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Decisions During COVID-19: Would you defer graduate school in 2020?


Incoming college freshman and new postgraduate students in the fall are confronting a tough choice to either start school on time or to perhaps defer the academic year for when programs will hopefully return to full capacity in 2021. 

For new undergraduates in the United States, universities have extended decision deadlines one month until June 1st to accommodate the financial and mobility uncertainties of COVID-19. Ilkmade’s Mentor Rebecca Chen detailed these impacts on higher education last month.  Deferral must be requested and may be granted on a case-by-case basis depending on how many students submit requests. 

For new graduate students, deferring may not be an option. Many graduate schools accept an incoming cohort without offering a chance for deferral. Students without this opportunity to petition for deferral would have to reapply the next year in a far more competitive landscape. 

This is a hard pill to swallow if online or blended instruction were being offered in 2020, when many choose a graduate school for its networking programs and events. And for international students, the question of whether they will receive a Visa as borders are tightened still lingers.  

Interview with current graduate student 

We asked an international graduate student completing his Master’s degree in International Relations in the UK about his thoughts on studying in the current environment and whether he would defer graduate studies in the fall (if he were in the same position). He is currently finishing his coursework remotely as his school is closed for the rest of the academic year.

Where are you from and where do you study? Have you returned home during the pandemic? And the rest of your international cohort, did they stay or leave? 

I’m from Singapore and studying in the UK. I’m still at my university city in London. I estimate that three-quarters of international students have gone back.

How has your experience been finishing the semester remotely? What has been your main challenge?

It’s been a so-so experience. The main challenge is to find motivation when I’m stuck in my dorm room all day, with really no social pressure to get work done. By completing the semester online, the lack of real person-to-person contact is also challenging.

Has your university communicated to you if they will reopen in the fall? Would you consider deferring for a year if classes were conducted solely online? Why or why not?

Communication has been sketchy. My university has mentioned that they are looking at a wide range of scenarios that includes blended learning (online and in-person teaching). I know that a lot (and I mean a lot) of domestic and international students are considering deferring as they don’t see the point of paying the full price for online learning. In response, the school has issued a “no deferral policy”. I would probably defer too, but the situation is not applicable to me as I’ll have graduated.

What do you think universities can do to improve student experiences during this pandemic?

I think that they need to guarantee something, maybe they can bump students’ grades up by a category (e.g. passes become merit, merit becomes distinction). That would be a great morale booster.

Thanks, so much. We wish you the best in completing your degree. 

It is certainly a tough situation for many students caught in this moment of university upheaval. Deferring one year also equates to one year’s loss of earnings, something real to consider at the time of launching your career. 

Another challenge for young professionals is a lack of in-person mentorship and advisory services. How would career services effectively run recruitment events or meet and greets in an online environment? Would the burden be placed on professors or students to be more aggressive in steering these conversations?
These critical, professional resources are part of the reason why going to graduate school is so appealing. See students discuss the main reasons for selecting their Master’s programs here in an Ilkmade Coffee Conversation here

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