How much has COVID changed what and where college students want to study?

Artificial intelligence, digital marketing and cybersecurity are seeing increasingly high demand from students.
By: | March 23, 2022
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Here’s one thing college students around the world are less interested in since the COVID outbreak: Ph.D.’s. And here’s another shift that can be just as easily blamed on climate change as on the pandemic: Fewer students are interested in studying for a career in the mining, oil and gas industries.

In another sign that climate change is as influential as COVID, more students are choosing environmental economics and policy programs.

And while enthusiasm for on-campus instruction took a hit earlier in the pandemic, in-person learning remains vastly more popular on global campuses than online programs, according to search data from a series of international recruitment websites operated by Studyportals.

Pageviews for on-campus learning topics dropped precipitously at the beginning of the pandemic but rebounded to near 2018 levels in November 2021, just before the omicron wave. Pageviews for online learning and other alternatives grew steadily from 2018 to 2022, but in-person traffic remained about three times higher. Still, a growing number of students are looking for online and more flexible learning methods at the same time enrollment in master’s programs continues to increase, according to Studyportals research into how students’ interests have changed during the COVID outbreak. The popularity of bachelor’s programs has held steady.

What and where?

Artificial intelligence and machine learning, digital marketing and cybersecurity, already in high demand in 2018, became the most popular disciplines among students by 2021. Clinical psychology, digital communication, educational research and user experience design also rose significantly in popularity. Communications, nursing and dentistry were among the subjects that dropped most in demand over the three-year period.


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The top destination for international students remained the United Kingdom, with the U.S. slipping a few spots from second to fourth. Canada jumped into the second spot from fourth, while a rise in student interest in studying in Poland, Austria and Finland came at the expense of  Turkey, Denmark, Spain and Sweden.

While fewer students from the U.S. and the U.K. opted to study abroad between 2018 and 2021, there was a surge in interest from students in growing markets such as Turkey, Iran, Nigeria, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

Restrictions on internet use in China and North Korea resulted in a lack of student interest data from those countries.