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Working Paper No. 1420

From Epidemic to Pandemic: Did the COVID-19 Outbreak Affect High School Program Choices in Sweden?

Working Paper
Aalto, Aino-Maija, Dagmar Müller and J. Lucas Tilley (2021). “From Epidemic to Pandemic: Did the COVID-19 Outbreak Affect High School Program Choices in Sweden?”. IFN Working Paper No. 1420. Stockholm: Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN).

Aino-Maija Aalto, Dagmar Müller, J. Lucas Tilley

We study whether the onset of the COVID-19 crisis affected the program choices of high school applicants in Sweden. Our analysis exploits the fact that the admission process consists of two stages: a preliminary round in which applicants rank programs in order of preference and a final round in which they have full flexibility to alter their preliminary rankings.

In 2020, the timing of the two rounds happened to provide a unique pre- and postcrisis snapshot of applicants’ preferences for various fields of study. Using school-level data on applicants’ top-ranked programs for all admission rounds between 2016 and 2020, we implement a difference-in-differences method to identify the immediate effect of the crisis on program preferences.

We find no change in preferences for academic programs, but a decline in top-ranked applications to some of the vocational programs. The declines are most pronounced and robust for several service-oriented programs, in particular those related to hotel and restaurant, which was the most adversely affected industry during the crisis. This finding suggests that labor market considerations influence the study choices made by relatively young students.