Graduate Admissions

How the Coronavirus Impacts Grad School Admissions

By: Dr. Kristen Willmott

The impact of the coronavirus is one we are actively following for our students past, present and future. So far, we have had high school students with cancelled spring break immersion programs, college tours and campus visits like those at MIT, admit weekends like those at Harvard, summer programs, study abroad plans, and test center closures.

While there are indeed “admissions disruptions,” as the University of Washington’s grad school admissions websites notes, from where we stand, there are some critical grad school admissions implications to be mindful of (in no particular order):




  • Top colleges and grad schools have switched in-person classes to be online only, as Stanford did through March 19 and Vanderbilt did through March 30.
    • For students seeking to attend office hours/prep via on-campus study groups/use the writing center/bump up their grades in the final hour of the course, AKA at the end of the quarter, that’s a big stumbling block now.
  • Current grad school students who went home for the long holiday break, which for some extends into mid-February or later, were unable to return to the U.S. for the spring term due to travel restrictions, and students traveling for spring break, or hoping to head home now that their classes are online only, are having a hard time finding flights home.


  • Grad school and college admissions offices have stepped into unprecedented territory as they move to predict enrollment and yield data (and corresponding admit offers in the coming year).
    • As Inside Higher Ed recently confirmed, “From an enrollment management perspective, the uncertainty throws yield calculations into serious question.” That affects admit numbers, waitlist offers, and more.
  • ~300 million K-12 students are missing classes globally, which is impacting parents’ work schedules, childcare demands and needs for younger children and siblings, available income that families will have to devote to higher education and campus visits, summer program opportunities, college courses outside of high school, etc.
  • PhD applicants seeking to work with faculty who have similar research interests may have newfound struggles as faculty travel restrictions have been imposed.
    • For faculty with research and/or grants that necessitate travel, their ability to take on new students and advisees may change, access to national and international funding opportunities may decrease, etc. This could affect PhD admit numbers and funding in the upcoming admissions season of 2020-2021.
  • Faculty across the U.S. and internationally are being met with sudden demands from university administrators to flip their courses to online formats.
    • For thousands of faculty, there was little to no training on that sudden request, they’re unfamiliar with it, they’ve been using adaptations of the same syllabus for years, etc.
    • The rush to move courses online happened overnight at some colleges, with more coming, and a syllabus doesn’t get crafted (or scrapped and re-crafted) overnight.
    • As the Chronicle of Higher Ed noted, Stanford put out a 21-page GoogleDoc with advice for faculty pushing their courses to online formats quickly. BUT, the impact of rushed online content, e-discussion boards, feedback and grading will likely have ripple effects, i.e. students contesting final grades, confusion about course expectations including final exams/papers, and perhaps even students who question rushed course prep when university tuition and fees hover at over $3,000 a class.
  • Admissions-savvy grad school applicants, including those working with us, seeking to boost their research foundations in the form of conference presentations may be unable to present at top national and international conferences.
    • This impacts those submitting proposals to try to present, as well as those who have already secured conference presentations.
    • This carries across all fields from STEM (the American Physical Society canceled its conference for over 10,000 physicists in Denver March 2-6) to the humanities (the American Bar Association canceled its National Institute on White Collar Crime March 11-13 in San Diego) to even our own field of higher education (the American Educational Research Association (AERA) flipped its annual conference to be held virtually instead of in San Francisco April 17-21; this affects over 20,000 planned attendees.


In a sea of news stories with the word “panic” in the title, it’s important that students and their families feel supported and ‘in-the-know’ on a plan of action, and that’s our goal here at Top Tier Admissions on a daily basis, even outside of this story. The good news is that opportunities for online learning are plentiful for most, and many universities and schools and education leaders (ourselves included) are working to take quick action for the benefit of students, their higher education pathways and goals, and their families.

For our students who have been impacted already, we are working to find creative solutions for them, from online learning and research opportunities, to unique program options, to added test center choices, summer program application guidance, conference pursuits, connections with faculty and more. And of course, we will continue to monitor how forthcoming news impacts students in the land of higher education with a close eye –and super clean hands.

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