Students are waiting out the economy’s storm – in school. Overall, graduate school application numbers are up this year nationally.
During times of economic decline, people are reluctant to venture into the workforce with only a traditional bachelor’s degree.
“The number of people going to grad school is an inverse equation with the economy,” said Harriet Brand, director of public relations at Princeton Review. “When the economy is good, less people go back to grad school.”
When decent jobs with decent pay are scarce, people increase their skill set and wait out the recession until things improve. Not only are students making themselves more marketable, but they are also helping the economy by spending money in the education sector.
“At the same time they are doing something worthwhile instead of staying home sending out jobs resumes,” Brand said. “In past years, it was whether or not I can get into my dream college. People are thinking more in terms of the jobs they want to do instead of how they can get rich.“
More people already in the workforce, who have been laid off or are in fear of losing their job, are returning to college to upgrade their skills and wait out the current state of the economy.
Students are thinking about factors such as the cost of education, access to financial aid and the amount of student debt they may accumulate, said Sharon Pinkney, assistant dean for admissions for the UC Davis King Hall School of Law.
With more applicants comes a stronger pool of students and a more competitive admissions environment.
For the past few years, the UC Davis Graduate School of Management accepted 30 percent of applicants. Last year they accepted 25 percent. James Stevens, assistant dean of student affairs, said the school will most likely accept 20 percent this year.
The current scenario is historically consistent. In the 2001 recession there was a national 17 percent increase in law school applications.
Joel Mosemann, academic coordinator for the international law program at King Hall, said the economy has not had a significant effect on application numbers for the international law program.
At this time last year, there were 185 applications and now there are 155, although they are still taking more in the coming weeks. In 2004 to 2005 there were 128 applications. The number has been steadily rising until its peak last year at 221.
“Over recent years we are definitely seeing an increase,“ Mosemann said. “This year it’s a little bit slower than the last year but not a whole lot. By the time whole application season is over it just might be more spread out.“
Application rates in the veterinary medicine sector remain stable.
“It has been constant because people start planning to go to med or vet school years before they apply,” said Rance LeFebvre, associate dean for veterinary school admissions. “For professional schools – med and vet – [students] are planning years beforehand so the numbers stay about the same.”
More students are taking Princeton Review and Kaplan’s graduate courses.
Kaplan has seen double digit increase interest in their graduate level courses, events, seminars and practice tests for the GREs, GMAT and LSAT. Primary interest in business, law, general master’s and Ph.D. programs have increased, although to a lesser degree than business and law.
“It’s still a great thing to do in the long term no matter what the economy is doing – increasing options, earning power, career opportunities,” said Jennifer Kedrowski, Kaplan’s director of graduate programs. “Even though it’s more competitive and there are a lot of swings in the economy, most people applying to business school will be saying this is a long term investment.“
For Nikhil Nayak, a junior biochemistry molecular biology major, the economy was a factor in his decision to apply to graduate schools.
“With any post grad degree, you can set yourself apart from other applicants,” he said. “I know people who have graduated in the past two or three years that are doing fine. In certain job markets there is a level of job security. But with a post grad degree you can amplify that. Within the next two three years it’s going to be difficult graduating with only a bachelor’s.“
POOJA KUMAR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.