When the economy gets tough, students apply to graduate school.
In the midst of this year’s recession, Educational Testing Services (ETS) has reported an 8 percent increase in students taking the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, compared to 2008 figures.
Historically, students opt for graduate school after graduation in recession years, said ETS spokesperson Mark McNutt.
“[The GRE] is on track now to break record volumes we had in 2007,” McNutt said.
Graduate school often seems like the best option in a weak job market – and it gives recent graduates a competitive edge once they return to the job market, he said.
“When looking to get a job, everyone is hoping to be more competitive,” McNutt said.
Other factors may be affecting the increase in GRE numbers.
McNutt said compared to last year there are more MBA programs – over 250 – that are accepting the GREs instead of only the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT. The GRE is a more general test, allowing students to use their scores for a wider range of schools and programs.
“Schools recognize that by using the GRE they can broaden their applicant pool,” McNutt said.
The UC Davis Graduate School of Management requires applicants to submit GMAT scores, while the UC Davis School of Education only accepts GRE scores.
Stuart Heiser, public affairs manager for the Council of Graduate Schools, also said during recessions more people apply and attend graduate schools.
Though data for this year is not all available, a 2009 survey of prospective international graduate students showed a 4 percent increase in applicants from 2008. This shows an increase in international graduate school interest, but the growth is slowing. In 2008, there was a 6 percent increase from 2007.
More generally, Heiser said there has been a 3 percent increase in applications each year of the past decade.
“Anecdotally, applications to most graduate schools are up compared to last year,” Heiser said. “Some schools have seen 20 percent increases, but that’s not universal.“
Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions spokesperson Russell Schaffer said across all Kaplan graduate school preparation programs offered there have been double-digit percent increases in the past year.
“It’s safe to say [graduate program] applications are seeing a spike,“ Schaffer said. “This leads to more competition.“
Schaffer also acknowledged this historical economic trend. As seen after Sept. 11, 2001, law schools saw a 17 percent jump in applicants – similar to today’s increases. As in 2003 through 2005, graduate applications will probably level off in a few years as the economy improves, Schaffer said.
There may be increases in applicants – and therefore competition – but this doesn’t necessarily mean more students will be attending graduate school.
“This year, because of budget constraints, a number of universities are not going to accept more students,” said Heiser, spokesperson for the Council of Graduate Schools.
None of the UC Davis graduate schools have announced plans to expand the number of students they admit.
Schaffer said some schools are increasing their number of seats, especially for business schools, but that competition is not decreasing.
“Admission is always going to be competitive,” he said.
Despite the increase in graduate school applications, competition, testing and preparation, it is good to keep things in perspective, Schaffer said.
“For those considering graduate level programs, graduate school is not a goal, but a means to an end,” he said.
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at email@example.com.