Graduate School Admissions Processes Affected by COVID-19


Allowing Harvard hopefuls some reprieve as the world grapples with the novel coronavirus pandemic, several of the University’s graduate schools have adjusted their admissions programming and application processes following the shutdown of many campus operations.

The University’s schools have postponed or canceled most in-person admissions events scheduled for this spring, as Harvard has strongly discouraged non-essential gatherings of 25 people or more and discontinued campus tours. Meanwhile, sittings for various graduate school admissions examinations — including the GMAT, GRE, LSAT, and MCAT — have been postponed or canceled worldwide due to COVID-19 concerns.

The Educational Testing Service has postponed its administration of the GRE — a graduate school entrance exam required by many Harvard master’s and Ph.D. programs — in some locations worldwide. ETS announced that students in many countries, including the United States, will be able to take an at-home version of the GRE General Test with a live, remote proctor starting March 23.

The Graduate Management Admission Council has largely suspended testing for the GMAT, another graduate school entrance exam, across the United States and the globe. The GMAC will put enhanced health and safety measures in place for testing centers that remain open, according to the group’s website.


Administrators from several departments within Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences said the pandemic has yet to have major impacts on their admissions processes, which mostly take place in the fall.

History Director of Graduate Studies Sidney Chalhoub wrote in an email that his department has not made any changes but may need to drop GRE scores from part of admissions requirements.

“We can probably manage without them,” Chalhoub wrote.

Chalhoub added that the pandemic has affected this year’s admitted students, who will not be able to attend the department’s in-person recruitment events before deciding where to attend.

Mathematics Director of Graduate Studies Mark Kisin wrote in an email that it remains “too early to know” whether next year’s admissions will be affected.

“Our next round of admissions is nine months away,” Kisin wrote.

The Economics department likewise has not had any “deep discussion” about future changes to admissions, according to Director of Graduate Studies Jeffrey A. Miron — though one factor he has considered is the impact of a potential recession on departmental admissions numbers.

“If the stock market goes down further or stays down, then the number of graduate student slots that universities broadly are going to be able to afford might well decline,” Miron said. “That could have a big implication for not exactly how admissions is done, but for how many students we admit.”

Applicants to the Medical School will also face changes to their admissions testing. The Association of American Medical Colleges has canceled its March 27 and April 4 sittings of the MCAT worldwide, according to its website. Students whose tests have been canceled may request a full refund or reschedule for a later April or May test date for no fee.

Similarly, the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, has cancelled all March sessions for the test globally, according to an update posted to the body’s website. American and Canadian registrants were automatically signed up for the April 25 testing date, while registrants from other countries are being transferred to tests on June 27 or 28.

LSAC is “aggressively exploring” alternatives for examination administration, including remote-proctored tests and additional test dates, its announcement states.

Harvard Law School, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that it would extend the deadline for its Junior Deferral Program from May 1 to July 1.

The Junior Deferral Program allows college juniors to apply to the Law School and receive an admissions decision while still in college. Students who are admitted and choose to enroll in the program commit to working at least two years professionally before matriculating.

The Law School’s announcement came the same day that Harvard Business School announced it would extend the deadline to apply to its “2+2” deferred admissions program, from Apr. 2 to June 1.

Associate Director of J.D. Admissions Nefyn Meissner wrote in a message posted to the Law School’s website that the school made the decision to accommodate sudden changes the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon undergraduates. At Harvard, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana instructed students to vacate campus with five days’ notice earlier this month as the University shifts its courses entirely online for the rest of the semester.

“We realize that many of our applicants are moving out of your dorms, transitioning to online courses, searching for summer opportunities, and having your test dates cancelled or postponed,” he wrote. “We hope that this adjusted deadline allows you more time to adjust, prepare, and complete your applications.”

“We are here for y’all,” he added.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.