In Their Own Words: Biggest Impact COVID-19 Has Had on Prospective Graduate Students

Carnegie Higher Ed May 13, 2020 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

At the beginning of April, we surveyed over 1,000 prospective graduate students to get an understanding of the impact that COVID-19 was having on their graduate school search, consideration, and decision-making process. 

The results of that survey and the insights surrounding it were published on our blog

As part of the survey, we asked a simple but significant question: What would you say is the most significant impact COVID-19 has had on your graduate school research and selection process?

We received over 700 unfiltered free-form responses to this question alone. Below, we unpack the six themes of their responses—with real quotes from the respondents.

Theme 1: Cost, finance, and affordability

Potentially the most significant theme that came through in the 700+ responses was focused on issues, concerns, and uncertainties related to financial implications. While not surprising as a theme, to see the raw response and significance of concern come through in students’ own words was powerful.

“Being able to afford graduate school since I was laid off due to the COVID-19 situation.”

“Covid has halted the process because I am worried about money.”

“COVID-19 has had a huge financial Impact on me. I will not have funds available to pursue a graduate school education. I might have to postpone attending graduate school for one more year.”

“I am not sure that I should spend the money on continuing my education while there is a worldwide pandemic going on. I have a family to provide for.”

“I have been looking at programs that provide scholarships and are more affordable.”

“If I am going to be paying twice as much for in person lessons and they are moved online should I just go online in the first place?”

“I think the most significant impact is financial. There’s been a direct loss in income for me so the likelihood that I’ll ever be able to afford graduate school is slim now.”

“I was saving up but now that jobs are suspended I will likely have to delay applying and attending school by at least an extra year or 2 meaning my GRE scores will be invalid and I will have to pay to take that again.”

“It has increased the significance of affordability as a factor in the selection process.”

“It has made cost a much more significant factor. Like many my financial goals are going to take a huge hit, which changes my grad school timeline and increases the odds I’ll need to take on a lot of debt to get a graduate degree.”

“Not knowing if I’ll be able to afford it or be given financial aid after the crisis is over because of my current student loan debt and the worsening economy.”

“I already am committed to a graduate school as of January 2020, but now I just worry about taking out loans to start my first year of classes online.”

Theme 2: Timelines and delays

The potential of attending graduate school is a major decision that includes a lot of work and life-altering considerations, not the least of which is timing. And that’s before the coronavirus came into play. With the impacts of COVID-19, there’s a clear question entering so many students’ minds about what will be right for them regarding timing as well as what is realistic to expect in terms of when campuses will be ready to open.

“Being able to know how I can move forward and when the Coronavirus will end.”

“Delaying my plans, will likely wait until the fall 2021 semester to consider starting.”

“Delaying my research and application process.”

“Due to the situation, I’m thinking of deferring my program to subsequent year or years if it’s not totally out. It’s changed my decision dependent on whether the outbreak is over or not.”

“I am pushing off my applications until COVID-19 dies down.”

“I’ve applied to some programs, but the delay is making my decision to apply to other programs different because I don’t know where I stand.”

“It halted it. I can’t securely leave my job or afford to invest in prep classes, application fees right now so I won’t be applying.”

“It has pretty much stopped my research into graduate schools.”

“It has really stopped and I haven’t been that concerned about it since I feel there are other more pressing things to deal with and be concerned about.”

“It has stopped me visiting campuses in person and delayed my plans to take the GRE.”

“It may change the timing of my grad school education as well as where I attend grad school.”

“It’s put it on the back burner. I was going to apply this year, but with everything else going on it doesn’t feel like a smart decision anymore. I know I still need a graduate degree, but now I’m even more unsure on how I’ll be able to pay for it or if the programs will be happening. Or if I’ll even get accepted.”

“Pushed back the timeline as I am currently furloughed and not making money to save for school.”

“I am still planning on attending the school I had chosen pre-COVID-19, but I do question whether classes will be back on campus come fall.”

“Since schools shut down and are scrambling to continue classes online, it feels as if graduate school could be put on hold until colleges have a tried and true method of delivering education. Even though most colleges already offered some online classes, there’s a general sense of the education system being overwhelmed by having to move everything completely online. So, covid-19 has essentially put a halt to my application process until Colleges have had the time to create informational packets on how they plan to offer meaningful experience through an online medium. Since all classes are presumably online, it also raises the question of why it matters which school I go to, since all classes would be pretty much the same. At that point , the deciding factor is the quality of teachers and how their curriculum could be more informative, comprehensive and/or useful than the curriculum of the staff of a different school.”

Theme 3: Contact with people and all that’s impacted

There are so many different areas where our inability to connect with people or go certain places in a “normal” way is impacting how prospective graduate students are thinking about their plans. From not being able to visit a campus to questions about what classes will be like this fall in any form of the “new normal,” the significance of human connection—or lack thereof—came through our survey results in all sorts of ways.

“A large campus population and a virus could be a negative. I think that they’ll figure out how to deal with it.”

“An inability to meet with existing students and professors to get a feel for culture.”

“Being able to visit different graduate schools to explore my options.”

“I am concerned with the issue of not being able to meet in person. I also am aware that I need to obtain in person practicum hours to sit for my board exam.”

