Blog 🍎 School 31st August 2021

5 Reasons Why the Class of 2022 Needs More Guidance than Ever

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James Leach

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

COVID-19 seems to be waning, but its effects are still felt by the class of 2022. In this article, we think about the extra challenges students face this year, and how you can help surmount them.

As the new school year begins, you’re probably thinking about how to help the class of 2022 accomplish their goals and get accepted onto their perfect university courses. You might be reflecting on how your 2021 cohort did, and all the ways that COVID-19 impacted their learning and, ultimately, their outcomes.

In many countries around the world, we’re looking towards a return to ‘normal’. Many educational systems are trying to revert to in-person teaching as much as possible, and students are still setting their sights firmly on international university destinations.

All of this might make you think that the intensity of students’ need for extra support has peaked. The class of 2021, you might think, were the hardest hit by COVID-19, and now that they’ve spread their wings and are enrolling at university, you can settle back into the regular rhythm of things.

But actually, you might find that’s not the case at all. In fact, 2022’s graduating students will likely need even more help and guidance than their predecessors.

To find out why, and what you can do to help, keep reading…

The class of 2022 had more learning disruptions

The class of 2021 might have been navigating uncharted waters in its final year, but the class of 2022 has endured two years of disrupted learning thanks to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and challenges.

Crucially, these were the final two years of their secondary study – arguably the most significant of all. These are when students’ learning for their final assessments takes place, assessments which determine which universities they can attend. It’s no understatement to say these two years shape students’ lives!

What’s more, in some educational programmes, these two years can be students’ only opportunities to experience certain subject areas at all. For example, many schools don’t teach subjects like Psychology or Economics until students reach their penultimate year.

That means for some students, almost their entire experience of a subject will have been remote. Not only does that mean teaching might have been disrupted, but also that they mightn’t have uncovered a latent passion or aptitude for the subject.

And just as their academic experiences and passions have been curtailed, so too have many extracurricular pursuits. Since early 2020, many school sports fixtures and other extracurricular activities have been reduced, postponed or cancelled.

Again, this could result in potential remaining untapped. It might also heighten students’ worries about their application essays and personal statements being sparser than they had imagined, and the effect on their chances of admission.

How you can help: encourage students to think holistically about subjects and extracurriculars

Unfortunately, students’ stunted experiences of subjects over the past couple of years means they might base their university decisions on pre-pandemic lessons, whether consciously or not.

The problem is that the material they were learning two years ago is probably not representative of what a degree would entail. It could also mean they’re dismissing entire subject areas out of hand.

That’s why careful research which includes assessments of students’ personalities, learning styles and aptitudes is so vital for the class of 2022.

Once students have a better understanding of what they’re really interested in and their long-term goals, as well as the conditions that let them perform at their best, they can adopt a future-facing rather than retrospective approach to university research.

Note: It might be particularly helpful to focus on what degrees in different areas involve to give students a firmer understanding of what to expect. You could even ask alumni or other current university students to give talks about their first-hand experiences.

Remember, too, that just because a lot of clubs and teams were on pause doesn’t mean students need to stick to a purely academic script. Instead, get creative and push students to think about all the things they do outside of lesson-time.

Did they try out any new hobbies over the past couple of years? Or maybe they had a passion they’ve managed to maintain (even tangentially) throughout COVID-19. Even drawing inspiration and hope from watching legendary judo matches while their own lessons were cancelled could be compelling!

Essentially, students need to pin down the characteristics they want to showcase to universities, and then think about how they’ve demonstrated them. It could even be juggling remote learning with looking after younger siblings while their parents attended virtual meetings in the kitchen, bonding with their families over banana bread or finding hidden culinary talents – these can all be valuably woven into university applications.

Predicting grades and writing recommendations is trickier for the class of 2022

A knock-on effect of students’ reduced in-person contact with their teachers is that it’s harder than ever for teachers to produce supporting materials for students’ university applications.

In fact, many of the teachers who would usually supply predicted grades for application systems like UCAS and write letters of recommendation and references might have never met some students. Trying to gauge how students will (or would) perform and write glowing accounts of their contributions in class could pose some challenges.

This is made all the more difficult by the fact that many students haven’t had the usual interim assessments and coursework that can indicate how they’re likely to perform.

In contrast, last year teachers had much more face to face contact with students, and had a pre-pandemic anchor on which to base their predictions and recommendations.

Again, this uncertainty could increase students’ anxieties about the quality of their applications to universities. They might worry that teachers will forecast their grades harshly, or be unable to write compelling references.

How you can help: communicate openly and early

It can be tricky to see a way to tackle very practical obstacles like this one, but there are definitely steps you can take.

The first thing is to pre-empt the problem: talk to teachers right as the school year starts. Remind them that they’ll need to provide references as normal, about with the new rubric to measure students’ potentials – one that takes into account the challenges and circumstances COVID-19 brought.

Note: If your colleagues are feeling particularly unsure about predicting grades this year, organisations like UCAS have provided extra guidance.

Likewise, reassure your students that teachers know how hard they’ve been working, and have plenty of evidence of their talents from virtual class discussions, homework and projects they’ve completed. What’s more, universities know that things have been a little different, so references might be too. It can be particularly reassuring to remind students that their peers all over the world are in the same boat.

Of course, it’s not just your own communication with teachers and students that matters here! Be sure students think early about who they might want references from, and encourage them to start conversations as soon as they can.

