Number of grad school applicants drops 8 percent

Applications to Yale’s Graduate School this year dropped 8 percent, continuing to decline for the second year in a row after hitting an all time high in 2003.

The Graduate School received 7,878 applications this year, compared to roughly 8,300 last year. In spite of efforts to increase both international and underrepresented minority applicants, Graduate School officials said they saw a decline in applications from both groups.

Despite the intense lobbying efforts of Yale President Richard Levin, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said that complicated visa procedures likely were responsible for the 9.5 percent decrease in the Graduate School’s foreign applications. Increased competition from graduate schools in the European Union and Australia may also be to blame, he said.

“The events of the last three or four years and visa procedures have made the application process to the U.S. difficult,” Butler said.

Applications this year came from 120 countries. Though applications from the United States and India saw modest increases last year, applications from both countries decreased this year by 6 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Applications from China fell again, dropping 24 percent this year. But the Graduate School saw an 18 percent increase in applications from Korea, as well as an 8 percent increase from Taiwan.

“From World War II to 2001, the U.S. was considered very welcoming,” Butler said. “Among some potential applicants, it’s probably not considered to be as welcoming. That’s the single most commonsensical explanation for why international applications are down.”

Most American graduate schools, including those at Harvard and Princeton, have not yet released their application numbers for this year, but Butler said that he thinks the decline in foreign applications will not be unique to Yale. Last year, according to a report released by the Council of Graduate Schools, the number of foreign applications to American graduate schools decreased 28 percent.

While there have been some efforts to facilitate the application process for foreigners — such as prioritizing international students in the visa granting process — it remains to be seen whether these changes will have their intended effect, said Heath Brown, the director of research and policy analysis at the Council of Graduate Schools.

“We don’t know yet what the application pattern is going to be this year,” Brown said.

After doubling between 2000 and 2004, the number of applications from underrepresented minorities decreased from 594 last year to 487, an 18 percent decline. Assistant Dean of Diversity Liza Cariaga-Lo said initial reports from peer institutions indicated that they experienced similar declines in minority applications.

“Given that we are still in the midst of the application process, it is a little early to speculate about the reasons for this decline, but, for instance, it may in part be attributed to a stronger economic job prospects,” Cariaga-Lo wrote in an e-mail. “It is still too early to tell, but we will be examining this issue closely over the next several months.”

The Graduate School’s most popular Ph.D. programs for applicants this year were within the biological and biomedical sciences, which typically account for as much as 10 percent of the overall applicant pool, Graduate School Director of Admissions Robert Colonna said. But overall applications to the social sciences decreased 12 percent and applications to the natural sciences were down about 10 percent, Colonna said. The number of applications to humanities programs, however, saw a modest increase, he said.

Associate Graduate School Dean Pamela Schirmeister attributed the decline in science applications to opportunities in the job market.

“There are more people in the sciences and social sciences who are more immediately marketable,” Schirmeister said. “Those opportunities may be slightly less for humanities majors.”

In spite of the decrease in applicants, this year’s applicant total is still the school’s third highest in its history, following totals from last year and 2003. Butler said there is no correlation between the number of applications and their quality.

“Just because the numbers go up or down, it does not mean that the quality of the applications has gone up or down,” Butler said. “What we ideally want are more great choices.”

This year, the Graduate School relied entirely upon an online application and did not print hard copies of application materials, Colonna said. Ninety-nine percent of applicants submitted their applications online.

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