Like so many other things during the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education has drastically changed over the past 10 months.
Schools shifted to virtual learning, facilities were shut down, administrations had to figure out how to test students, and much more.
Schools themselves weren’t the only ones that had to adjust to the pandemic either. Millions of college students had to start taking classes remotely and figure out how to adjust to life with new restrictions.
With all of this change, we wanted to see how students’ college experiences have been affected and if the pandemic has shifted their plans for the future.
To do so, we surveyed 1,000 college students in the United States, asking them what parts of their college experiences have been affected the most, if they have considered taking time off, and more.
In this study:
Over 40% of college students say their ability to learn, mental health, and social life have gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic
We started off our survey by asking students how their college experience has changed since the pandemic started. We asked respondents to rate their overall college experience before the pandemic and now.
As you can see in the graphic above, on average, students rate their college experience now as worse compared to before the pandemic.
Many aspects of students’ college experience have shifted since the pandemic started including having to take classes virtually, restrictions on gatherings, and much more.
So which parts of students’ college lives are suffering the most?
Our next set of questions dug into how students’ learning experience, preparedness for a full-time job, thoughts on the value of their education, social life, and mental health have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and all the associated changes.
As shown in the above chart, over 40% of students rated each of the options as either “much worse” or “somewhat worse.”
Students’ social lives have taken the biggest hit with 30% of respondents saying it is “much worse” and another 30.2% saying it is “somewhat worse.” Aside from not being able to meet new people in classes, many colleges have also banned parties and enforced strict punishments for those who disobey new student conduct policies related to COVID-19.
The next most impacted aspect of students’ college experience—and perhaps more concerning—is their ability to learn. 17.5% of students indicated that their ability to learn is “much worse” while another 39.8% indicated that it is “somewhat worse.”
Students, first and foremost, go to college to increase their knowledge so they can make an impact in the fields they work in and improve their careers. While colleges have clearly made efforts to help students continue to learn during this unprecedented time, the nature of having to take most classes and seek help online makes it difficult.
One of our other questions supports the difficulty of online learning. When asked if it is challenging to get help in their current learning environment, over half of students indicated that it is difficult.
Many students also have been struggling with their mental health, feel less prepared for a full-time job after graduation, and think the value of their education has decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over one-third of students considering taking time off from college
Suspecting that many students would indicate that their college experience was suffering, we were curious whether any were considering taking off this upcoming spring semester or the 2021-22 academic year.
As shown in the chart above, 37.7% of students reported that they are likely taking the upcoming semester off with another 38.6% indicating that they are likely to take the 2021-22 academic year off.
While it’s unfair to blame students for wanting to defer their education until things normalize, this continued drop in enrollment would drastically impact colleges that are already suffering financially.
Decreases in enrollment leads to decreases in revenue, which causes colleges to cut majors, furlough professors and other staff, and even shut down completely in some cases.
63% of students considering changing their major or career path
With all of this change on top of the difficulties with learning, we wanted to figure out whether students were changing their majors because they either wanted to take different career paths or were having a hard time with classes.
It’s clear that the pandemic has caused many students to rethink their majors and career plans, with 62.8% of respondents indicating that they have considered changing one or both.
Some students may have been planning to work in an industry that has been severely impacted by the pandemic, such as hospitalities, and are wary of possible future instability. Other students may have decided that they want to work in a role where they could help prevent or reduce the impact of future pandemics, such as public health or medicine.
A considerable portion of students, 16.5%, have considered changing majors because of difficulty with classes. As shown above, many students are having trouble with learning and getting help in their current learning environments.
If these students were able to receive more in-person instruction and support, they may have been able to succeed in their classes, allowing them to pursue their preferred career paths.
In a matter of 10 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has seemingly derailed a significant number of students’ career plans, like so many other things.
Many students don’t feel safe on campus but think their colleges are doing a good job managing COVID-19
With over 360 thousands deaths from COVID-19 in the United States alone, students’ safety is crucial despite the negative consequences that come with related restrictions and policy changes.
Our next question gauged how safe students feel on campus.
As shown in the graphic above, students are pretty evenly split on how safe they feel on campus. Almost equal amounts of students feel “very safe” (14.3%) and “very unsafe” (14.9%), and slightly more students feel “somewhat unsafe” (24.8%) than “somewhat safe” (20.60%).
We also asked students how good of a job they thought their schools were doing with handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite over 40% of students feeling unsafe on campus, the majority think that their colleges and universities are doing a good job at handling the pandemic. Only 15.7% of respondents think that their schools were doing a “very poor job” (4.8%) or “somewhat poor job” (10.9%).
Most colleges quickly took measures to protect their students and staff. Though most students aren’t enjoying the consequences of these measures, it seems they are happy with their colleges’ efforts to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
Over half of students more likely to look for remote jobs after graduation after experiencing virtual learning
With so many companies shifting to having employees work from home during the pandemic, as well as most students experiencing prolonged virtual learning for the first time, we wanted to see if students were more likely to look for a remote job after graduation.
