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Is the Coronavirus Dictating College Students’ Choice of Major?

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Aerial view of a central quad of a university, showing many trees, a tower, and a building: Hanna Hall

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced countries around the world to create and adapt to a new status quo. From instituting lockdowns to providing stimulus packages, the coronavirus has influenced society in a plethora of ways. It has also heavily affected college students as they begin to make the final decision on their college major.

These major influences continue to manifest, but not all of them are negative. Indeed, there is light at the end of the tunnel as the virus’ rampage inspires a new generation of healthcare workers.

At first glance, it appears that the pandemic has hit colleges and universities as hard as any other industry.

Attendance has fallen on many campuses across the country, and it is difficult for universities to receive applications from recently-graduated high school seniors who worry about paying lofty tuition fees just to stay at home and take online courses.

Instead, many would-be incoming freshmen are delaying their college experiences for a semester or two until things settle down.

The decision to stave off college is certainly a difficult one for young people to make. But of course, there is now a very real danger that accompanies attending classes in a traditional college setting.

The increased exposure is likely to make incoming students more susceptible to the virus than they would have been at home.

Another facet of the decision to forgo college is the mental stress and depression that people are experiencing in response to COVID-19, as well as its protective measures. Indeed, extremely stressful events such as this pandemic can lead to depression, anxiety, and even PTSD.

Being on lockdown is even more difficult when in an unfamiliar place, on your own for the first time.

Two students in white lab coats and safety goggles performing an experiment in a lab

The risk of mental and physical health is not worth it for some, and the lack of applications and acceptances from incoming students has led many institutions to sift through their waitlists more than ever.

Students on those waitlists are seeking admission to schools that may have overlooked them in the past. With the number of students dwindling, pickiness is not a luxury that most universities can afford anymore. 

With the ability to tap into waitlists, universities are now attempting to fill their classes to meet enrollment standards.

Even if the overall attendance does reach the same levels of previous years, an interesting question arises: what will this next wave of students choose to study, especially in the wake of a unique, all-encompassing tragedy like that of COVID-19?

For the students that are attending school in the midst of the pandemic, there have been wholly unique opportunities available for them in response. There are some programs that are allowing students to participate in hands on learning in scientific fields.

Hopefully, the research performed by these brave students will not only help them advance their individual goals, but will also lead to new insights about the virus and how best to handle it.

Students’ choices of major may also be dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic. More healthcare workers will be needed in the future, depending on the severity of the virus’ lasting effects.

Experts fear that prolonged isolation and fear of the virus may lead to a rise in the number of people with mental health issues. Perhaps this will result in an increased number of students studying to address these problems.

A large group of students celebrating graduation by throwing their caps into the air and smiling

One major that has already been on the rise in recent times, and is sure to continue growing in popularity, is public health, which was already a preferred choice for many wanting to get into the healthcare industry.

The versatile major can provide a means to a job after completing a bachelor’s degree. At the same time, majoring in public health in undergrad can lead to various paths for grad school and beyond.

The flexibility of the public health major has recently received a popularity boost because of how relevant the topic is today.

The coronavirus has made it clear how valuable skills like disaster relief, infection control, and epidemiological studies are. The Association of Schools and Programs for Public Health (ASPPH) tracks the number of students pursuing degrees in public health at participating schools.

The ASPPH recently revealed that, as of 2019, the number of students enrolled in public health programs had doubled in five years. That number is foreseen to continue to climb in light of recent events.