With university application season in disarray, UCAS coordinator, David Preece finds he is missing the joy of seeing those big decision moments in person

 

Monday, May 4

It’s all happening so far away from normal. I miss it.

It’s two weeks since our sixth form sent out a letter to students explaining what we knew and didn’t know about the impact of exam cancellations on our students’ future pathways. I check in on UCAS Track to find that about one-third of our students are still undecided. The team make a list of students and families to follow up with.

In the meantime, we start to make plans for how we’re going to be available to help Year 13 to have other conversations, like student finance applications. I miss the more exciting and joyful discussions about accommodation, cooking skills, or even how to navigate IKEA to buy student basics without consuming your bodyweight in meatballs. Our students are becoming adults, and it’s all happening so far away from normal. I miss it.

 

Tuesday, May 5

It feels like a world without a territory, let alone a map

Attention now starts to focus on what we can do for Year 12. With open days cancelled for the foreseeable future, it seems impossible to imagine how they will start their career journeys now. Some universities are giving virtual tours, using social media and opening their doors electronically as much as possible, but work experience is effectively a non-starter for this year. How will our prospective medical students cope?

We reach out to various medical organisations and discover a number of “virtual work experience” programmes springing up. What about those who wanted to do art foundations and experience taster courses? We are having to become experts in navigating a whole new world and it feels like one without a territory, let alone a map.

 

Wednesday, May 6

Students are waiting to see what changes with each new announcement

“Is it too late to apply to UCAS?” “What if I no longer want to do my gap year?” We’d ordinarily just have these conversations, and students and staff alike are really missing the ease and the humanity of a face-to-face drop-in. But we’d also have resolved most of these a long time ago, and uncertainty is taking its toll.

The necessary closure of university campuses means that all-important deciding factor just isn’t there – the “feel” of the place. The prospect of a gap year is a completely different one now too: some want to cancel their plans and go straight to university, while others feel like this offers a time to go and see the world. Some of our students who were planning to apply for 2021 entry are now trying to shift their applications.

None of us can make decisions based on anything more than the evidence we have. We can only encourage our students to be confident that it is enough.

The government’s work to “fix offers” and ensure no one starts horse-trading with “conditional-unconditionals” has helped steady things, and extending offer deadlines has been positive – but students are waiting to see what changes with each new announcement.

It’s chaotic. I can only imagine how universities are coping at the other end.

 

Thursday, May 7

The sense of satisfaction is still there, but without any of the joy

Another virtual sixth-form leadership team meeting gets us to the Bank Holiday weekend. What is our agenda for the second half-term? How can the pastoral team help support decision making? How can we get students engaging with research and making positive plans – for their mental health and well-being, as much as for their practical outcomes?

We get some webinars in the calendar and invite parents along to one, too. How can we get them to support and discuss this at home, in an already challenging environment?

As for the UCAS process, the key moments are often when it goes quiet, academically. It has been so challenging doing this at a distance and with partial information. The sense of satisfaction is still there when students make tough choices, but without any of the joy. We don’t get to see and share these celebrations and decision-making moments, and they are what makes the role so wonderful.

Still, it’s important we keep positive. Helping our students set their course for a brighter future helps us too.