.

Reactions

With changes to timelines and expectations such as schools closing in March, cancelled exams and changes to grading, students have had strong emotional reactions. Particularly regarding results day, which was going to be made earlier, and then was changed back to August. This caused a lot of confusion, anger and frustration for students, with feelings of abandonment. Here were some of the self-reported emotional reactions:

  • Mostly negative, but not entirely
  • Resulted in a drop in motivation, depending on circumstances
  • Maybe not as stressed as they think they are?

Reactions were pretty negative, but not entirely negative. There were people who were happy and relieved about the situation, and those who adapted quite quickly, reconsidering their plans and thinking about alternatives for their future. It did result in a drop in motivation to do academic work for many though.

Missed opportunities

There were a lot of feelings overall of missed opportunities - academic, social and future opportunities. Things like not being able to prove themselves academically, or have the shared experience of the last day of school, leavers ball/prom, and getting their results like everyone else in previous years. Some reported deciding against university as they hadn’t visited on open days.

“All in the same boat”

That said, many acknowledge that everyone is going through the same thing. There’s a general shared experience and no ill-feeling towards each other. Students can see that effort has been put in to deal with the situation. Although, the longer this goes on, the less tolerance people will have.

Influencers

We found people are starting to rely more on parental and family influence/support. Often, parents are more confused than the students - especially those who haven’t had the university experience themselves. We also found that those who do have connections with teachers and staff at school are now asking for support from these networks too.

Grading concerns

Students are concerned about the new grading process and how this is going to work. There’s a lack of trust around grades, teacher opinions and mock exam grades, and they’ve been told not to ask teachers about the grading system.

For some, this is leading to worries and anger about A-level results day. There’s a general feeling of abandonment, and confusion as to why results day hasn’t been moved forward to leave more time for them to make their decision. They feel they can’t ask or talk to anyone about these concerns. They want some certainty.

Information needs  

So, what do students want to hear? Key things were information on the grading process, leniency from universities and provision in September. We also looked at where students are getting their information. Here’s what we found:

Bar chart showing where students looked for information. Most popular were gov.uk, news and university websites.

Another thing that we found was that students felt university communications were particularly frustrating. They said comms and emails felt impersonal, weren’t addressing concerns, and were even dismissive of concerns.

Real, personal connections

That said, any communications that seemed to come from a real person and addressed concerns in a human way were received positively. These communications stood out to students. One student cited an online Q and A which worked well, and another said they received a speedy response from a professor when asking about the course work.

Online experience

Students are still worried about the whole university experience, and don’t want to miss out on the lifestyle the others have experienced when everything is online. Many are considering deferring their place because they don’t want to pay student fees and miss out on the ‘real’ university experience.

Plans for September

However, even though students are unsure about what’s happening. there are many students who still want to go to university and have a goal in mind. Some understand that the pandemic is (hopefully!) only for a short period of time and won’t have that much of an impact on their studies in the long-run.

How do we address these issues?

Having gone through all of this, the key issues that stood out were:

  • Students feel abandoned (even if they aren't really!)
  • Communications don’t address their needs
  • They don’t know what is happening

So, what do we do with this information? How can higher ed institutions help students in such a difficult time? Here’s how you should approach it:

  • Show humanity
  • Honesty
  • Empathy
  • Acknowledge their concerns
  • Tap into conversations

We know it’s difficult for institutions, and it’s been a stressful time for everyone. But even if colleges, schools and universities can’t answer questions in full, just showing you understand where students are coming from and giving them the information you can give them is a positive step. Let them know they are being listened to.

Watch the webinar

Watch the full webinar for more examples and direct quotes from the research Pickle Jar did. You can also read the full report to gain a deeper understanding of student mindsets and issues they face during the pandemic.

Webinar Recording

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on students preparing for university in 2020

Hear all about the recent research report from the team at Pickle Jar Communications, including the insights and stats gained.

June 17, 2020

4:00 pm

Register now

Webinar Recording

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on students preparing for university in 2020

Hear all about the recent research report from the team at Pickle Jar Communications, including the insights and stats gained.

June 17, 2020

4:00 pm

Watch now
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About the author

Paige Toomes

Paige is an English Literature and Media graduate from Newcastle University, and over the last three years has built up a career in SEO-driven copywriting for tech companies. She has written for Microsoft, Symantec and LinkedIn, as well as other SaaS companies and IT consulting firms. With an audience-focused approach to content, Paige handles the lifecycle from creation through to measurement, supporting businesses with their content operations.

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