Graduate school fair attracts hundreds of students

M By Shawna Tessum

mishel Horta hadn’t exactly planned on attending graduate school when she started at the University.

But a sluggish economy has the University junior rethinking what her first move will be after completing her paralegal degree next year. Horta, like thousands of students nationwide, is facing the tough question of what to do after graduation: enter into a tight job market immediately, or wait out the recession and enhance her skills in graduate school.

“I’m hoping graduate school will make me more marketable,” she said.

Horta was one of approximately 800 students from the University and other Twin Cities-area campuses who met with representatives from more than 100 graduate and professional school programs at Graduate and Professional School Day on Thursday.

The event, held at the Gateway alumni center, addresses a big issue for many students, Career and Community Learning Center event coordinator Lisa Murphy said.

“When the job market freezes up, students tend to show a lot more interest in grad school,” Murphy said.

And applications reflect that interest, said Paul Binkley, a recruiter from George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs who attended the graduate school fair.

“As a general rule, graduate school applications increase when the economy does poorly,” he said.

Binkley said applications for the Elliott School of International Affairs increased between 35 percent and 40 percent last fall, a jump he attributed to the slump in the economy after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Paul Timmins, CCLC’s lead career services coordinator, said interest in graduate school varies greatly depending on the field a student is going into. No matter what the state of the economy, a graduate degree holds more clout in some industries, he said.

“For some students, grad school is a great move. Other students go straight to grad school as a way of postponing their job search, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the best idea,” Timmins said.

“With an undergraduate degree, most students have a wide range of possibilities open to them. Graduate school can limit your options. It focuses you in one area, so you really want to make sure it’s the right area,” he said.

Andrew McLennan, graduate studies director in the department of economics, said it is difficult for economists to predict when the job market will improve.

“If we could predict fluctuations, they wouldn’t happen,” he said.

There is no consensus as to why the economy fluctuates as much as it does, and economic models have not been very successful at predicting future fluctuations, McLennan said. However, he said the current economic slump is milder than recessions in the 1970s and 1980s in terms of productivity and unemployment.

Many students visiting the graduate school fair said they were pleased with the programs represented, while others said they wished more schools would have attended.

“I was expecting more schools from around the country,” said senior geophysics and geology major Calvin Li. He also said he thought there were more liberal arts programs than technical programs represented.

Recruiters and students discussed topics including admission and degree requirements, application procedures, program strengths and funding options. The event also featured workshops on applying and funding graduate and professional programs.

Shawna Tessum is a freelance writer. The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]