Starting uni in 2020: What are my options?

This article was last updated on 11 June 2020.

If you’re due to start university in September 2020, you may be feeling unsure about how to proceed when there’s so much uncertainty around how Covid-19 restrictions might impact your university experience, but don't worry – we're here to help guide you through the process of making the right decision for you.

“The social experience is a key aspect of university life and many are worried they will miss out on key student life moments such as Freshers' Week.” – Diego Fanara, CEO of Unibuddy.

Student questions and concerns

“Students are concerned about two key topics: accommodation and finances,” says Diego Fanara, CEO of Unibuddy. “Students are asking how living arrangements might differ from the usual set-up," he says, "‘Value for money’ is also a common theme as students question the efficacy and value of online learning.” In addition to this, he says, “The social experience is a key aspect of university life and many are worried they will miss out on key student life moments such as Freshers' Week.”

Grace Joyce, Community Manager at The Student Room says that on their forum, “Students are discussing concerns over the amount and the quality of online teaching they will be taking compared to face-to-face learning, and missing out on the social aspects of starting university is a big worry.”

Deferring

Due to these and other concerns, some students are considering deferring their place until 2021. “Many are waiting for more information from universities about their plans for the Autumn term,” says Grace Joyce, “so they can make an informed decision about what that provider is planning to do to support them if they choose not to defer.” And yet uncertainty over how long social distancing measures will be in place means that some students are reluctant to defer. Grace Joyce adds that The Student Room has seen “lots of students taking into account the possibilities of not being able to do what they would want on a year out, such as going travelling or getting jobs or internships.”

With difficulties planning a productive and interesting gap year before attending next year a reality, some students are not willing to push back long-awaited plans to study when there is uncertainty when social distancing restrictions will end.” – Grace Joyce

Likewise, Diego Fanara from Unibuddy says that despite the difficult choice students face between continuing with their university plans for 2020 and deferring, “We know from the millions of messages exchanged between students on Unibuddy since January that many are continuing as planned.”

Some students have opted to defer their gap year in order to start university in 2020 rather than 2021. Mike Nicholson, Director of Admissions at the University of Bath, says: “As of this week we have had around 30 students opt to defer, but these have been offset by over 20 students who had planned to come in 2021 after a gap year who have now asked to start in 2020 as their employment, internship or travel plans have been cancelled.”

Making a decision

You may have a tough choice ahead, but the most important thing you can do is to ensure any decision you make is an informed one.

When it comes to choosing the right university for you, there are plenty of resources to help. You can start with this article from Bitesize Support, which will signpost you to other support which is out there.

When it comes to deciding whether or not to accept an offer by June 18th and whether to begin study in 2020 or to defer until later, it’s crucial that you find out as much as you can about:

• Your preferred and insurance universities' plans and provision for 2020

• The options you have with regards to a gap year (i.e. the likelihood of being able to travel or begin an internship, for example)

• Your preferred and insurance universities’ policies on offers and deferring places

• Deadlines for applying for accommodation and student finance.

What to do next?

Contact your university’s admissions office. Mike Nicholson from the University of Bath says "Universities are acutely aware of the need to provide offer holders with sufficient advice so they can make informed decisions about their options for 2020 and I would anticipate that they should be sending offer holders regular updates on their 2020 plans.

Full details about universities’ safeguarding policies and provision for 2020 is due by 18 June. Most universities will write to students as soon as they confirm what their provision will be, but they are still open to receiving questions and offering any answers they have. As Mike Nicholson says, “We are actively encouraging applicants to ask us questions, and if we don’t know the answer, establishing some timelines for further updates.”

If your financial circumstances have changed and you’re concerned about funding, again, the best course of action is to get in touch with the universities you’re considering to discuss options. It’s advised that you do this sooner rather than later because there are likely to be deadlines for funding applications. Mike Nicholson says: “Some universities or courses may have additional funding available through scholarships and bursaries which students may have to make a separate application for, and offer holders should also check this out for their Firm or Insurance universities, as they may have a deadline for applications.”

He also advises students to contact the university if they have “a disability, specific learning difference or health condition (including mental health) … to ensure that appropriate support can be made available.” Such information will be treated in confidence and “an offer of a place cannot be withdrawn on the basis of a declaration of this nature.”

What happens if I miss the 18 June deadline?

If you miss the 18 June deadline for accepting a university offer, your offer will be automatically declined. You would then need to contact UCAS by mid-July if you wanted to change this.

Amy Smith, Associate Director of Admissions and Applicant Engagement at Nottingham Trent University says: “My advice to applicants is, even though things might still be uncertain, look to make a firm and insurance choice before the June 18 deadline as this opens up the most opportunities ... Many universities will be running next academic year a little differently, so it’s a good idea to check their websites or contact them directly to find out what they will be offering and whether that will still work for you. Remember if you change your mind later in the year, you’d like to consider other options when you get your results or if you don’t meet the conditions of your offer, then you can use Clearing to find a new choice.”

If you want to chat online with other students about their experiences, you can visit Unibuddy and The Student Room.

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