Jobless students flock to academia

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences received a record 9,540 applications for master’s and doctoral programs this year, a 9 percent increase from the 2007 application cycle.

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said the rise was likely driven by students looking for a leg up in — and shelter from — the deteriorating global economy. This year’s total easily outpaces a previous high of about 9,000 applications in 2003.

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“It’s widely known in graduate circles that when the economy goes down, applications for graduate schools tend to go up,” Butler said.

The recession will weaken the job market for current graduate students, Butler said. But students applying now are likely hoping that the economy will turn around within a few years, he added, when they graduate and begin the job search.

The phenomenon is not unique to Yale. William Russel, the dean of the Graduate School at Princeton University, said applications to Princeton increased by 10 percent this year to 10,144. Applications to the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate school also rose to record levels. This year’s pool was 5 to 7 percent larger than last year, Graduate School Dean Ralph Rosen said.

Students tend to view graduate school as a path to a secure career and as a safe haven from a poor job market, Butler said. The strong financial aid support offered for programs at top research universities makes such programs even more attractive, he added.

Acceptance statistics are not available from the Graduate School because its application process is decentralized. Individual departments review applications independently and administrators do not compile cross-departmental admissions statistics. Butler said the Graduate School is not planning on any increase in enrollment, which would suggest that acceptance to departments receiving more applications than in past years will become more selective.

The recession also makes students more likely to accept offers, Butler said; as a consequence, he said he expects departments to be cautious in the number of offers made to prospective students.

The humanities and social sciences saw the largest increases in applications — 10 percent and 14 percent, respectively — while the sciences witnessed only a 4 percent jump, Butler said. He suggested this might be because science programs require much more specific undergraduate preparation.

Rosen, at Penn, said he saw fluctuations in application totals to individual departments but no broad pattern in any field, such as the humanities.

“Some people say the humanities are a way to hide out from the horrible job market,” Rosen said. “But I don’t see that in the numbers.”

Some Yale departments, such as political science, also bucked the increasing application trend. The Political Science Department received roughly the same number of applications as last year, said the department’s director of graduate studies, Kenneth Scheve.

The Graduate School also saw a 10 percent increase in international applications. Applications from China rose 18 percent, which Butler said he attributes to Yale’s growing reputation in the country. He added that as Yale begins to bolster its ties in India through the Yale-India Initiative, applications from that region may increase as well (though they actually fell 2 percent this year).

Men made up 53 percent of this year’s applicant pool, while women made up 47 percent — markedly different from last year’s Yale College applicant pool, which was skewed 55-45 toward women.

“That reflects a huge number of applications in economics and in the science fields, where we have many more men applying than women,” Butler said.

It is unclear whether Yale’s professional schools will see similar overall increases. In the first round of admissions at the School of Management, applications increased by about 4 percent. Complete figures from SOM will not be available until late March or early April . The Law School will not be able to supply figures until March at the earliest.

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