The Rush to Graduate School
Everyone's applying. Should you, too?
The bonuses have disappeared. So have the multiple job offers, the offers made long before college graduation, the offers that promised 21-year-olds salaries higher than their parents' combined income. Now job seekers, not corporate recruiters, are the ones accosting people at career fairs. Now employers pick and choose among applicants--and applicants take what they can get.
Although the economy is slowly brightening, the job market has yet to bounce back. The unemployment rate is almost 2 percentage points higher than it was during the heady days of the late 1990s, and more than half of the senior executives surveyed recently by the Business Council, an association representing large companies, said their organizations would cut their workforces this year or, at least, not create and fill new jobs.
It's no wonder, then, that droves of recent college grads and disgruntled or laid-off workers are considering graduate school. One of the first things Christina Wu, 28, did after losing her telecommunications job last November was to sign up for a prep course for the GMAT, the business school entrance exam. "I've always thought about getting an M.B.A.," says the Santa Monica, Calif., resident. "Losing my job gave me time to reflect and think about what career path to take." The number of applicants has jumped at graduate schools everywhere--by 27 percent over last year at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and 22 percent at the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, D.C. The Monterey Institute of International Studies in California received close to one-third more applications this year, while the School of Management at Boston University staggered under a whopping 153 percent increase.
Companies that cater to people weighing grad school also are reporting a jump in business. Kaplan Inc., for instance, raked in 24 percent more revenue from its prep courses for the LSAT, the law school admissions test, in 2001 than in 2000 and 26 percent more from its GMAT courses. Only medical school admissions test courses haven't seen a boom in enrollment.
Seeking refuge in grad school in a lackluster labor market is a time-tested strategy. When jobs were scarce in the mid-1980s, graduate applications rose about 7 percent a year. "It's a respectable thing to do," says Susan Krinsky, dean of admissions at the Tulane School of Law in New Orleans, where the number of applicants also is soaring. "It's even a productive thing to do."
But before you sign up for the GMAT or GRE, before you send away for applications, even before you start fantasizing about grassy quads, Gothic libraries, and avuncular professors, it pays to ask yourself whether you should be going to graduate school at all. Too often, people pursue an advanced degree to escape an unsatisfying job instead of figuring out which career best suits them and whether graduate study will help them succeed in the field, says Linda Wiener, who runs a workplace consulting firm in Vancouver, Wash. After graduation they find themselves just as dissatisfied as before--but carrying more debt.