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With an unstable job market because of the pandemic, many students might consider going straight from college to graduate school.
However, it turns out that a pandemic may be a poor time to pursue an advanced degree.
Colleges have been faced with additional costs related to COVID-19: personal protective equipment, remote learning infrastructure, and COVID-19 tests. More critically, revenue is down because enrollment is down, and with fewer students attending class on campus and living in campus housing, that income stream has been reduced to a trickle. Services, staff and programs are being cut and graduate programs are one of the areas taking a big hit.
Many universities have been forced to suspend or reduce Ph.D. program admissions for fall 2021 in order to conserve resources for students currently pursuing programs. Dozens of Ph.D. programs nationwide (even at elite research universities such as Harvard, Princeton and UC Berkeley) have announced that they will not be admitting any new students for the next academic year.
This temporary pause could have long-lasting effects, but according to Inside Higher Education, it’s very difficult to predict what graduate schools will do in the future. Princeton University’s sociology department, for instance, recently announced that it will honor admissions offers to students for the coming academic year but postpone further admissions until fall 2022.
The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences will not take new school-funded doctoral students next fall. Rice University paused admissions to all five of the Ph.D. programs in its school of humanities. The University of Missouri is phasing out three doctoral programs — in sociology, personal financial planning and romance languages — and changing another.
More than 50 doctoral programs in the humanities and social sciences won’t be admitting new students in the fall of 2021 — a response to the pandemic and ensuing economic turmoil. It’s a sort of financial triage to help the programs devote funding to their current students, many of whom will be delayed in completing their degrees because of the disruptions. Suspending admissions for a year, some administrators say, will also allow them to reimagine their doctoral curricula to account for the flagging Ph.D. job market.
Students who were planning to enroll in graduate programs may have to re-evaluate their choices.
Suzanne T. Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, noted that interrupting the grad school pipeline could also have a lingering impact on the higher education work force. “A couple years off is not necessarily the end of the world and may even be a wise thing,” Ms. Ortega said. “But if our universities don’t remain in touch with those students, and connect with them, and encourage them to keep thinking about grad school, we could have our own lost generation of students who get busy with other things and then don’t fulfill their dreams.”
Carnegie Dartlet, a leader in higher education marketing, conducted a survey of more than 1000 prospective graduate students about how COVID-19 is affecting their plans. Some key points recovered from the survey include:
Not all graduate degree programs are suffering. The University of South Florida recently announced that its college of education would become a graduate school only, phasing out undergraduate education degrees completely.
Online graduate degree programs are thriving as well. Antioch University in Ohio just announced a nearly 20% reduction in tuition costs for its online Graduate Management Programs. Northwestern College in Iowa launched a new M.Ed. degree and graduate certificate in teaching history. In addition, University of New Hampshire has always provided a strong offering of online masters degrees.
In view of all these changes and uncertainty, prospective graduate students may want to take a look at other options:
If your student decides to postpone applying to graduate school but is still fairly confident that this is a move they want to make in the future, there are practical steps they can take now to continue forward momentum and be ready when the right moment arrives.
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