Surprisingly, over half of students (57.4%) indicated that they are more likely to look for a remote job after graduation.
Though our survey results indicate that students have had a hard time with learning virtually, there are some positive aspects that they may enjoy—such as having to spend less time walking from class to class and being able to take classes from the comfort of their own homes—that may make a remote job look more attractive.
A number of companies have already shifted to permanent remote work. Even after the pandemic is over, it will be interesting to see if other companies adopt similar policies as a way to attract recent graduates and other workers that prefer working from home.
Students are looking forward to learning in person & socializing once restrictions are lifted
Our last question asked students what they were looking forward to the most once restrictions were lifted.
The results indicate that students are excited to move on from many of the things that have been holding back their college experiences.
The plurality of students (26.5%) are eager to be able to learn from instructors in person. Related, 16.4% are excited to collaborate with classmates more easily.
Many students are also looking forward to their social lives going back to normal, with 20.5% saying they are most excited to hang out with friends and 9.6% saying they are most excited to meet new people.
- How satisfied were you with your overall college experience before COVID-19?
- Very satisfied (36.6%)
- Somewhat satisfied (28.0%)
- Neutral (16.0%)
- Somewhat dissatisfied (9.8%)
- Very dissatisfied (4.9%)
- This is my first year in college (4.7%)
- How satisfied are you with your overall college experience now?
- Very satisfied (22.0%)
- Somewhat satisfied (29.6%)
- Neutral (27.2%)
- Somewhat dissatisfied (16.3%)
- Very dissatisfied (4.9%)
- How have changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic affected your ability to learn?
- It is much better (9.5%)
- It is somewhat better (9.2%)
- It is about the same (24.0%)
- It is somewhat worse (39.8%)
- It is much worse (17.5%)
- How do you think your preparedness for a full-time job has changed due to changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic?
- It is much better (8.1%)
- It is somewhat better (11.0%)
- It is about the same (29.9%)
- It is somewhat worse (35.0%)
- It is much worse (16.0%)
- How do you think the value of your education has changed due to changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic?
- It is much better (8.9%)
- It is somewhat better (13.1%)
- It is about the same (31.4%)
- It is somewhat worse (30.1%)
- It is much worse (16.5%)
- How has your social life been impacted by changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic?
- It is much better (7.4%)
- It is somewhat better (9.4%)
- It is about the same (23.0%)
- It is somewhat worse (30.2%)
- It is much worse (30.0%)
- How has your mental health been impacted by changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic?
- It is much better (10.5%)
- It is somewhat better (10.8%)
- It is about the same (27.3%)
- It is somewhat worse (32.4%)
- It is much worse (19.0%)
- If you are having trouble with classes, how challenging is it to get help in your current learning environment?
- Very easy (10.2%)
- Somewhat easy (12.6%)
- Neutral (27.0%)
- Somewhat difficult (36.1%)
- Very difficult (14.1%)
- Have you considered taking the 2021 spring semester off due to restrictions and other policy changes related to COVID-19?
- Yes and likely to do so (37.7%)
- Yes but unlikely to do so (36.5%)
- No (25.8%)
- Will you consider taking the 2021-22 academic year off if restrictions and other policy changes related to COVID-19 are still in place?
- Yes and likely to do so (38.6%)
- Yes but unlikely to do so (30.1%)
- No (31.3%)
- Do you feel safe living on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Yes, very safe (14.3%)
- Yes, somewhat safe (20.6%)
- Neutral (25.4%)
- No, somewhat unsafe (24.8%)
- No, very unsafe (14.9%)
- How do you feel like your college is doing at managing the COVID-19 pandemic?
- They are doing a very good job (20.8%)
- They are doing a pretty good job (38.3%)
- Neutral (25.2%)
- They are doing a somewhat poor job (10.9%)
- They are doing a very poor job (4.8%)
- Have you considered changing your major due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Yes, because I want to take a different career path (16.1%)
- Yes, because of difficulty with my classes (16.5%)
- Yes, because of something else (10.7%)
- No, but I have considered a different career path because of the pandemic (19.5%)
- No (37.2%)
- Are you more likely to look for a remote job after graduation after experiencing virtual learning?
- Yes, I will be much more likely to look for a remote job (28.1%)
- Yes, I will be somewhat more likely to look for a remote job (29.3%)
- Unchanged (27.8%)
- No, I will be somewhat less likely to look for a remote job (9.0%)
- No, I will be much less likely to look for a remote job (5.8%)
- What are you most looking forward to when restrictions related to COVID-19 are lifted?
- Being able to learn from instructors in person (26.5%)
- Being able to collaborate with classmates more easily (16.4%)
- Being able to hang out with friends (20.5%)
- Being able to meet new people (9.6%)
- Being able to be more active around campus (8.9%)
- Not having to worry about contracting COVID-19 (15.4%)
- Other (2.7%)
All data in this report come from a survey commissioned by Intelligent and ran by Pollfish from January 6, 2021, to January 7, 2021. In total, 1,000 students in the United States were surveyed. A screener question was used to ensure all respondents were current college students.