What to do in the Corona Crisis to improve your university application

Coronavirus is a dreadful thing. It's changing our lives in ways most of us never imagined was possible. But, for our young people it's important to keep thinking ahead and planning for their futures, whilst continuing their education at home.

I'm sure, like other major historical events, Coronavirus is going to be richly studied in the future. But, in the present, there is much for aspirational students with curious minds to study and learn about from what's happening in the world and think about it through the lens of the subjects they're currently studying and ones they wish to study in the future, maybe at university. This is called supra-curricular study. You can read more about supra-curricular activities in my blog post here, but in this article I'm going to give a run-down of the kinds of questions students in different disciplines could be asking about this crisis right now.

In the absence of being able to get out and about this kind of supra-curricular study is going to be really important students wishing to put together an excellent UCAS personal statement and also to keep them busy in the vacuum that has been left by normal life shutting down.

How to enrich your supra-curricular activities by studying the Coronavirus – subject by subject

Maths, statistics and computing

The most interesting thing for students of these subjects is looking at how the modelling works that has been done to predict the shape of the disease and how the shape can be changed by taking difference approaches e.g. lockdowns, social distancing, wearing masks in public etc.

Students should be looking for detailed accounts of how this modelling works, what maths, statistics and computing are involved and the backgrounds and career paths of the people who are doing it.


There is a huge economic impact of the Coronavirus and it's fascinating for any economist to be looking at the macro and micro ways in which the crisis is being managed by governments, businesses and households. Things to look at include:

  • The stimulus packages and how they link to different economic theories and practices from the past
  • The response of the stock market and how this can be understood and interpreted
  • How businesses have responded – from closure to innovation and what can be learned from this
  • The social impacts of the forced contraction of the economy

These questions should get you started – but see where they lead you in your own inquiry.

Psychology and philosophy

Many people are suffering from the mental health problems that being in lockdown and anxiety about catching the virus bring more than they are from the virus itself. This is very interesting from a psychological and philosophical point of view.

If you're interested in this you could be asking questions about:

  • What positive psychology teaches us about positively managing our mental health
  • Whether there have been any studies about the impact of isolation on people
  • The impact of trauma and extreme stress on people e.g. medical professionals and how to help them through it
  • What philosophy tells us about how to manage our minds in these circumstances, and what wisdom the great religions can contribute to help us get through the crisis
  • The ethics of how to treat dying people, how to manage their deaths and how the grief process is impacted by social distancing.
  • The ethics of depriving entire populations of their freedom to move around and earn an income in the way that they choose.

Biology, chemistry and medicine

This one's kind of obvious, but I don't think people like virologists have even been so visible in the media. There are so many things you could be looking at here, but this is a starter:

  • How do viruses mutate and transmit; the R value (rate of infection) of this virus compared to others and what that means for its management; which medicines have been developed that help cure people with viruses; the differences in medicines for treating bacteria and viruses; how the symptoms of Covid-19 are treated in hospital
  • How the different tests for antigens and antibodies work; what are reagents and how to they work; how labs process tests in bulk

Physics and engineering

The Maclaren formula one team developing an oxygen mask in just over a week showing the potential of medicinal engineering. In what other ways can physics and engineering help?

Geography and sociology

As a geographer myself, the spread of the disease over the world through global migratory networks is fascinating and tells us a lot about global disparities – starting in China and spreading to high-income countries first. It's also interesting for geographers to look at how different geographical areas are impacted by the virus e.g. urban areas versus rural areas or more well-off areas versus areas with more deprivation. There are also questions about global flows of not just people, but also of information and how the internet is facilitating the lockdown with large amounts of social and economic life being able to be conducted through the internet.

This feeds into the sociology of the situation. I saw an interesting thread on Twitter about how Coronavirus was affecting the homeless community of addicts in Glasgow. There are very different problems and priorities for a group of people like this. Similarly, I've seen a lot of talk about how women are being expected to pick up the caring responsibilities being thrown on them in a disproportionate way to men. Is there a chance that this crisis could entrench gender differences, or is women's ‘invisible work' going to become more visible to men as they're in the home supporting caring and home learning alongside women?

Politics and History

On the back of the political earthquake that was Brexit and the election in 2019, it's fascinating to watch the politics of this situation. What can you learn about it?

I think it's also useful to look at the politics through a historical lens. Lots of people are drawing parallels with World War 2 and the Blitz Spirit. Are these comparisons valid? What about more distant historical parallels such as the black death and the plague? Can they teach us anything?

English language and literature

This is linked to the history and politics but an analysis of the language that is being used to talk about the Coronacrisis would be fascinating – particularly in comparison to other recent political events such as Brexit. How is the language used different? How does this affect and reflect the national mood?

I've seen people turning to literature for comfort at this time, with poems being read out on the radio. I reached for Anne Frank's diary in the early stages of the crisis. What literature helps us, comforts us and instructs us at this time? Are we yet seeing a creative out-pouring in response to the crisis, in the way that other historical events often create a large body of literature to help us understand and make sense of those events? Can you create anything of your own?


Reading about how other countries are dealing with the crisis, in their own languages, will help you practice your language skills but also give you an insight into other cultures and their response to the crisis. What can you learn from their response? How is the tone of their language and nature of the debate in those countries different to what is going on in your own country?

Over to you…

I hope this has given you some ideas about how you can become intellectually curious about the crisis around us. The key here is to be curious and to start asking questions – not just being a participant in what is happening, but being an inquiring observer about what's going on.

If you'd like to see more tips about getting into your first choice of university or even applying to Oxbridge I have plenty more resources on my website. Help yourself – while you've got the time, take the time to really understand these things.


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