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March 20, 2020

Coronavirus Survey Results: How Families are Rethinking College Choice

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Coronavirus Survey Rethinkers of College Choice by Region

Quatromoney and TuitionFit joined together to create a national flash survey to understand how the COVID-19 outbreak would affect college enrollment patterns for high school seniors this week. 300 families across the nation responded to our survey.  In the midst of college temporary closures, cancelled “Admit Day” events, and “shelter in place” mandates, some families are reevaluating where they will attend college in fall 2020.  

One in Four Families are Reconsidering Their College Choice

One of the key findings was that 25.7% of respondents are rethinking their college choice due to the coronavirus outbreak.  Parents (30.0%) are slightly more inclined to rethink their high school seniors college choice than their students (23.6%).   12.6% families are also considering deferring their acceptance for a year so that they can attend their first choice.

When asked to describe why they were rethinking their choice, families were given the opportunity to indicate all that apply to following eight options to consider and the ability to write their own statement:

  • Afraid of getting the coronavirus at a particular college on my original list
  • Want to be closer to home
  • Want to go to college in a more remote location
  • Don't want to lose tuition money
  • Don't want to lose college credits
  • Want to go to school where likelihood of getting infection is lower
  • Dissatisfaction with the way a school on my list responded to the coronavirus outbreak
  • Impressed by the way a school that wasn't on my list responded to the coronavirus outbreak

The three top reasons for rethinking that selected were:

             * 32.9% They want to be closer to home

             * 28.8% They don't want to lose tuition money

             * 21.9% They are afraid of getting the coronavirus at college

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In contrast, when respondents indicated that the coronavirus pandemic was not changing their college choice, they were given the opportunity to indicate all that apply from the following six choices and the ability to write their own statement:

  • Not afraid of getting the coronavirus
  • The probability of getting sick is the same no matter where I go
  • Trust that the college I attend will take care of me if something happens
  • The coronavirus will be contained by the fall of 2020
  • Everyone is overreacting right now
  • Already paid a tuition deposit to the school I will attend

The three top reasons for not rethinking that selected were:    
         * 58.3% They believe the probability of getting sick is the same
         * 56.4% They believe the outbreak will be contained by the fall  
         * 29.4% They think everyone is overreacting right now

Living near Confirmed Cases Raises Second Thoughts

Responses appear to be linked to the current clusters of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Families located in the West (30.6%) and Northeast (29.5%) are more inclined to choose another college based on the outbreak than families in the South (21.1%) and Midwest (23.0%).   As we dove further into the data, parents in the West (40.0%) were the most inclined to be rethinking their high school seniors choice.  Whereas students in the South (16.3%) were the least likely to be changing their minds based on the outbreak.

We also found variances based on population densities.  Families in urban communities (30.0%) are most likely to be “rethinking” their college choice in comparison to  suburban (24.0%) or rural families (23.5%).  Results showed that parents living in urban communities (42.9%) were the most likely to be reevaluating their high school seniors' fall 2020 college destination.  In contrast, both students and parents in rural communities were least likely to change their college choice.

Coronavirus Survey Reexamining College Decision by Population Density

Parents Slightly Higher Rates of Concern during Outbreak 

Two-thirds of the respondents were women.  We did still find that women (26.6%) were more likely to be reevaluating their college choice than men (22.0%).  Mothers (31.0%) seemingly are the most likely family member to want to rethink college choice.  Fathers are a close second as “rethinkers”(27.8%).  The percent of female high school student respondents almost mirrors the overall response rate of rethinkers at 25.5%.  Whereas, male high school students were least concerned  with only 17.1% indicating they  are reconsidering where you might go to college in the fall.

Coronavirus Survey Differences by Gender of Those Reconsidering College Choices

Before the families heard about the coronavirus outbreak, 84.2% of families were planning to move away to attend a residential college or university and 14.4% planned to commute to a local college or university. 

Although the survey did not ask where the families intend to go to college because most college college deposit dates are in the future, we did ask “rethinkers” what sorts of colleges or options they were considering.  The survey gave the opportunity to indicate all that apply from the following six choices and the ability to write their own statement:

  • Local community college
  • Local public university
  • Local private college
  • Online university
  • Not adding schools at this time.  Just eliminating schools
  • A gap year
  • An internship or apprenticeship

The results so far show that 46.0% of “rethinkers” said that they would not add other colleges to their list for additional applications.  In addition, only 8.2% would add an online university as an option.

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 Considerations for the College-Bound Community

Mark Salisbury, CEO of TuitionFit reminds us all that, “Despite the coronavirus outbreak and the market volatility, students and families are feeling the impending pressure of the college choices they have to make, and the increasing unknowns are compelling many to put the college experience they idealized within a broader context that includes family, their longer term life goals, and increased concerns about return on investment after college.”  This is a huge weight on families during these uncertain times.

“The data shows a clear early signal that colleges must be prepared for changes to their admissions yield expectations,” pointed out Colleen Krumwiede from Quatromoney.  College admissions teams are already enlisting new methods of engagement with college admits like live-streamed programs, postponed deposit dates, remote orientation events, and alternative campus visit dates to mitigate the changes the outbreak caused.   Patrick Kandianis, CEO of Quatromoney indicated that this flash survey can be used as an indicator that yield imbalances may happen. He added, “Some colleges may see an unexpected increase in acceptances, while others may see declines from both deferral and a change in choice.”

Photograph of Colleen Krumwiede
Colleen Krumwiede
Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer

Colleen MacDonald Krumwiede is a financial aid and paying for college expert with over a decade of financial aid experience at Stanford GSB, Caltech, and Pomona College and another decade at educational finance and technology companies servicing higher education.  She guides go-to-market strategy and product development at Quatromoney to transform the way families afford college.

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