The 2020 National Clearing Survey revealed that mental health and confidence are two of the biggest barriers for students wanting to go to university. But how confident are students on issues such as body positivity, media imagery and appearance? ​

We spoke to more than 300 students about how they feel about their bodies and found a startling correlation between their negative opinions and social media. With one in three sixth formers and one in four undergraduate students deleting pictures if they do not receive enough likes or comments, students are clearly affected by what other people think about them. ​

Although the rise of social media has facilitated our connectedness during the Covid-19 pandemic, it has also had a negative impact, particularly on young people. Three in five sixth formers and two in five undergraduates do not feel happy with their appearance, exacerbated by social media. In fact, students feel that social platforms are the most damaging to their mental health, far worse than television or advertising. ​

positive influences

Constantly connected via social media, students feel the need to match unrealistic beauty standards, with the study revealing that one in four sixth formers have considered getting cosmetic surgery due to negative feelings about their appearance. On the flip side, one of the strong motivators for students to feel more positive about their appearance is seeing people that look similar to them in advertising. And that’s where institutions can step in. ​

Inclusive advertising and branding are the way forward. The insights from this research match those we found in our Where are the students we see research, which revealed that one in five students never feel represented in advertising. 

So, how can institutions shake up traditional beauty standards and pioneer confidence on campus?

  1. No student left behind: make sure you represent everyone

Representation matters. With most activities currently taking place online, students want to see people who look like them on your website, in societies and on your social media. Embrace your diverse student body and empower them to create engaging content that truly represents. From our research, we know that seven in 10 students are more likely to buy from brands that represent them, so, if they can picture themselves in your institution, then you’re looking at one more application. 

  1. Set up support networks

Make sure you’re giving your students a holistic experience of support: empower your societies to be more inclusive and signpost support for students that are struggling. Of course, the support shouldn’t just stop there - the leap to Higher Education is challenging, both academically and socially, and a range of factors play into students’ confidence. So, make sure you’re available to support your students around the clock in the ways that are right for them. ​

"What makes you feel happy about the way you look?" "...Seeing other people that look like me."

- Student Panel response

The benefits to your institution

In addition to breaking down one of the key barriers to filling out an application form, you’ll also benefit from increased positive perception of your institution. Six in 10 students think that brands are more successful if they have diversity in their advertising, so by making your advertising more inclusive, you’ll boast greater popularity amongst Gen-Z.

If you’re looking for actionable steps on where to begin, catch up with our webinar how to solve the problem of gender stereotyping in marketing and advertising, or speak to us today for expert advice on placing diversity and inclusivity at the core of your marketing, advertising and everything you do.

Article by


Lois King

Digital Marketing Assistant