Visualizing COVID-19's Impact on Student Employment

The current COVID-19 pandemic is upending almost every aspect of our daily lives, and amid crises in health, many suspect that an economic recession has also begun. As college seniors, we certainly feel the effects of this oncoming recession when we hear of rescinded job offers, businesses closing, and our peers deciding to pursue graduate school instead due to difficulty finding suitable employment. Indeed, the US seems due for a recession since its last economic downturn in 2007. Yet, this time the catalyst is different. As student researchers, we are driven to question the unique implications of COVID-19 for the economy, and as graduates within our college communities, we specifically want to study the pandemic’s effects on student employment. We thereby designed a survey asking college juniors and seniors about their employment status and the impact they believe COVID-19 has had on not only their jobs, but also their mental health and plans for the future. We have visualized the responses from 229 students in this article in the hope that our analysis can offer a small degree of clarity during these uncertain times.

Methods & Demographics

We conducted a 10-question survey for college juniors and seniors to acquire the data used for this visualization. The questions asked for basic demographic information, employment status and impact, and sentiment regarding graduate school, economic outlook, and mental health due to COVID-19. The survey was released on April 16th, 2020, and the last responses used in the visualization were taken from April 29th, 2020. The survey was shared primarily through social media to students at Columbia University, Princeton University, UC Berkeley, and Georgetown University among other universities.


Of the 229 survey respondents, 62 are currently juniors and 167 are seniors during the 2019-2020 school year. Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) was the most commonly indicated area of study, followed by Humanities, and then Economics, Business, or Finance. The most popular industry was Finance, Consulting, or Business with Technology or Software being a close second.

Visualization & Analysis

Employment

COVID-19 has forced schools to move online, businesses to close, and companies to downsize. 10% of all our respondents have had their job/internship offers rescinded, while 28% are still searching for opportunities.


For juniors occupying more inessential positions within companies as summer interns, their employment is significantly more impacted. Almost 21% of juniors have had their internship offers rescinded, whereas only 6.6% of seniors saw rescinded offers. Furthermore, 53% of all employed juniors indicated that their internships will be completely virtual compared to the 11% from their employed and graduating counterparts, whose jobs are much more likely to be partially virtual.

Interestingly, more seniors are uncertain about their jobs, with 30% of employed seniors responding that they are not sure and/or not notified of changes to the nature of their employment compared to just 7% of corresponding, employed juniors. It seems that employers are more reluctant to rescind full-time post-graduation positions or move them completely online compared to internships, and may instead be undecided about the outlook for their new hires.

Still have a job but don't know when the start date is gonna be. They told us not to find housing yet though, since they're still deciding when we'll start and if it'll be virtual or not.


Most of our survey respondents plan to work in finance, consulting, and business, followed closely by technology and software. These are also the industries where more people have obtained employment as opposed to having had their offers rescinded or are still searching. Of the 80 students who plan to work in finance, consulting, or business, 60% have obtained an internship or job. 65% of those who wish to work in technology and software have similarly procured employment. Across each industry surveyed with at least 10 responses, the average percentage of people who have found employment is about 39%.

On the other hand, arts and entertainment, media, and marketing have the lowest percentage of employed responses at 14%. These industries also have the most people who are still unemployed and searching – 66% of those seeking opportunities in arts and entertainment, media, and marketing are still looking for jobs. They are followed closely by the 62% of people planning to work in nonprofits who are still searching for jobs.

The entire performing arts industry as we knew it is on hold indefinitely, especially in New York.

Industries that saw the most rescinded offers, however, are not arts and entertainment, media, or marketing. Out of the industries with at least 10 responses, government, public administration, and the education sectors rescinded the most jobs by proportion, with about 21% of those who plan to work in these industries indicating revoked offers. This is interesting given that it has long been argued that employees in the public sector enjoy considerably more job security than private workers. Healthcare, biotech, and pharmaceuticals saw the lowest percentage of rescinded offers at just 9%. Healthcare-related industries also saw above-average employment percentages with 42% of those who want to work in these areas employed. The relative success of the healthcare fields within our survey align with projections about the overall stability of the healthcare industry amid today’s pandemic.

