First, their classes were upended. Then their dorms were closed and their graduation ceremonies were canceled.
Now, college students and soon-to-be graduates fear for their futures as the coronavirus pandemic has presented some of the toughest challenges to those expecting to start internships and jobs in the coming months.
Businesses and organizations ranging from Yelp to the National Institutes of Health have canceled summer internship programs due to COVID-19. Others, like Google, announced they would move summer internship programs online rather than cancel them completely. Disney abruptly told students currently interning at its parks in Anaheim and Florida to move out and gave them just one week to do so, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Even for students who haven't yet been told their internship has been canceled, many are left in limbo, waiting to hear back on jobs and internships for which they've already applied — or were planning to. Messaging about what the next few months will look like has been confusing: While state leaders like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have warned isolation and social distancing measures could be in place for as much as nine months, President Trump has said he wants people to scale back social distancing by Easter.
Hannah Henick, a 22-year-old George Washington University student graduating in May — though she said it's not much of a commencement since the ceremony will take place virtually (an in-person celebration is slated for May 2021) — applied for a fellowship that that no longer exists.
The fellowship, which would have sent Henick, an international affairs student who currently interns remotely at the Smithsonian Institution's Office of International Relations, to teach English in Spain, was no longer being offered.
"My plan was always to go into non-profits, NGOs, or international organizations, but they're the first to go," Henick said.
While virtually attending GWU classes, Henick applied for jobs despite growing fears about a possible coronavirus-caused economic recession, which would even further limit her full-time employment prospects. But without a job lined up, she said she "would just stay home this summer."
While Henick considers herself "incredibly privileged" to have attended a private university without taking out loans and to have the option to return to her parent's home in New Jersey for the summer if she found herself without a job, the prospect of sitting at home all summer isn't exactly how she expected post-grad life to start.
Like Henick, Damaria Joyner, who is graduating this spring in a virtual spring commencement ceremony, told Business Insider her upcoming job opportunity had been canceled. After four years at Delaware State University, Joyner, 22, had set up a post-grad internship with a trial court in Massachusetts in her hometown.
"I was definitely going to use it as a way to get my foot in the door to courtroom life since it was a court internship," Joyner said. "I want to be a lawyer, and it would have been a really great opportunity for that, and for networking as well.
She added: "I thought I would have an internship, but now it's like I have to wait until my second year in law school to get that experience again."
Joyner still plans to apply for law school in the fall, though there's a feeling of uncertainty there, too. She took her LSAT in February and said even though the results were "good" they were not what she wanted. She hoped to be able to take the test one more time, but now she's not sure when. The March administration of the LSAT was pushed until April, according to Above the Law.
"I have no idea what is going to happen. That's the fear I feel like a lot of graduates are facing," Joyner said, adding, "We're in limbo with grad school."
It's not just graduating students, either. The virus has also caused issues for younger students hoping to get a head start in their career
Brooke, a 19-year-old student at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, who asked Insider to keep her last name anonymous, said she was informed in an email Wednesday that her paid summer internship with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MDOT) had been revoked.
Brooke, who was was one of less than 200 students who decided to remain living on campus, said she received a message in a group chat with other students that their own internship at MDOT had been canceled. She reached out to her recruiting contact at the department who confirmed the bad news that despite receiving an offer letter less than two weeks ago, her internship was terminated.
"It's blindsiding a bit," she told Insider. "But, at the same time, everything has been changing so rapidly that it just seems par for the course. Nothing is reliable at this point."
Brooke, a student in her second year studying geological engineering at Missouri S&T, said she completed an internship in an office setting last year and looked forward to having hands-on experience this summer.
"I was going to be part of the geotech crew, going out traveling four 10-hour days a week across the state doing core sample logging and other things on project sites," Brooke told Business Insider.
The switch to online classes was challenging enough, she added, partially because of her "severe ADHD," which has made the transition difficult. The loss of her summer opportunity is just the latest blow in a string of punches felt by college students across the country who were asked — or even forced — off their campuses to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"Jobs for people with degrees are actually falling faster than those for people without"
Julia Pollak, a labor economist for ZipRecruiter, an online jobs marketplace, told Business Insider the number of job opportunities, particularly entry-level opportunities that require a bachelor's degree as well as internships, has fallen significantly over the past several weeks as the realities of the coronavirus have set in.
The daily active job count — the number of jobs available to apply for on ZipRecruiter — has fallen 14% since mid-February, Pollak said.
"That's going to keep happening because the number of job postings being added is falling even faster than the number of jobs remaining open in the marketplace," she said. "We're seeing the declines across the board."
Pollak said the biggest losses in job postings were in the restaurants, hotel, and catering industries, but the losses could be seen in all industries — even in the healthcare industry, which will demand a larger workforce as hospitals strain for more workers while the virus spreads.
"We've seen this happen before, like in the Great Recession, and it has huge effects on graduates," Pollak said. "There's a lot to worry about for this graduating class."
The average daily count of internships advertised on ZipRecruiter has fallen 31% over the past four weeks, from the weeks of Feb. 24 to Mar. 23, the online job marketplace shared with Business Insider.
"In the past few weeks, the share of jobs requiring a college degree has actually fallen," Pollack said. "It was stable in January and February and fell in March, which suggests jobs for people with degrees are actually falling faster than those for people without."
Moreover, the decline will not equally affect all recent or upcoming graduates, which Pollak referred to as the "class of COVID-19."
Gradates of "qualitatively-oriented" STEM fields are less likely to have difficulty finding a job and are less likely to take an underpaying job, she said.
As Henick told Business Insider her friends in STEM fields who were also graduating soon were less worried about the virus' impact on their future employment. Many of them, she said, already had jobs lined up slated to start in the fall.
Pollak also noted that the lack of new jobs could inversely impact recent Black college graduates.
In 2013, following the Great Recession, she said, Black college graduates had an unemployment rate of 12.4%, compared to recent graduates as a whole who had an unemployment rate of 5.6%.
"There's a huge difference because when employers limit hiring they become more picky, and that often leads to them being more racially discriminatory," Pollak told Business Insider.
Joyner, who is Black, said she was aware her race could have implications on her professional outlook should economic troubles worsen.
"I'm definitely scared," she said, "with the talk of another recession coming and being fresh out of college. It's already hard as a Black woman."