Covid-19 and Competitive Universities

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“I hope that the education, research, values and connections at Exeter will ensure that whatever your talent or passion you help change lives for the better”

Professor Sir Steve Smith Vice-Chancellor – June 2020

The need for innovative and thoughtful students to tackle the complex global challenges that lie ahead of us is now greater than ever. The opportunity to work with world-leading academics and potentially be part of this process is competitive and we hope to demystify this process.

Competitive universities are classed as those with research informed teaching, high levels of student satisfaction, graduate employability and salaries.


What are Admissions Officers looking for? 

  1. Academic ability
  2. Dedication to the course.
  3. Enthusiastic students who have a genuine interest in the subject AND a desire to learn more.
  4. Transferable skills

When formulating a personal statement, students should be aiming for 70-80% of the content to be directly relevant to the subject they are applying for.  It is worth noting that some universities may prefer to have a heavier weighting on the relevant specific skills rather than the subject focus. Students should go on to individual university websites to double-check exactly what they are looking for.

Why the course and why me

If students only remember one thing then get them to write that little phrase at the top of their draft statement to keep their mind focussed on writing a precise and effective statement. 

But because of Covid-19 my students cannot get work experience, so what now?  

It is true the opportunities that students had lined up now cease to exist and they will have to be braver and more resilient than any year group before.   However, this gives them the perfect opportunity to take a step back and reflect on WHY they wanted that work experience? Was it just to tick a box and fill up the personal statement/CV or was it an informed decision that would help them develop the co

rrect skills suitable for a career they would be passionate about? Importantly advise students to undertake activities that can demonstrate their passion for their chosen subject. Students CAN gain these skills in the coming months by using their initiative and being increasingly self-driven.

  • MOOCs (massive open online courses) such as those provided by Future Learn will allow students over the course of a few weeks to explore a topic they are passionate about and improve their analytical and research skills.
  • Mentoring younger students online will enhance their communication, listening and empathy skills.
  • Students could start a blog/vlog to share their passion and develop their digital awareness, social media presence, research and communication skills.
  • Creating a game or app supporting current research will demonstrate product management, coding, writing, design and data skills.
  • Leadership and organisational skills can be demonstrated through co-ordinating a small plan with peers for their local community to donate items to a food bank.
  • Companies such as Google, Accenture, Marks & Spencer, PwC and Barclays are offering virtual work experience to develop a variety of skills lasting between 1-3 months.


Do not let students feel dismayed as they can write about their personal experiences too. For example, caring for a relative is challenging, important and simultaneously demonstrates great empathy and listening skills.

The voice of young people to be influential in building a sustainable and progressive future is as vital as ever. Encourage your students to be proactive and reach out to companies, charities and institutions to offer their skills and free support in exchange for experience be it on or offline.


We know this a challenging time for teachers and students alike so please reach out if there is any way we can support you further at 

To explore our resources and guide students remotely with confidence, then please visit:  You can also request an Outreach Officer to deliver FREE virtual sessions to support your students on a wide variety of topics.

Orla Kirkland – Outreach Officer 


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