Graduate School and the New World of Virtual Learning: Guidance for Prospective Students

Arman Davtyan is the Assistant Dean of Enrollment Management at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School

COVID-19 has upended the world of work, as businesses laid off employees and froze hiring. For many, this period of uncertainty is an impetus for seeking a new direction and acquiring new skills to navigate a drastically different landscape. To that end, the pursuit of graduate or professional education may be a logical option.

While the thought of entering a graduate program may initially seem daunting, prospective students can actually benefit from the new opportunities and pathways that are emerging. Like most industries, higher education is not insulated from the effects of the pandemic, and institutions are recognizing the need to make education more flexible and accessible than ever before. Although certain experiences may have previously been reserved for in-person engagement, COVID-19 has compelled graduate schools to reimagine new possibilities, whether they involve course delivery, team-based projects, global engagement, or professional networking.

For individuals interested in making a professional pivot and are seeking opportunities to expand their skill-set through graduate education, here are some key considerations:

Graduate education is more accessible than ever. Greater accessibility is in large part due to many academic institutions taking a more accommodating stance with current and future students. This may be in the form of granting deadline extensions, waiving certain application requirements, or adapting their program delivery options to the new realities of COVID-19.

Do the homework. Graduate programs can vastly differ in their quality, philosophy, pedagogical orientation, and experience in delivering a virtual educational experience to students. Prospective students should take the time to carefully research the schools they’re considering and familiarize themselves with the “product” that schools are offering. Even in COVID-19 “lockdown” mode, students can take advantage of the burgeoning virtual engagement opportunities to connect with schools and interact with admission representatives, current students, and faculty. The more direct contact with a school, the better informed students will be in determining its fit with their interests.

Understand motivation. While an undergraduate degree is typically seen as a natural progression along one’s educational journey and preparation for the future, the decision to pursue graduate education requires more intentional reasoning and self-examination. Before making the significant investment of time, energy, and resources toward an advanced degree, prospective students should contemplate their objectives and understand their motivations. Admission committees can readily distinguish between candidates who have taken the time to gain clarity and purpose in their pursuit of a graduate program, and those who are casually submitting an application without much forethought or intention.

Convey a personal story. Beyond the standard academic qualifications, graduate programs look for other indicators of a candidate’s potential to succeed. Attributes like leadership, personal drive, problem-solving, and resilience can carry significant weight in the admission process, and prospective students have likely been exhibiting them in spades during these extraordinary times. Consider the application, especially components like the essay and interview, as a strategic vehicle for telling a unique story and highlighting the qualities that will translate to success in graduate school.