• New research shows increase in eating disorders and other mental health conditions among university applicants, following disruption caused by pandemic
  • Many students also say that they do not feel prepared for university – more support is needed from higher education sector
  • Almost all students want to feel a sense of belonging while at university, but many are anxious about fitting in
  • Research shows fall in excessive drinking and illegal drug consumption among future students
  • Students optimistic about securing job post-university


New research by Unite Students, the UK’s largest provider of student accommodation, shows a rise in the number of university applicants suffering with eating disorders and other mental health conditions.


In a survey of over 1,000 university applicants (due to begin studying at university in Autumn 2021), carried out in collaboration with YouthSight, almost a quarter (24%) said that they had experienced issues with eating or an eating disorder in the last year. This is up by six percentage points on 2017 figures, when just 18% said the same. 

In addition:

  • 15% of respondents said that they have a mental health condition in 2021
  • Of those with mental health conditions:
    • 88% said they have anxiety
    • 11% said they have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
    • 15% said they have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Across the wider survey group, almost all students (92%) want a sense of belonging to a community while they are at university, but over half are anxious about fitting in (59%)



Young people feel unprepared for university

The research also revealed that many do not feel prepared and informed for university in 2021.

Just 36% of total applicants surveyed said that they currently feel ready for their university experience in 2021, down from 45% in 2017.

Just 20% said that they felt well-informed, meanwhile, down from 33% in 2017. 


Fall in excessive drinking and drug use

On a separate note, the research also showed a fall in rates of excessive drinking and illegal drug consumption.  Just 11% of all applicants said that they had drunk too much in the last year, down from 18% in 2017. 

Meanwhile, 5% said they had consumed illegal drugs in the last year, down from 10% in 2017.


More face-to-face learning

Following their experiences of online learning at school and college during the pandemic, applicants want more face-to-face learning opportunities at university. If large-scale lectures continue to be held online from September, the majority (66%) of applicants would prefer a different face-to-face mode of learning.


Students optimistic about the job market

On a positive note, surprisingly, applicants are more confident about getting a job after university than they were in 2017.

This year, 60% said they thought getting the job that they want post-university would be achievable, with ‘some effort and luck’, compared to 55% in 2017. 10%, further, said they thought it would be ‘very easy’.


Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

“This survey confirms that it is a very tough time to be young. University applicants have shown extraordinary resilience over the past year, when their education has been seriously disrupted.

“While we can see a negative impact on their wellbeing, we can also see they are absolutely determined to continue their educational journeys and to make the most of their potential. I worry that people will arrive in higher education less well prepared than their predecessors, but I am also confident that they can thrive if they are given the support they need.”


Richard Smith, Chief Executive at Unite Students, said:

“The last year has been undeniably challenging for students. They have lived through a significant period of disruption, and have seen fewer opportunities to connect with their peers at a critical time in their development. Despite the incredible resilience they have shown, existing mental health conditions have been exacerbated and new ones have emerged.

“These findings are a useful insight into the incoming student population. The increased number of university applicants experiencing eating disorders and other mental health issues is an obvious concern, and something all who work in higher education – including universities themselves, accommodation providers and campus staff – need to keep front of mind.

“At Unite Students, we are focused on building a community for students where they feel they belong and have a solid support system. We are working hard to further enhance and develop the support we already have in place to help students. This is a priority as we look to the new academic year.”


Read the full report, here.


All of these findings and trends are explored further in Unite Students’ Higher Education podcast, Accommodation Matters. Please find a link here.

Participants include:

  • Adrian Clark, Student Health & Wellbeing Manager, University of London
  • Sunday Blake, President at University of Exeter Students' Guild
  • Wayne Templeman, Director of Sixth Form, St Bonaventure's school, East London
  • Simon Jones, Business Development Director, Unite Students


For further information, please contact:


Unite Students

Unite Press Office                                                        

Tel: +44 117 450 6300



Courtney Sanford                                                             

Tel: +44 7795242564

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