With the economy unstable as it is, Americans are being extra-cautious with every dollar. And yet for many college students, their dollars, whether earned or borrowed, are headed towards one place: graduate school.
According to the latest study put out by the Council of Graduate Schools, applications for admission to U.S. graduate schools have increased 4.8 percent since 2007.
The 706 U.S. colleges and universities who responded to the survey received more than 1.53 million applications for admission and of those, about 688,000 were accepted.
Although more recent survey results are yet to be available for fall 2009, it is clear from a local perspective that grad school is still a popular option for many students at the University of La Verne.
“I am applying to seven schools,” senior Alan Hernandez said. “Finance is really important to me. I applied to programs that I knew I had a shot at getting into and various schools give great financial aid if you need it.”
In addition to Harvard University and Stanford University, Hernandez, a double major in art and music, is applying to ULV for a master’s degree in organizational leadership.
Graduate programs in organizational leadership and science are among the top choices for recent applicants, says Chris Krzak, dean of admissions. And with an aggressive marketing campaign and recruitment efforts for special graduate programs, the number of applicants is increasing.
“In the last two years there has been a very large increase in the number of candidates for graduate programs and the number of applications the University is receiving,” Krzak said.
The leadership management degree in particular is versatile, and students who graduate from that program can work in as many as 10 different professions, if not more, said Krzak.
He estimates that about 50 percent of grad school applicants are fresh out of undergraduate programs.
But some students, particularly those with jobs, are only considering graduate school after gaining a little bit of work experience.
“I have heard that you need experience in the job world and (employers) do not just want someone that only has school as their background,” senior business major Matthew Flores said. “I have also heard the opposite, but I plan to wait at least a year.”
Flores said he hopes his current employer will be able to compensate his tuition for grad school when the time comes.
There are also students with the slight disadvantage of not having a job waiting for them after graduation, much less a job that will compensate grad school in the future.
Matt White, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public administration from La Verne last May, said it took him months to find the job he currently has, working as a youth coordinator at a youth center in the high desert.
“It was difficult. There is a lot of competition,” White said, who also confessed he was ignorant about how important it is to go to grad school.
But now he realizes that going to grad school is the smart thing to do.
“Why not have a bunch of degrees behind your name? Employers want the most educated person, someone who knows what they are doing,” White said.
He plans to attend Savannah College of Art and Design in the fall.
There is no doubt that the mentality towards grad school has changed over the last few years.
In 2006 it was easier for a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree to find a job and be successful.
But now, some of those jobs have been lost and perhaps a graduate degree could have made a difference.
Natasha O’Brien graduated from ULV in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
While she said she could have found work in social services with a bachelor’s, she is glad she went on to get her master’s from Claremont Graduate University in 2007.
“I could have gotten hired for less pay and eventually worked my way up, but having a graduate degree sped up the process,” O’Brien said.
She currently works for Riverside County as a Child Protective Services social worker.
She recalled that the majority of her colleagues wanted to go straight to work after graduating from ULV, but she knew for the type of work she wanted to do she needed to further her education even more.
Even when the economy eventually picks up, she said it will still be important to have a graduate degree because more and more people are seeking higher education and employers will give the more educated applicant the job.
And statistics from the Council of Graduate Schools seem to support her.
If students need another reason to go to grad school, perhaps a final word from O’Brien will suffice: “Go to grad school. You will have more options.”
Mark Vidal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.