“Inability to access information in person (e.g. libraries and professors). As well as worrying about the safety of the campus.”

“Being able to visit, tour, and interview.”

“I can’t tour the school. I don’t know if they will proceed with online graduate programs.”

“Just not being able to have timely updates or speak to anyone in person.”

“It’s hard to select a college that is meaningful without touring and meeting university staff.”

“I have realized I prefer in person classes and will not be applying to an online only program unless COVID-19 does not improve by this Fall.”

“I no longer want to attend on campus courses. I would like an online program. I used to think the opposite before covid-19. My outlook has completely changed.”

Theme 4: No impact

Also worth noting is a sizable part of the survey responses described students feeling that COVID-19 would have no impact on their graduate school evaluation and decision-making process. The reasons for this certainly varied and included references to always intending to attend graduate school online, confidence in things getting resolved in time, and a general feeling of the situation simply not having an impact.

“Allowed me to stay home and do research online.”

“As of this moment none. I am looking into my dream school no matter what the outcome is.”

“No impact at all.”

“None really just waiting to hear back from them.”

“Not a large impact. Online colleges and universities (whenever possible) are the best option at this time.”

“Not at all. Was only applying to online graduate programs.”

“Not much, I have already chosen which grad school to attend prior to COVID-19 becoming more serious.”

“Not much on my selection process. It has slowed my GMAT test date.”

“There’s been no impact. I plan on attending grad school at my current undergrad campus.”

Theme 5: Admission process, requirements, and acceptance

We saw a significant amount of survey responses highlighting concern around many of the process-related elements of the graduate admission process, testing opportunities, and more. 

“Added stress about applications and acceptance.”

“How this outbreak will impact GRE testing and /or the admission requirements if the outbreak lasts into the fall and impacts the possibility of GRE testing.”

“I can’t take my prerequisite test to apply to universities until the COVID-19 situation is resolved.”

“Just concerned about admission deadlines, response times, and deadlines.”

“Unsure if i will be able to take the GRE in time to apply.”

“Whether or not anyone is actually reviewing applications.”

“How they are handling applying and also the required documentation we must have to apply.”

“I am unable to schedule appointments to take exams due to state lockdown. I don’t know when the lockdown will be lifted. I would have also liked to visit the campus and observe some of the courses I was planning on taking.”

“I feel unprepared to enter a higher level of learning due to the sudden changes in my current core classes. I am concerned that I am not getting what I need out of the hands-on classes that will be crucial for continuing on in my field.”

Theme 6: Overall concern

Many of the responses that came through crossed over multiple themes and/or communicated an overall concern for all that’s going on right now and how it will impact their graduate school selection and decision-making process. 

“Covid 19 has impacted all areas of my life. Things regarding my grad school program research are put on hold while I deal with family members’ various issues, what to do regarding my aging parent’s living situation, how will I pay bills, etc. The idea of applying to grad school to continue my postgrad education seems a luxury that I can ill afford until there is more certainty regarding when the peak is going to happen and when life may start to resume after that.”

“Mainly, how am I going to pay for school; will certain requirements be exempt; will I have to take the Gmat. Location has been on my mind lately. I am wondering if the schools that I am interested in is doing everything it can to keep the school safe. I am also wondering if I should take class on campus or simply stay home.”

“Inability to access testing materials for the GRE, inability to call admissions offices directly and to physically go visit the schools. Additionally, I can not rely on my undergraduate professors to assist me in the selection process either.”

“I can’t think of anything but being safe and educating my children not myself.”

“I was (and somewhat still am) considering a university in New York, but I don’t think I will attend this year if admitted. I wanted to visit the universities I was admitted to in-person, but that is not possible for the foreseeable future. I am increasingly more concerned about health and safety on university campuses. I am unsure that I would want to start a university semester online (and want to know what that looks like given orientation would also be online).”

“I’ve been watching how different schools are responding, and seeing which ones take it seriously.”

“It has made me hesitant to move forward. I’d rather have a safe job that I can consistently work out of from home to help get my family and I through the coming months.”

“The sudden changes to the economic landscape, job prospects, and ensuing financial burden of attending graduate school, and the limited access to on-site and in-person events/meetings are the two most impactful factors in the process.”

“Not knowing when this will all be over has made me hesitant on applying right now. On a mental and emotional level, I feel like I have other priorities and things to attend to and worry about.”

“Just the uncertainty of everything.”


That last response sums up so much of this in one simple sentence. It’s a word that’s been used so much these days, but in so many different ways and for so many different reasons, there is massive uncertainty for prospective graduate students. As a result, day-by-day and week-by-week is the mantra, and it’s also how schools need to respond, communicate, and plan. 

We’ll continue to pursue answers and provide insight focused on the world of graduate admission and marketing and the impact of COVID-19. With our expansive access to prospective graduate student populations, along with the work we do partnered with so many graduate schools throughout the country, we’re striving to do all we can to provide the resources and support you need throughout all of this. Stay tuned.

Direct queries about this data can be sent to our Executive Vice President of Business Development, Mark Cunningham. For rapidly updating information about COVID-19 and its impact on higher education, please visit our blog.

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