The Impact of COVID-19 on Study Abroad: April 2020 Survey Results

👉Find the latest survey results for October 2020 here.

Please note: The statistics in this report are based on over 7,400 responses to our recent survey which ran between March 16th and April 22, 2020. We originally published a version of this report on March 26th with some initial findings from 2,500 responses. When we compared the two reports, we saw very few changes in the opinions and decisions made in response to COVID-19. We believe that this is because, for the international student community, there are still so many unknown factors regarding its impact on plans. Rather than providing month-on-month trends, we’ve opted to update the report with more depth in the form of additional quotes, and questions to help illuminate motivations, emotions, and reasoning. If you would like to read the original release from March 26th, you can do so here.

Headline statistics:

  • The dream of studying abroad is still alive and well. Only 5.4% of prospective students intend to cancel their study abroad plans in light of COVID-19.

  • Our database of students primarily interested in in-person study opportunities is now entertaining the idea of studying an international degree digitally. Students who told us they were primarily interested in in-person (or classroom) courses are now considering getting their degrees online in light of COVID-19. 45.2% of prospective students would now be interested in studying their program virtually as an alternative.

  • Although prospective students are interested in studying their degree online, their concerns regarding the quality and recognition of a virtual degree weigh heavily on them.

  • There has been little change in response from the international student community regarding their study abroad plans between March 16th and April 22nd.

  • Institutions are responding quickly to the rising demands for online study options for the international student community, with 85.1% of current students surveyed saying they are now taking classes online due of COVID-19.

  • Mental health services as a selective factor of prospective students has risen drastically according to our April 24th deep-dive.


At, we believe in the immeasurable value of studying abroad. But we also recognize that the recent outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) will impact many students during their research phase of international higher education opportunities. 

We’ve collected over 7,400 responses from prospective and current international students to help them and help you understand how opinions, attitudes, and new realities are shaping study abroad. 

The geographic breakdown of surveyed students is as follows:

Graph #1


Prospective study abroad students’ responses

Q: What level are you intending to study abroad at?

Graph #2

A majority of prospective students who responded to our survey are intending to study a full bachelor’s or master’s degree. Only 5.5% were planning on studying their PhD abroad, while 9.1% are aiming towards a diploma of some kind. 10.9% selected “other” which includes programs like language courses, associate’s degrees, and pathway programs.


Q: Which year are you planning to start your studies abroad?

Graph #3To give more context to the statistic, we want to get an idea of when these prospective students were intending to begin their studies to see if there is a relationship between COVID-19 and when students plan to begin their studies. Our hypothesis is that, due to COVID-19, a majority of students would consider delaying their study plans significantly. However, nearly 75% of prospective students surveyed plan to begin studying in the next two years, and 48% intend to begin their studies this year. This highlights that the desire to study is still strong, despite COVID-19 developments.


Q: Has COVID-19 affected your study abroad plans?

Graph #4Just over half of prospective students surveyed feel that COVID-19 has had some kind of impact on their future study abroad plans. However, just under half of respondents said that COVID-19 has had no impact on their intent to study abroad. The relatively even split could indicate that students are unsure of what the future holds for them, and how long the restrictions caused by the pandemic will continue.

Students who said COVID-19 hasn't affected their study abroad plans may be planning to study in the future when they believe the crisis will have abated. Similarly, students who said they have been affected may be concerned about the rapidly developing travel constraints implemented by national governments. The responses thus far indicate that students, like many of us, are waiting to see how events unfold.  


Q: What are your study abroad plans now in light of COVID-19?

Graph #5

Only 5.4% of prospective students planned to cancel their future study plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This demonstrates that while students are feeling a lot of uncertainty, they are not jumping to cancel their plans. Students dedicate time and resources to their study abroad plans, and are passionate about seeing their plans through.

Just over 42% of students intend to postpone their study abroad plans with the goal of resuming studies at a later date. For some students, COVID-19 has not impacted their study abroad plans at all, as 13.5% of prospective students plan to continue their studies as normal.


Q: Which of the following are you now most considering?

Graph #6

Of the prospective students who still plan to study abroad at some point in the near future, a staggering 54.8% of them still expect to be traveling abroad to study on campus. And when we take into account that 48% of prospective students plan to start studying this year, it highlights just how undeterred many of them are in letting the current situation stop them from experiencing the full study abroad experience.

Interestingly, given the choice, just under 5% are actively seeking entirely digital study options, with a further 15.7% planning to start their studies online but move to on campus study at a later date once the COVID-19 situation starts winding down. As one respondent put it, "It is more convenient that I can study from home to protect myself from COVID-19. But at some point I’ll also need to practice my skills in real situations or in the class anyway."


Q: Would you be interested in studying if your program was offered online?

Graph #7Just under half of prospective students would be interested in an international education online. Given that a vast majority of our student database tend to inquire about study abroad opportunities where they physically go abroad, these responses demonstrate a remarkable interest shift in studying abroad virtually. The significant openness to studying abroad online speaks to the importance of universities' existing distance learning options. Furthermore, it may suggest a potential uptick in distance learning applications in the future. One student says "I have applied for my degree on campus later this year, but in case COVID-19 continues, will universities allow me to do the course online instead?”

In contrast, just under 55% of students planning to study abroad would not be interested in an international education offered online. Those students may be more interested in the experiential aspects of studying abroad - experiencing a new culture, language, learning style, and country. COVID-19 hasn't dampened these students' desire to broaden their horizons by studying abroad, but they may be waiting to visit new destinations in person.


Students currently studying abroad

Q: Where are you currently studying

Graph #8



Over half of the current students who responded to our survey are studying abroad within Europe, though all other continents are also represented in some capacity. Interestingly, student responses were all fairly similar between the different regions, highlighting just how global this pandemic is. For that reason, we decided not to break down the report by region as we felt the following responses represent all of them fairly.


Q: At what level are you currently studying

Graph #9


Like the prospective students, a majority of students currently studying abroad are undertaking a bachelor’s or master’s degree.. A smaller percentage were studying at PhD level (just 3.6%), while diplomas and other programs, such as language courses, short summer courses, associate’s degrees, and pathway programs, were more widely studied.


Q: What year are you expecting to graduate?

Graph #10

Nearly 60% of respondents are expecting to graduate in the next two years, with over 30% aiming to complete their qualifications by the end of 2020.

Interestingly, 2.8% of current students didn’t know when they would graduate, though whether this uncertainty was specifically due to COVID-19 or other reasons remains unclear.


Q: Are you now having to take any classes online due to COVID-19?

Graph #11A staggering 85.1% of students currently studying abroad are now taking classes online specifically due to the COVID-19. For better or for worse, institutions have responded quickly to the rising demand for online delivery of courses. While some students say they’re finding the move to online difficult due to a “lack of in-person interaction” and “trouble focusing and staying self-motivated”, others are finding it much more effective. One student said “I actually prefer it online. It’s much more comfortable and you can do everything from your own home. This is a real part of modern life.”

The jury is still out on how long these classes will continue to be delivered online. Of those now taking classes online, 39% think the shift to online will only be a short-term solution, while 25% think it would be long-term, and 36% do not yet know.


Q: What are your study abroad plans now in light of COVID-19?

Graph #1291.7% of current students surveyed are, as of yet, not cancelling their studies altogether. Just over 31% are continuing on with their studies, whether that’s on campus or moving online in some capacity. 

Still, there seems to be a lot of uncertainty amongst students with over 40% still unsure what they should do in light of COVID-19.


Q: Do you plan to return to your home country earlier because of COVID-19?

Graph #13

Based on the responses we've received so far, there is no one agreed upon plan of action for students currently studying abroad in light of COVID-19. The three-way split is likely due to the diversity of circumstances students currently studying abroad find themselves in depending on the spread of the virus in their country of study, and their institution’s response.

Combined, more than 62% of students are not rushing to pack their bags. The development of COVID-19 is ongoing, and many students are either waiting to see how the virus will impact the country they're studying in, or have decided to stay-put in their study abroad destination. Students currently studying abroad are no strangers to complicated circumstances, the COVID-19 crisis presents a new set of circumstances for them to navigate. We did see a 2.7% drop in the number of students who responded with “I don’t know” showing that students are slowly starting to make decisions about their study plans either way.


Q: Would you be interested in continuing studies if your program was offered online?

Graph #14Students currently abroad continue to prioritize their learning, with nearly 56% of them wishing to continue their education either online or with virtual classrooms. Universities with the capabilities to offer online learning should consider how much value international students place on their study abroad experiences - no matter where they're located. 


Final thoughts

COVID-19 has caused students and universities alike to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. The uncertainty felt by the world in the face of COVID-19 is, unsurprisingly, mirrored by students.

It's inevitable that students' study abroad plans and experiences are being disrupted by the outbreak of COVID-19. However, viable study abroad opportunities such as online learning and postponing study abroad plans (rather than cancelling them outright!) speak to international students' perseverance in pursuing their study abroad dreams. Studying abroad remains at the top of many students' bucket lists, but COVID-19 has complicated the question of when and how they'll make it happen.


Download the raw data from the survey results below with answers updated on July 31st 2020.

Download Data



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Abby Guthrie Svanholm

Abby Guthrie Svanholm is the Communications Manager for She works to shape strategy and align team members to achieve product and site growth. Originally from the U.S., Abby has worked with digital marketing since 2015.