Experts warn that university admissions will be more competitive in 2021

With Grade 12 students heading back to school on 1 June, a sense of optimism will be growing that the academic year, as well as prospects for a fresh start at university in 2021 will be growing throughout the class of 2020. 

But the catastrophic, universal impact of COVID-19 on every facet of societal normality, means that the class of 2020 will have a variety of additional challenges to overcome should they want to study further. 

According to educational experts, students who have set their sights on top universities, both locally and overseas, must demonstrate innovation in order to stand out and build impressive application portfolios these remarkable times.

'Admissions will be more competitive'

School sports and many other extra-curricular activities have remained cancelled despite schools returning, with an increased risk of spread cited as the reason for this. 

Such activities are integral to the application process for many young people hoping to get scholarships into universities in South Africa and abroad.

"Universities are looking for well-rounded candidates who can successfully manage both academic and environmental pressures. This crisis gives students an opportunity to show universities how they handle difficult situations – the ability to react smartly, efficiently, and empathetically is evidence of what they can bring to a campus and their future careers," said Rebecca Pretorius, Country Manager for Crimson Education.

Pretorius said that with the pressures of the pandemic having weighed heavily on students during an increasingly uncertain period of their lives, universities would still be looking for outstanding candidates for the 2021 year, and warned that criteria for entry may be even stricter. 

"While admissions officers will certainly be sympathetic to the extenuating circumstances of a global pandemic, the reality is that it's only going to make admissions at top universities more competitive," said Pretorius.

How to stand out during COVID-19

Pretorius said that all hope is certainly not lost though, and urged metrics to follow a few tips on how to boost their profile ahead of the yet-to-be-announced application season. 

"Regardless of where a student is applying, Crimson's advice is to leverage the current situation to demonstrate adaptability and creative thinking," said Pretorius, offering the following tips: 

  1. Academics: "While you may not be able to engage as much with your teachers, your academic success remains in your hands. Students can learn more about the areas they are interested in by utilising online resources for independent subject research."

  2. Demonstrate leadership: "Show that you are quick to adapt, and an asset to any organisation by moving everything online.For example, if you are part of a sports team, consider building a home workout for your teammates. If you are planning an event, consider making it digital using  Zoom or Google Hangout."[*]Find online extracurriculars: "Even once schools reopen, strict social distancing measures will prevent most sporting and cultural extracurricular activities. You can showcase your commitment to learning outside of an academic setting by participating in online conferences, digital hackathons, and virtual debates."[*]Personal Projects: "Universities love to see students who take initiative and lead their own projects. You can start your own app, launch a non-profit or start-up company, or get involved with virtual volunteering for charities. For example, you can make support phone calls to the elderly or by set up social media pages for non-profit organisations."