COVID-19 has disproportionately harmed the travel and hospitality sectors, and although we only have 6 respondents indicating they plan to work in these sectors, half have had their offers rescinded, and no one has secured employment.


Most of our respondents are employed by large companies with more than 5,000 employees. It is no surprise then that among both those who are employed and those who have had their offers rescinded, most plan(ned) to work at companies of over 5,000 people. Notably however, small to midsize companies of 50 to 500 workers rescinded the most offers after 5000+ companies, accounting for almost 30% of respondents whose offers were revoked.


Just as most people who have an internship or job work in finance and technology, most people who are economics and STEM majors are employed compared to other majors. 67% of those who listed economics, business, and finance as their area of study are still employed, and 60% of those who study STEM are employed.

Those who study humanities, social sciences, and performing/visual arts are predominantly still searching for jobs. Humanities majors saw the most rescinded offers by proportion, with 16% humanities respondents indicating revoked job/internship offers.

Graduate School Interest

With the economic recession decreasing job prospects for current students, many are turning to graduate school as a means to increase their employability. For the majority of students responding to our survey, their desires to attend graduate school were not directly impacted by COVID-19. However, 24% of students indicated that their graduate school interests have changed due to the impact of COVID-19 and the economic recession, with more students now interested in graduate school who weren't interested before the pandemic than the other way around.


Interest in graduate school appears to be impacted by current employment status, especially for students indicating they weren’t interested before COVID-19 but now are. Of the 120 students who are currently employed, most did not change in their graduate schools interests. Only 12.5% of employed students were previously not interested in graduate school but now are. However, for the 65 students who are still searching for employment, 36.9% became interested in graduate school when they weren’t before COVID-19. Similarly, 33.3% of students with offers rescinded indicated that they are now interested in graduate school when they weren’t before. For the 15 students who don’t plan on interning this summer (junior) or working immediately after graduation (senior), over ½ have already applied to graduate school and ⅓ have always been interested in applying.


Students planning on applying to graduate school have expressed concerns about the impact of their grades and research on their applications, as well as increased competition and decreased research funding. Students who have already applied are considering changing their gap year plans before attending graduate school and are worried about COVID-19’s effect on the experience of graduate programs if classes are held virtually.

Sentiment


There appears to be a correlation between mental health impacts of COVID-19 and employment status. 71% of students who had their job offers rescinded and 74% of students who are currently searching for a job indicated that they “agree” or “strongly agree” that their mental health has been significantly impacted by the pandemic. By contrast, 37% of employed students and 47% of students that do not plan on working reported these same sentiments. These results echo student responses that employment concerns are primary stressors. Students also report worries of the pandemic impacting their ability to access mental health support.

[I am concerned about the] lack of ability to have therapy in-person. (Seriously, that shit matters!)



Survey responses also indicate that students are concerned about job security and financial stability. 83% of students who had offers rescinded and 91% of students who are currently searching for jobs “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are concerned about their job security and financial stability due to the economic recession. Only 51% of employed students and 67% of students who are not currently searching for work gave these answers. Student concerns primarily center around difficulty finding employment, paying rent, and future layoffs.

More students across all employment statuses indicated concerns about future job security than current mental health impacts due to employment. This suggests that concerns for the future and job security impact the vast majority of students, even if employment worries are not immediately impacting their mental health. However, some students found that the changing job landscape actually relieved some of the pressure to find a job immediately after graduation.

In a sense it has also been freeing to not feel as much pressure to get the perfect job right after graduation.

Additional Student Comments

When asked about additional comments or concerns, international students and students working abroad cite worries about work authorization, immigration paperwork, and decreased hiring for international students due to potential changes in visa restrictions.

Students had differing opinions when it comes to how COVID-19 may impact employment opportunities in different industries. One student who is studying economics, business, or finance and employed in the industry of finance, consulting, or business believes that job security is something that university students should have considered when deciding their major and industry before the recession.

If you were worried about job security coming out of university, you would have majored in something recession proof like economics or CS and sought out a job in finance/consulting/tech. If you’re worried about your offer getting rescinded, maybe you should have thought about job security while selecting what firms to apply to/what roles to pursue/what major to study.

