COVID-19 Sparked a Surge of Grad School Applications, Experts Say

Medical, law and business schools are seeing a bump in applications compared to 2019.

December 7, 2020

By Zach Merchant

WASHINGTON – From where we work to how we shop, COVID-19 has made “change” a constant in 2020. Higher education is not immune. The pandemic sparked a surge of graduate school applications.

“I have never seen anything like the outpouring of interest,” said Dr. Peter Buckley, dean of VCU School of Medicine.

A recent report from the Association of American Medical Colleges shows an 18% increase this year in medical school applications nationwide compared to 2019.

Other programs are seeing a bump too, says education consultant Steve Goodman.

“We’re averaging about 20% growth for the leading MBA schools and then nationwide, on the law school front, we’re seeing about a 30% jump,” said Goodman.

These numbers are all preliminary. Application season is ongoing and final data won’t be available until 2021.

Assuming the trend stays the same, though, the question is: what’s driving this spike?

An economy weakened by COVID is partly to blame.

“Generally speaking, when the job market is down, graduate applications go up,” said Goodman.

Inspiration also plays a role. Dr. Buckley and others think seeing health care workers battle the coronavirus all year has moved others to want to join the fight.

With more people vying for classroom seats, getting into these graduate programs could be even more competitive than usual.

Is there any good news for applicants?

Suzanne Ortega says yes.

She’s the president of the DC-based Council of Graduate Schools, which represents masters and MBA programs across the country.

Given all the challenges of 2020, Ortega thinks admissions teams may modify their calculus when choosing their next class. Grades and test scores will still matter, but applicants’ life experiences could be given more weight.

“Students approaching graduate school will be encountering … a more humane and holistic process,” said Ortega.

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