Several firms have collected and are continuing to collect data to help institutions understand the impact that coronavirus could have on both domestic and international prospective student plans.
In late March and early April, Art and Science (A&S), Maguire Associates, Carnegie Dartlet, Lipman Hearne, Cirkled In and SimpsonScarborough released reports on how the coronavirus is changing prospective students’ plans. Data comes from surveys conducted mainly with prospective students - mostly high school juniors and seniors and their parents. Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), released a report based on on-going survey data from prospective international students and higher education professionals.
Several themes emerged including a significant percentage — 11% (Maguire), 16% (Art and Science) and 20% (SimpsonScarborough) — aren’t sure if they will attend college in the fall of 2020 either as a full-time student or at all. This percentage increased to 30% among international students in the Maguire survey pool and 47% in the QS survey pool. In the Lipman Hearne study, the number of parents who aren’t sure if they will send their students in the fall was 35%.
Some students are concerned they may have to change their first-choice school. In the Art and Science survey pool, two-thirds of students expressed that concern. It also appears as though parents and students are now more likely to choose a college option closer to home. However, the Maguire survey respondents indicated that while COVID-19 has impacted their college search, it had not changed their rank order of schools.
A theme for both domestic and international students is the anxiety around the ability to afford college. In the Carnegie Darlet and Niche survey, 23% said “they currently have a high level of confidence in their ability to afford college compared to 32% before the pandemic took hold” and 69% of the respondent pool for Cirkled In are “expecting a change in their financial situation increasing worry about financial capabilities for higher education.” Nearly half of parents surveyed by Lipman Hearne are more likely to send their student to a less-expensive institution.
Flexibility and clear communications are values that will serve institutions and admissions offices well during this time. The good news is that students will choose a school without visiting, but creative and clear communications will be critical. Carnegie Darlet and Niche, Maguire and SimpsonScarborough included specifics about how students and parents would prefer to virtually experience the institution. For example, students would prefer to speak with faculty/staff in a live stream format and to view a pre-recorded video of residence halls.
Parents specifically are seeking frequent communication, including transparency on institutional plans in case the school cannot re-open in the fall. In the Lipman Hearne respondent pool, 43% would like daily communication from schools their child was admitted to. QS urged institutions to address concerns clearly and frequently for their current and prospective international student population. Top concerns for international students centered on testing complications, paying a deposit in a time of uncertainty, and uncertainty and fear around traveling and visa processes.
These reports are providing a glimpse into the complexity of how COVID-19 is impacting and will continue to impact the standard admissions processes. It’s important to note that your institution has a unique student body and applicant pool. It could be advantageous to conduct a survey of your own prospective students and their parents to understand their main concerns and how you can specifically address them.