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How coronavirus could affect your 2021 university application – and what you can do to fix it

We’ve listed a few coronavirus-related worries you might have about your university application, and what you can do to get around them

Things have changed a lot over the last year, and it would be no surprise if anyone applying to start university in 2021 has a few additional concerns because of coronavirus.

Here’s what you can do if social distancing guidelines mean your work experience plans have been scrapped, your open days moved online and you’ve started worrying about university will even be like next year – with advice from applications expert Grace Joyce, community manager at The Student Room. 

How can I write my personal statement if I haven’t been able to do any work experience?

Covid-19 restrictions might have ruined your plans for work experience, but there are still plenty of things you can write about in your personal statement.

First of all, it’s worth remembering that everyone is in the same boat and universities are going to understand that the 2021 applicants may not have as much work experience to write about as in previous years.

Grace Joyce, a university applications expert at The Student Room, says that "universities are understanding of the fact the pandemic may have limited your options when it comes to work experience, so being creative in how you show your understanding of your future course and career will help boost your application."

To fill any work-experience-shaped gaps in your personal statement, you could think about the kind of qualities or skills that a student on your course should ideally have, then write examples of ways you’ve demonstrated them in your everyday life.

You could also go into a bit more detail about your previous studies and the reasons why you’re passionate about this subject.

Grace says that "writing a personal statement without any work experience can feel daunting, but the most important thing to remember is that the admissions tutor is looking for your interest and skillset to succeed in your chosen course."

"Focusing on how your qualities apply to key skills needed  for the course, how passionate you are about the subject and how much you have read around the topic is really important," Grace adds. 

In terms of concrete knowledge and skills, there are loads of resources you can use to give your application a bit of a boost. Online training, virtual events and general reading up around a subject can all help make your personal statement stand out.

Finally, don’t forget that your personal statement is supposed to be all about you – keep the focus on why you want to take the course and what would make you good at it, and you’ll be on the right track.

Our guide to writing your personal statement should come in handy when you’re putting your application together, and this article on our sister site The Student Room gives expert tips to help you write your personal statement without work experience

How can I choose a university if I can’t look around it in person?

Open days are a really important part of picking a university. They can give you a feel for what a university is truly like, beyond the glossy brochures and marketing speak.You’re investing a lot of money in going to university after all, so you’ll want to make sure you choose the right one. 

Social distancing guidelines have forced lots of universities’ open days online this year – but you can still get plenty out of these virtual open days when you’re trying to decide where you want to apply.

The exact content of a virtual open day will vary depending on the university, but it will probably include video tours of the campus, facilities and accommodation, as well as covering online Q&As, webinars and talks.

You can check your chosen university’s website to find details of their online offerings, or use this list of virtual tours and videos on the Ucas website.

Learn how to get those most out of university open days with this article and make sure you’re fully prepared with these top questions to ask at a university open day. And this article on our sister site The Student Room explains how to use virtual open days to choose your university

Grace recommends that "talking to as many people as you can about their experiences will help you to make your decisions, so try and chat to as many different people during the events as you can."

"A great tip is to make a list of key questions you need answering from the event, and if you aren’t able to get them all answered talk to event organisers to see if they can get them passed on for you," Grace finishes. 

Once you’ve applied, you may also be invited to an applicant’s day – these are usually held in the spring, so there’s a chance that in-person visits could be back on by then. An applicant’s day will give you a more in-depth tour of the specific department you’ve applied to and allow you to chat with current students and fellow applicants.

How will the cancelled exams affect my university application?

This summer's exams were cancelled in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and students will be receiving teacher-assessed grades instead.

Find out more about the 2021 teacher-assessed grades in this article

A-level results day 2021 is Tuesday 10 August.

Want to know what unis think of this year's system? Find out how the pandemic has affected this year's uni applications in our video.

How will the lockdown school closures affect my university application? 

Because of the latest lockdown measures that have seen schools and colleges close, Ucas pushed its application deadline back two weeks from 15 January to 29 January. 

But applicants who are ready to submit before 29 January should still do so – “we strongly advise students not to leave their application to the last minute and if they are ready to submit now to go ahead do this,” commented Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant.

Anyone who misses the 29 January deadline will still be able to apply to start university this year. The only difference is that their application won’t be guaranteed to receive equal consideration, so there’s a chance that the course they’re applying to might have already filled up – especially if it’s a particularly competitive one.

Here are the Ucas deadline and key application dates.

The next deadline for submitting university applications for 2021 entry is 30 June – anything submitted after that will go through Clearing.

Will the university experience be back to normal by September 2021?

It’s impossible to say for sure – but you can take back a bit of control by finding out how the universities you’re interested in coped with the social distancing restrictions in the 2020/21 academic year.

Most universities started the year with a mixture of online and in-person learning, but many moved to online teaching only as the term progressed.

You could try speaking to current students at the university to find out if they’re happy with how they’ve been taught so far – whether at  virtual open day, an applicant’s day or you could jump on The Student Room forum for your chosen university to see what current students are saying about their experience so far.

It’s also worth finding out what kind of facilities have stayed open for students at the university to use, as well as getting on social media to check how well their clubs and societies have managed to keep running.

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