In the wake of 2008's housing crisis and the recession that ensued, college graduates are finding it harder than ever to penetrate the job market. Many now find themselves competing against recently laid off workers who possess a decade or more of experience. Though it's been nearly two years since the onset of the financial meltdown, the country's unemployment rate still hovers near 10 percent. Rather than wade into such a treacherous job market, many have opted to try their hand at graduate school. Plus, many who were laid off are opting to apply to grad school either to enhance or change the direction of their careers entirely. The combination of these factors, plus changes in financial aid, has caused a precipitous rise in graduate school applications at many institutions. In 2009, for instance, Duke University saw a 33 percent hike in applications and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology saw a 15 percent jump.
[See our Best Graduate Schools rankings.]
With so many people applying to graduate schools, competition is stiffer than ever, so it's important for applicants to have a firm grasp on the top schools and what each has to offer. This year's U.S.News & World Report rankings of top graduate schools highlight which schools perform well across an array of disciplines, including business, law, medicine, engineering and teaching, among others.
Little has shifted at the top of this year's rankings of major graduate programs. Harvard University once again took the top spot in medicine and tied Stanford University for first in business. Yale University continued its near two-decade-long streak as the nation's best law school. Stanford not only tied for the top spot in the business rankings, but ranked highly among law schools, finishing third. Also making the top five in both categories is the University of Chicago, which moved from sixth to fifth in the law school rankings.
Harvard and Stanford also place in the top five in the rankings of schools of education. Vanderbilt University once again ranks No. 1 in this category. MIT repeats as the top-ranked engineering school, with the top five remaining unchanged from last year: Stanford, University of California—Berkeley, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign.
Also, this year, U.S.News & World Report has refreshed its rankings of Ph.D. programs in various scientific fields. These rankings, updated every four years, include biological sciences, chemistry, computer science, earth science, mathematics, physics and statistics. The California Institute of Technology headlines the new rankings, with top billing in three categories: chemistry, earth sciences and physics. Stanford also measured well against its peers in the sciences, having the top Ph.D. program in both biological science and statistics. Other schools that took the top spots in the new rankings are Carnegie Mellon University (computer science) and MIT (mathematics).
[Learn more about paying for graduate school.]
In an effort to add more color to our coverage of graduate programs, we're introducing Q&As with admissions officials at business and law schools across the country. These features are designed to give potential applicants a chance to read how the schools describe, in their own words, what they look for in students and how to approach the application process on a school-by-school basis. The Q&As will feature schools of different sizes and in different regions across a wide spectrum of our rankings. This will give students of all backgrounds and varied interests more confidence as they take on the often daunting applications to these professional programs.
Corrected on 04/15/10: An earlier version of this article misstated Stanford University's rank among our Best Business Schools. Stanford tied Harvard University for first in our business schools rankings.