COVID-19 has brought the world to its knees. Businesses have been shut, people have been locked in their homes, hospitals are flooded, schools were shut, universities were in the middle of some serious contemplation, and thousands of students who were writing their admission applications were deeply conflicted about their future.
March is the month that worries not only the admission officials but also students who have either received confirmation from their university or are almost on the verge of finally submitting the last draft of their much-revered application. For the admission officials too, it can be a particularly taxing period, especially because this is a crucial period for them to convince those admitted students to finally choose and attend their particular school. Additionally, everyone is working on more than one admissions cycle and by this time is already occupied for the next class of applicants. For most colleges and applicants, this period in itself is highly stressful with plenty of deadlines, submissions, and communication. Something as unprecedented as COVID-19 only made the situation far more difficult and chaotic in unexpected ways. Most of the experts who have observed the changing scenario because of the virus have said that the lockdown was a period where things were unfathomably changing daily, if not hourly, for most of the institutions and students (especially international students). For the universities, particularly, the decrease in international student enrollment remained a top concern.
And so, one is left wondering, how did the lockdown impact graduate applicants in this particular unforeseen period of our lives?
Many questions come to mind. Did it take away the motivation that students had towards studying in a university of their choice? Did it take away the rigour of filling an application while constantly dreaming about the country that one is going to land in? Did it put extra pressure to understand the worth of the university fees being paid? Did it bring a new shift towards how education could possibly be looked at? Did it incite fear due to the job losses that we all saw? Did it make students step back and look at the benefits of online education from the best universities around the world? Did it severely impact the mental health of applicants due to the uncertainty of what else they may have to do if it only gets worse?
The answers are not so straightforward . The major problems that applicants faced during the lockdown can be briefly summarised as follows :
- Disruption of routines and environment
- Limited access to technology and tools during the lockdown
- Severe issues emerging from isolation and restricted mobility
- Growing financial concerns, especially about meeting the university fees and funding opportunities
- A fall in the emotional and mental health
- A decrease in concentration and mind space leading to an incompetent application submission
While the pandemic certainly triggered the college application anxiety for a variety of reasons, international students were most bothered by questions about visas and particularly OPT since consulates and embassies remained closed. Applicants were also extremely worried about the hardship they will have to face upon their graduation. For instance, a recent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), titled A Bad Time to Graduate, suggests that graduates from the class of 2020 will be less likely to find work and will start off in lower-paying occupations than they might have expected. Additionally, it says that the labour market at the point of graduation is likely to be substantially more difficult than back in 2008-09, suggesting a bigger hit to employment prospects and earnings.
According to another research by UK-based graduate jobs website Milkround, just 18% of graduates are securing jobs this year compared to the typical 60%, while according to US-based jobs website, ZipRecruiter, the number of available jobs with university graduates has fallen since its mid-February peak: it fell 77% by mid-May and is still down 61% on its pre-COVID-19 level.
Apart from this, wage depression continued to be a worry for those applying this year. As per a recruiter for UK start-up TableCrowd Talent, Claire Jenkins, a significant reduction was seen in all roles apart from those in development and engineering. While she has observed a slight preference for cheaper graduates than experienced workers, these roles look more likely to be short term or part-time. In fact, Jenkins has also seen a reduction in salaries by approximately 10% across all roles. Experts have additionally pointed out that wage depression is likely to last as long as the economy struggles. According to the IFS report, graduates can expect to earn less than they might have expected for a considerable period of time.