That way, if teachers have any questions or concerns they can raise them, and they can get a fuller picture of students’ interests in a subject. For example, hearing about how a student has had their passion sparked by a documentary about Ancient Greece or created a functioning aeroplane model at home can really bring students’ potential and passion to life.

Students are facing conflicting messages about studying abroad

Although many students did decide to go to university overseas last year, there seemed to be a trend in students applying at least a little closer to home, and popular destinations like the USA, the UK and Australia were losing their grips on the top spots (thanks in part to the Trump administration, Brexit, and Australia’s stringent border closures following the COVID-19 outbreak).

The students that did choose to apply abroad likely had strong convictions about their decisions – and we’re sure they’re glad that they stuck to them! But for those who were wavering, the messaging was quite clear: eliminate all avoidable travel.

This year, though, things aren’t so black and white. Policies vary hugely between different countries in everything from student visa dispensation, to admitting foreigners, to quarantine and testing rules.

Entrance to some countries, like Australia, remains very difficult for international students. At the same time, other countries like Canada seem to be facilitating as many international applicants as possible!

There’s also a huge divergence in opinion, with some people feeling totally comfortable travelling again while others are still cautious.

That can add extra confusion to the already intense university research process. It also means that students might feel pulled between different influences in their lives.

For example, their grandparents might be reluctant for them to travel given the ongoing health risks and the potential complications that could arise for travelling home. Their parents, on the other hand, could be urging them to pursue the most academically prestigious university overseas or encouraging them to have an adventure abroad.

The class of 2022 will likely have an even harder time balancing conflicting pressures and priorities than the class of 2021, with everything being much less clean-cut.

How you can help: ask students to create thoughtful and balanced university shortlists

University research is doubtless a mainstay in your strategy – after all, it’s foundational to university and careers guidance. But with conflicting messages and pressures, helping students explore their university options thoroughly is more important than ever.

Before they even begin looking, you might want to ask students to think about:

  • How comfortable they feel travelling to a different country
  • How often they’d hope to come home
  • What their strongest motivations are for studying abroad
  • How they would react if travel restrictions seemed likely while they were abroad

By dedicating plenty of time and thought to their list, they should be able to strike a better balance between the different pressures and messages they’re facing. Hopefully, they can find options that suit different potential outcomes and conclusions, so that by the time it comes to finalising their decision they can choose the university that best fits the situation as it stands then.

The class of 2022 is facing more competition for university places

As if all of these challenges weren’t enough, this year’s group will be applying in what might be the most competitive application cycle to date. There are a couple of reasons for this.

It’s the first year to be directly impacted by Brexit

As if all of these challenges weren’t enough, this year’s group will be applying in what might be the most competitive application cycle to date. There are a couple of reasons for this.

It’s the first year to be directly impacted by Brexit

Last year, applicants to UK universities from the EU still enjoyed the benefits of applying within the EU. In Scotland, that meant free tuition and in the rest of the UK they had ‘home fee status’ meaning they paid the same as students from the UK. It also meant they didn’t need a student visa, making the application and move much simpler.

But now, EU students face extra legal and financial hurdles. If your students have their hearts set on the UK and they’re based in the EU, they have an increased workload compared to last year’s cohort.

It’s not just applicants to the UK who are likely to feel the effects of Brexit, though. As fewer EU students apply to the UK, they’ll have to apply elsewhere! As a result, there’ll be increased competition for spots at other top universities.

There’ll likely be more students who apply in other EU countries, to keep the benefits of staying within the EU. But there could also be those who decide to apply to the UK and submit more applications further afield, too – they already have to deal with the visa process for the UK so they might as well go whole hog and spread their submissions!

Ultimately, that could make it harder for students to gain entry to their top choices, and again make them even more anxious during their all-important final year.

There’s an increased demand for higher education

It’s not just Brexit driving up competition for places: there’s been an overall rise in university applications. In the UK, new records have been set and half of all school leavers are applying to university. The USA has also seen a huge jump in the number of applications submitted to top colleges.

Again, this can create tremendous anxiety and mean more disappointments for students if they’re receiving multiple rejections over the course of their final year.

But it can be even more complicated than that. Often, universities send out more offers than they can realistically accommodate, expecting many students to reject them and study elsewhere. If more students accept the offers than anticipated, though, universities might be forced to retract the offer or request that students defer. That’s what happened recently at the University of Exeter!

How you can help: start your guidance process early

As you’ve seen, there are actually quite a few tasks which you’ll want to encourage students to spend more time and thought on than usual. As a result, it’s a good idea to get started extra early and energetically with the class of 2022.

A benefit of getting things moving sooner is that students can make use of resources becoming more accessible: in response to COVID-19, many universities and colleges are holding virtual open days and other recruitment/informational events.

If students form a potential list early on in the year, they’ll be able to attend a fair few of these virtual events – much more than if they were in-person. That’ll give them a better sense of different courses and schools, helping them make informed decisions and stronger applications and reminding them that even though competition is tough, there are lots of great options available.

And by researching more institutions thoroughly, students can find safety, reach and match options and spread their applications across the board. That way, even if they don’t get into their top choice they’ll have a course they’re interested in come September.

Plus, for students applying to places with early application options (like the USA’s Early Decision and Early Action), submitting sooner can increase their chances of acceptance in an intensely competitive year. If they don’t get accepted, they’ll also have more time to regroup and send out fresh applications.

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