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Pandemic economy has some students opt for grad school

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Some students are changing their plans for the future, taking a hard look at graduate school, to adapt to the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic and get more time on campus. 

Throughout the year, some students originally slated to graduate this spring say they have been concerned about the pandemic causing exponential unemployment rates and income cuts. Applications to graduate schools have spiked nationwide during the pandemic, reflecting the decision of many to avoid entering the workforce amid the shake-up.

Stanford academic advisor for pre-professional students Rebecca Curtin said that nationally, applications to some professional school programs may increase this year. But among Stanford students specifically, Curtin said that it is “difficult to say whether the number of students interested in these programs is higher since the pandemic began.” 

Among undergraduate students, Curtin said she noticed that more were interested in coterminal (coterm) degrees, with more people seeking advising appointments. Coterm students are allowed to matriculate into one of Stanford’s participating master’s degree programs while completing their undergraduate studies.

As one of those students, Jahnavi Deb ’21 said that she decided to pursue a coterm because of economic concerns, and also as a senior, she wanted more time on campus. Stanford transitioned to remote instruction for its 2019-20 spring quarter. Under current reopening plans, juniors and seniors are slated to return to campus for the coming spring quarter. 

“I never really planned on coterming, I was just going to graduate in June 2021 and start work shortly after that,” she said. “But because of COVID I decided that I wanted another year on campus … I turned down the job offer I originally was going to take.” 

For Anna Park ’22, the flexibility of a “hybrid model” of instruction incentivized her to change her long-term plans and also pursue a coterm. “I never thought I was going to go to graduate school,” she said, adding that despite the difficulties of online learning, she now had a “greater interest to coterm at Stanford and get [her] master’s degree.”

Curtin explained that the online format appeals to other students as well, saying that “some students who have been away from Stanford for longer periods of time have been attracted by the opportunity to finish their degrees by taking online classes.”

Deb said she has noticed that more of her peers are changing their plans as well, pursuing gap years or planning a coterm instead of joining the workforce after graduating. 

After a 3.8% unemployment rate for recent graduates in the U.S. in January 2020, that number spiked to 9.1% in September 2020. 

The Association of American Medical Colleges reported an 18% jump in medical school applicants across the nation compared to 2019. Education consultant Steve Goodman told WUSA that he estimated applications to MBA programs increased around 20% and that he saw a 30% growth in applications to law schools nationwide. Another survey by Careerup found that COVID-19 has made 28% of students consider a change to their career plans.

“I just think a lot of people turned down jobs they were planning on taking to take a gap year or to coterm because people are trying to preserve a fifth year on campus … this year is very unusual in that we can’t be on campus and have in person classes which I think is really important to people,” Deb said. 

Contact Anita Tun at anitatun2005 ‘at’ gmail.com.

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Anita Tun is a high schooler participating in The Daily's Winter Journalism Workshop.