However, it seems that most other students are still concerned about job security, even those in the more “recession proof” industries. 66% of students working in business, finance, or economics and 62% of those working in technology or software indicate that they are worried about financial stability and job security, which is only slightly lower than the overall 68% of students who are concerned about job security.

The following student who is also studying economics, business, or finance and employed in the industry of finance, consulting, or business claims that COVID-19 is impacting every industry.

Even though I am working for a highly reputable employer, I am still concerned about my job security to some degree. COVID-19 is impacting every industry, and it really seems like nothing is safe.

Historical Recession Impacts on Graduates

College graduates in the Great Recession entered the workforce amid mass layoffs and frozen hiring, with a stark absence of private sector jobs. In the current pandemic, upperclassmen are experiencing many of the same difficulties as companies are forced to cancel internship programs and rescind full-time offers. However, in contrast to the crisis in the late 2000s, some large corporate employers today are working to continue with their planned graduate hires. Notably, big name employers worry about risking their reputations by withdrawing offers to new graduates. Some companies have chosen to furlough current first-year employees but plan to onboard new graduate hires in the fall.

Nevertheless, many employers across industries are having to reevaluate their recruiting practices in light of the ongoing pandemic. A recent survey by National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 19% of employer respondents have revoked internship offers and 3.5% have cancelled full-time offers for new graduates. However, 22% of employers are still considering taking action, so these numbers remain subject to change. The survey also found that 78% of employers have made changes to their internship program, with some opting to move to a virtual format and others shortening the timeframe by delaying the internship start date. Employers who have cancelled their programs cite concerns of driving away full-time recruits with poorly executed virtual internships and an inability to provide the same learning experience virtually. Some concessions offered to this summer’s would-be interns include deferred programs to next summer, guaranteed first-round interviews for full-time hiring, or even full-time offers post-graduation.

As prior data indicates, the future looks bleak for those graduating into an economic downturn. Graduates in a recession suffer from higher unemployment rates and lower salaries for 10 to 15 years after exiting school — an effect known as “scarring.” According to the Natural Center for Education Statistics (NCES), students who graduated in 2008 were roughly twice as likely to be unemployed as students who graduated in 1993 or 2000. The median salary for humanities majors in 2008 was $30,000, compared to a median of $35,000 for graduates in 2001.

Of those graduates of 2008 who did find work, 27% reported working in a field unrelated to their major, compared to 22% of graduates in 2001 and 24% of graduates in 2004. According to our survey, many current students are feeling similar pressure to pursue career options outside of their area of interest.

The number of new job listings posted between mid-February and mid-March dropped 29% compared to the same period in 2019. Postings for retail stores dropped 14%, events jobs dropped 20% and casino/hotel jobs dropped 23%. Conversely, some industries have actually seen an increase in job openings, with e-commerce listings rising 228% over the month of March and personal consulting positions increasing 26%.

Researchers note that there are several factors that could impact the extent of the scarring effect for current seniors, like the duration of the pandemic and the severity of the recession that is bound to follow it. The effects are also projected to extend to the Class of 2021, who are facing a vastly different internship landscape than expected several months ago and an uncertain job market next year.

Employment Resources for Students

The sudden onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the jobs and mental health of students in a variety of ways both unique and reminiscent of the last recession, from contending with virtual workplaces and lost employment offers to changing decisions regarding graduate school. Even for those whose employment is not yet impacted, there is still great concern for the future. During such an uncertain and volatile time, we hope that our data has shown that while each of our experiences are undeniably personal, we are not alone in our anxiety, both for the current economic environment and for the future. We have linked below further resources for anyone seeking more information on open internships and jobs and specific hiring statuses.

Remote internships Micro internships Company hiring statuses for internships and full-time employment Newsletters Advice from recruiters

Please let us know if you are aware of any additional opportunities or resources that you'd like us to share with students!

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Rose Huang is a graduating senior at Columbia University majoring in Computer Science. After graduating, she plans to work as a software engineer in the technology industry.

Cheryl Wang is a graduating senior at Columbia University majoring in English Literature planning to work in the legal services industry before pursuing graduate school in two years.

Ava Ellis is a graduating senior at Columbia University majoring in Economics and Psychology. She plans to work in business analytics and strategy in the technology industry.