Yale graduates hesitate to immediately continue education

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Photo by Ken Yanagisawa.

According to survey information spanning the past several decades, graduating Yale students have been increasingly putting off graduate and professional school in favor of first obtaining professional work experience or following other pursuits.

According to data compiled by the Office of Institutional Research, the percentage of Yale College seniors who entered graduate school immediately after college dropped from 64 percent in 1966 to 21 percent in 2010 — the last year that the OIR was in charge of collecting data on students’ postgraduate plans. For the class of 2013, according to data collected by Undergraduate Career Services, only 18.3 percent of seniors planned to attend graduate school immediately after college. Students from undergraduate humanities majors have accounted for a large portion of drops over the last few years, as 17 percent of humanities majors entered graduate school after graduating from the University in 2010, compared to 56 percent of humanities majors from the class of 1970.

“One of the things that is important to keep in mind is that graduate schools are now looking for students to have some work experience,” said UCS Director Jeanine Dames.

For instance, Dames said, prospective applicants to medical schools are increasingly encouraged to spend a few years pursuing research after graduation. But with law schools, she said, it is still too early to establish whether this same trend can be applied.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a trend of students taking time off before entering law school, Yale Law School Spokeswoman Janet Conroy said in a Wednesday email. She said that the number of new law students coming directly from college used to make up roughly one-third of the entering class, and now fluctuates between one-fourth and one-fifth. In 2010, the percentage of students entering law school and medical school immediately after college dipped to a low of four percent.

But YLS professor Robert Burt said he has not noticed that fewer students are entering the school immediately after graduation. He said he thinks that the student age demographic has been the same in recent years, and that the only significant shift happened in 1980.

Burt said there are advantages and disadvantages to taking time off after college. One upside, he said, is the possibility to have a period of respite and do something with practical value.

“Lots of students feel that they are on a treadmill, and the idea of dropping out of the academia and doing something that has some obvious and immediate practical application is attractive,” Burt said.

But Burt also said that some students may become “hardened” into a particular career path — for example, when students go into investment banking or paralegal work right from college, they may compromise the open-ended value of their future law education by already locking into a certain career path and closing off other options.

Yale School of Management Associate Dean David Bach said that the School of Management is a special case because it requires students to have at least two years of experience before applying. But there are no requirements as to what industry the applicants work in, he said.

“For us as a school it’s exciting to have people who have worked in a broad variety of organizations,” Bach said, “The key question is not so much what industry [they come from], but what leadership skills they have been able to develop.”

Bach said the only exception to this rule is the Silver Scholars program, which allows a small number of selected college seniors to complete the first year of their MBA degree straight out of college. He said that this program has been competitive, with roughly 100 applications for seven or eight spots each year — and that it has enjoyed increasing popularity over the years.

SOM Admissions Director Bruce del Monico said in a Thursday email that he has seen a fluctuation in the ages of new students pursuing joint degrees between SOM and other Yale professional schools. While these students tended to begin their joint YLS-SOM degrees straight out of college in the past, he said, they have now begun arriving with a few years of work experience under their belts.

Yale Divinity School Assistant Director of Admissions Sean McAvoy said the Yale Divinity School is also an exception because it traditionally attracts an older population than other schools. He said that in the past few years the age of entering students averaged in the early the early thirties, and that not long before that they were slightly younger. But about a decade ago entering students were much older, averaging around 40 years old, McAvoy said, so there is no real recent trend of students taking more time to work.

“I think that every student comes to us when they are ready to come to us,” McAvoy said. “It’s a unique path for everybody and I think everyone who comes here is following that path at the right time for the individual.”

All faculty members and administrators interviewed gave different reasons for why students have been increasingly stalling their graduate school education after college.

YLS professor Steven Duke said students seek work experience in order to build up their resumes and make themselves more competitive applicants for law school.

But Burt said that in reviewing applications, he does not apply any such criteria.

“If there’s talent and interest and intellectual engagement — that’s what excites me,” Burt said.

Students interviewed gave different reasons for postponing further education. Aahan Bhojani ’14 said he is entering the consulting industry after college and is thinking of applying to graduate school later. He said he decided to work for a few years to figure out his interests and decide whether or not he needs to obtain an additional degree to pursue those interests.

Sesenu Woldermariam ’14, who said he plans to work for a few years in a legal consultancy firm before applying to law school, also said that work provides an undeniable advantage for grad school applications.

“For pretty much any form of professional education, work experience is much more important than getting straight A’s,” Woldermariam said.

Amongst members of the class of 2013 entering graduate or professional school immediately after graduation, 54.4 percent chose to pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D., 27.2 percent chose to enter medical school, 9.2 percent chose to study law and 9.2 percent are studying unspecified degrees or certificates.

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