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Advice for university applicants in 2020

Posted on: 06 Jul 2020
Posted by: Barnaby Lenon

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the ISC, offers advice to students who are considering deferring their university place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Students who have applied to start university in September 2020 may well be thinking about deferring for a year due to the ongoing impact of coronavirus.


It is of course sensible to weigh up options. Some young people might be wary about embarking on a course that could have many lectures online in year one. Many might not like the thought of the social events and activities that help make the first year so exciting being curtailed.


However, here are four reasons for not deferring:

• It may well be easier to get into a good university this year because of the likely shortfall in overseas students.

• Travel and job opportunities might be limited in a 2020-21 gap year.

• Finally, yes there may end up being a number of lectures online but in most universities (and if you haven’t already you should ask those you have applied to) accommodation will be open and tutorials will happen face-to-face.

• Relaxation of ‘lockdown’ is happening so fast that university social life may be little affected.


Remember, you do not need to take this decision yet so you should take advantage of the time you have to consider what is right for you. No universities yet know exactly how things will look for their new intake of students and it is often possible to defer after results are out/after a place is confirmed – though you should check now with your chosen universities what their individual policies are on deferring.


Some young people will be determined to start their higher education journeys this year and will understandably want to be prepared for when A-level results are revealed in August.


This year, the options for those of you who do not receive the grades you wanted will look a little different.


Again, because there will almost certainly be fewer overseas students attending UK universities, those students whose grades do not meet their first-choice university’s requirements should get in touch with them anyway – they may be more willing than in previous years to offer places to those who did not get the grades because they have places to fill.


If that approach does not succeed, do not despair because there will be many other good universities that do have places available.


If you are really unhappy with one or more grades, you should speak to your school and ask them to appeal to your preferred university on the basis that they do not feel your grades are a true reflection of your ability. Your school may need to produce evidence to back this up but this is a challenge they will be equipped to take on.


If that fails and you really do need to re-sit one or more A-levels, talk to your school about entering you for the autumn A-levels and the extent to which they might be able to help you with revision/exam practice.


Good luck to you all.

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About Barnaby Lenon

Barnaby Lenon is chairman of ISC.

Barnaby taught at Sherborne School and Eton College for 12 years, was deputy head of Highgate School, head of Trinity School Croydon and head of Harrow (12 years). He has been a governor of twenty-two schools. He is chairman of governors of the London Academy of Excellence, a free school which opened in 2012 in Newham, east London. He is chairman of the Independent Schools Council, a trustee of the Yellow Submarine charity, a director of the New Schools Network and a member of the Advisory Council of Parents and Teachers for Excellence. He has recently published two books: ‘Much Promise: successful schools in England’ and ‘Other People’s Children: what happens to the academically least successful 50%?’