Across the country and world, colleges and universities have had to completely restructure how they are teaching their students. Lectures are on Google Meet or Zoom, classes have become pass/fail or credit/no credit and research put on hold. A big question on a lot of students’ minds is how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the next steps in their careers: graduate school.
As Fellowship and Scholarship Advisor Kathleen Robinson puts it, a “great pause” has occurred as various opportunities have been canceled or postponed. She held various webinars in the last few weeks of April explaining post-graduate opportunities for students, and she addressed some concerns about how COVID-19 will impact these experiences.
“Things are a circus right now,” Robinson said. “There’s a lot of different movements. Just like you [students] are navigating the terrain of ‘What am I doing today, what am I going to do in six months?’ A lot of institutions are navigating that same terrain.”
The number of Eckerd students who apply to graduate school or a similar professional degree program year to year varies from 40 to close to 200, according to Robinson. This year, for about 20 to 30 Eckerd students, many of these opportunities were canceled, postponed or are taking on a new role due to COVID-19.
“I had a student that was going to take the MCAT in April, but it got canceled so now she is taking it in September,” Robinson said. “So we have had to adjust her expectation that she is not applying to med school this fall. And it happens. We have to be aware that some of those things are going to happen this cycle, both domestic and international.”
Robinson guesses that this is only the beginning.
“This is something that is going to be around for the next three to five years,” Robinson said. “And I don’t mean COVID-19, I mean you [students] are going to carry these experiences with you into the future, and the next class will and the following class will too.”
One of the main concerns that students have had is Eckerd has offered students the opportunity to choose a credit/no credit (CR/NCR). Traditionally, grades and GPA are heavily weighted on graduate school applications. If a student takes a CR/NCR for a class that is for their major or a prerequisite for the graduate school, it will not contribute to their GPA, and it is possible that some graduate programs will not accept it.
However, due to COVID-19, these professional institutions are rethinking certain aspects of their admissions.
“This is going to be a period of exceptions,” Robinson said. “This is not something that is going to be a blimp. This is something that institutions and schools are trying to understand. So don’t be afraid of taking a credit/no credit.”
Not all universities and colleges are giving students a choice when it comes to CR/NCR like Eckerd, and all of their classes for the spring semester of 2020 are pass/fail.
“[Graduate schools] can’t hold you who made a decision versus someone else who couldn’t make a decision. So it is going to change things in that playing field,” Robinson said.
On May 6, Professor of Biology Steve Denison sent an email to biology, pre-health, biochemistry and marine science majors about how COVID-19 has been impacting applications for graduate programs, specifically in terms of the CR/NCR option.
“If you are a pre-medical or pre-dental student, you may be wondering if you should decide on the CR/NCR option or the grade option for your required courses for these programs,” Dension said in the email. “Medical schools are saying that they will accept CR for these courses for this semester with no adverse effects to your application.”
With this email, he attached statements made from the University of California, Los Angeles and University of Florida, both of which will accept pass/fail grades for courses taken this semester.
He also attached a letter from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, which stated that colleges under their jurisdiction will be considering various steps to mitigate the challenges students are facing, including accepting online laboratory work to fulfill a prerequisite and accepting pass/fail, regardless if the student’s university made it required or a choice, to fulfill a prerequisite.
Later on May 6, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Suzan Harrison sent a similar email to all students. This included advice about the CR/NCR option and an attachment with frequently asked questions for the option. She advises students to call the institution they hope to apply to if they have concerns.
Students had to make a decision about CR/NCR by Friday, May 8.
While various opportunities are on pause, Robinson advises students to explore opportunities while they have the time.
“As we are going right now, you [students] have the benefit of time,” Robinson said. “So you can do a lot of exploring, you can do a lot of connecting and we can start to put together a good plan, database, schedule or whatever you need.”
Junior biology and environmental studies major Allyson Sharbo has been doing just that.
“I’ve been attending as many of the grad school/post undergrad webinars as I can with hopes of finding some clarity in what I want to do in the future,” Sharbo said. “Despite all the COVID-19 craziness, I’ve found this time to be super useful for learning about future opportunities and options.”
Robinson’s webinars can be found on the Eckerd College John M. Bevan Center for Academic Excellence’s website.
“It’s going to be a little bit different and a little bit awkward but the cool thing about it is that this means that you can chart your path in a different way instead of just the standard,” Robinson said.