Key Findings

  • 15% of current U.S. college students do not think colleges should require students attending in-person classes to be vaccinated against COVID-19
  • 20% of students opposed say they will transfer to a different institution with no vaccine requirements if their current school mandates them
  • 31% of students who oppose mandates will opt for virtual classes if vaccines are required to attend class in-person
  • 25% opposed to mandated vaccines say such requirements violate an individual’s freedom

As colleges and universities begin returning to in-person operations for the 2021-22 academic year, many are requiring that students get the COVID-19 vaccine as part of their reopening strategy. To find out how students feel about these policies, surveyed 1,250 current college students.

Majority of college students support vax mandates

Overall, 70% of students surveyed support some form of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Thirty percent say colleges should mandate vaccines for all students attending in-person classes, with no exemptions. Twenty-seven percent think medical exemptions should be allowed, and another 13% support medical and religious exemptions. Fifteen percent do not believe colleges should require vaccines for on-campus students.

89% of mandate-opposed students plot alternatives to vax

Colleges that are requiring vaccines for on-campus students should prepare for push back from students who oppose the mandates—or an outright exodus. When asked what they will do if their institution requires proof of vaccination in order to attend in-person classes, only 11% say they will get the vaccine.

Meanwhile, 31% of students who don’t support vaccine requirements say that if it’s a prerequisite for in-person attendance, they will stick to virtual classes. But they may be banking on an option that won’t be available, warns Managing Editor Kristen Scatton.

“Virtual classes have been a primary mode of instruction for the past year,” she says. “But for most brick-and-mortar schools, the goal of vaccinations is to return to all in-person instruction. Individual colleges will determine how many, if any, online classes they’ll offer this upcoming academic year, so students seeking this as an alternative to getting vaccinated must make sure they’ll be able to complete all their classes this way.”

20% will transfer if vaccines are mandated

Twenty percent of students opposed say they will transfer to a different institution with no vaccine requirements if their current school mandates them, an option with its own complications.

“There are colleges that don’t mandate vaccines, but higher education tends to operate under a sort of hivemind,” says Scatton. “Plus, schools want to keep their students, staff, and communities safe, and avoid on-campus outbreaks. The list of schools with no vaccine mandates may not be as long as students think. Also, when transferring, there are a lot of things to consider, like program availability, admissions requirements, and transfer of credits.”

Another 20% of students plan to fake their way through requirements, or get exempt from them. Five percent of students will get a fake vaccination card, 9% will claim a religious exemption and 6% will try to get a medical exemption.

25% opposed believe it’s ‘a violation of individual’s freedoms’

We asked students who don’t think vaccines should be required for the reasons behind their opposition. One-fourth of students say it’s a violation of an individual’s freedom to require a COVID vaccine.

1 in 4 oppose mandates because they believe vaccine isn’t ‘safe’ or ‘effective’

For another 25% of students, their opposition is rooted in concerns about the vaccine itself. Fifteen percent of these students say the vaccine isn’t safe, and another 10% say it isn’t effective.

Eleven percent of students say young people don’t get seriously ill or die from COVID-19, and 4% say COVID-19 isn’t real. Meanwhile, 9% of respondents say the vaccine is made of the fetal tissue of aborted babies, and 7% say the vaccine contains a microchip tracking device. Ten percent of students oppose mandated vaccines because they can’t afford it.


All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 current American college students were surveyed. To qualify for the survey, each respondent had to currently be enrolled in college. Appropriate respondents were found via a screening question. This survey was conducted on Saturday, May 15, 2021. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities.