The Graduating
Class of


by the numbers


By Kristine E. Guillaume and Luke W. Xu

On March 10, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana emailed College students ordering an immediate evacuation of Harvard’s dorms to curb the potential spread of the novel coronavirus on campus. Over the next five days, all of Harvard’s undergraduates moved out of their dorms, adjusted to the reality of online classes, and reshaped their expectations for the rest of the semester. For graduating seniors, the move off campus altered more than just school: postgraduate job searches complicated by a pandemic and recession, a postponed commencement, and the loss of senior week traditions.

Unlike many aspects of campus life or university policies, Harvard’s response to COVID-19 has affected 100 percent of the student body. A clear majority of graduating seniors — 74 percent — indicated they know someone who has contracted COVID-19. Six percent of respondents said that they themselves have contracted the illness.

Evacuating Campus

Just over 80 percent of graduating seniors packed up their rooms on campus, said goodbyes to friends and classmates, and traveled back to live at home with their families to continue the semester after March 15. A week later, University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced that Commencement exercises would be postponed, but degrees would be conferred virtually on May 28.

  • Five percent of surveyed respondents reported they have remained on campus to complete the semester. Of those, more than a third indicated their family’s income is less than $40,000. Nine percent of surveyed respondents are living with friends, 4 percent are living with roommates, and 2 percent are living alone.
  • In the rapid move-out, the College subsidized travel and storage costs for financial aid recipients. More than half of surveyed respondents said they did not need financial support to move off-campus. Seventy-three percent of respondents who said they needed financial support said Harvard provided adequate funds to assist them in their moves.
  • Overall, 69 percent of surveyed respondents indicated they viewed Harvard’s response to COVID-19 favorably, while 21 percent said they viewed it unfavorably.
  • Seventy-six percent of seniors indicated they would attend Harvard’s virtual commencement exercises on May 28, while 7 percent said they would not. Seventeen percent indicated they have not decided.
  • A clear majority of surveyed respondents — 70 percent— said that Harvard’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak did not affect their desire to donate later to the University. Twenty-two percent of respondents, however, indicated that they are now less likely to donate; 5 percent said they are more likely to donate.

Graduating from Zoom University

Moving home in the middle of the semester also meant adjusting to a new paradigm for education: online classes through Zoom — a video conferencing platform. A clear majority of respondents — 78 percent — indicated they faced challenges in the shift to remote classes, which included adjusting to new time zones, finding space to work at home, and accessing adequate technology. The College also adopted an emergency universal satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading system as a result of the pandemic.

  • The most common challenge facing respondents — reported by 35 percent — was a lack of physical space. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they struggled with scheduling due to time zone differences, while 17 percent indicated a competing need to support their families. Eleven percent reported that they or a family member struggled with illness, and nine percent of respondents indicated they experienced a lack of appropriate technology in off-campus settings.
  • Twenty-two percent of surveyed respondents said that they did not face any challenges in the shift to remote classes. Of these respondents, 70 percent indicated that their family’s income is greater than $125,000.
  • A majority of respondents — 62 percent — indicated they viewed online classes unfavorably, while 25 percent said they viewed them favorably. Thirteen percent indicated they held no opinion. By contrast, a plurality of respondents — 42 percent — held a favorable opinion of Zoom.
  • Among graduating seniors, the College’s decision to shift to the alternate grading system of “Emergency Satisfactory” or “Emergency Unsatisfactory” was generally well-received: 67 percent of respondents said they held a favorable opinion, while 21 percent held an unfavorable opinion.

The National View on COVID-19

Since the start of the outbreak, national attention has turned to Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci, who serves on the White House’s coronavirus task force. He has appeared alongside Trump at multiple press briefings and currently boasts an 68 percent approval rating, according to a national survey by Quinnipiac University published Wednesday. That same survey found that 41 percent of respondents approved of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. Harvard seniors shared similar opinions, as the overwhelming majority viewed Fauci favorably and Trump unfavorably.

  • Nearly all surveyed respondents — 90 percent — indicated they view the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic unfavorably, while just 5 percent view it favorably. Five percent reported they had no opinion.
  • By contrast, more than two-thirds of respondents reported they viewed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention favorably; 13 percent reported they viewed the CDC unfavorably.
  • Among graduating seniors, a clear majority of respondents — 80 percent — indicated they view Fauci favorably. Just 3 percent of respondents indicated they view Fauci unfavorably.