Grad School apps up, admits steady

Gaining admission to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will be tougher this year than last.

The Graduate School received a total of 10,774 applications — 278 more applications and a nearly 3 percent increase over last year — but will admit about the same number of students as last year, Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard said in an e-mail Saturday. This will sustain a 16 percent cut to the incoming class of Ph.D. students instituted last year because of a decline in the University’s endowment. Pollard said he and other administrators are in the process of allotting admissions ranges to each department. All six graduate students interviewed expressed concern that the continued contraction may hurt the school’s intellectual community, but some administrators said they can also see the benefit of the reductions.

Pamela Schirmeister GRD ’88, an associate dean of the Graduate School who reads applications in the humanities and social sciences, said the Graduate School’s ability to admit students more selectively adds to its prestige.

“The more selective we can be, the better it is,” she said. “You want the best students you can get, and you want the biggest pool you can get.”

Pollard said he is not surprised by the increase in applications because more students typically choose graduate school when the economy is weak. Until the economy recovers, however, and “resources improve along with the growth of the University endowment,” the number of students admitted may not increase.

“The number of students admitted each year depends on the financial resources available to the Graduate School and individual graduate programs,” Pollard said. “We must live within our budget, so we admit fewer students.”

Anthony Koleske, director of graduate admissions for biophysics, biochemistry and neurobiology, said he worries about the potential impact of admitting fewer students because professors depend on graduate students for their research. Students, Koleske said, are the “engines that drive innovation.”

Michael Blaakman GRD ’16, a history graduate student, said thinning the Graduate School could limit the diversity of opinions that students rely on in their research, adding that “everybody who ends up here is worth learning from.”

The psychology department in particular seeks a broad variety of interests in its new Ph.D. students because the department consists of five separate areas of study, said Director of Graduate Studies Susan Nolen-Hoeksema GRD ’82. Still, Nolen-Hoeksema said the reductions will not negatively impact the program if the department can grow again soon.

“It will have a real impact on graduate students and research only if it continues for several years,” she said of the enrollment caps, “but I think we can cope in the short run.”

For some directors of graduate studies, smaller incoming classes can mean less administrative strain.

Chemistry Director of Graduate Studies Charles Schmuttenmaer said he hopes to admit a smaller number of Ph.D. students this year than last year, when an especially high number of students admitted to the chemistry department chose to matriculate. Schmuttenmaer said administrative responsibilities, such as finding housing for new students, can be a burden. Of the 290 students who applied to the program this year, Schmuttenmaer said he hopes to offer admission to about 80.

International relations student Shaun Tan GRD ’12 said smaller graduate classes mean less demand for popular courses and less competition for teaching fellow positions. Truman Bewley, director of graduate studies for the Economics Department, said admitting a small group of students can also pay off when the freshly minted Ph.D.s enter the job market.

“You don’t want too many students because you’ve got to find jobs for them,” he said. “There is a big demand for economics right now, but I’m worrying about whether that will continue.”

Last year, 10,496 students applied to the Graduate School; just under 12 percent were admitted.

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