Recession prompts jump in University Graduate School applications

The University of Minnesota followed a national trend of increased graduate school applications.

The University of Minnesota followed a national trend of increased graduate school applications with an 18 percent increase in the past year, due mainly to the poor economy. This equates to approximately 12,662 applications — 1,887 more than at the same point in the admissions cycle one year ago, Dean Tsantir , director of admissions and recruitment for the Graduate School, said. University economics professor Christopher Phelan said the growing unemployment rate explains the increase. The unemployment rate in the United States was 10 percent in December 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is compared to rates of 7.4 percent and 5 percent in December 2008 and 2007 , respectively. The Graduate School begins accepting applications in the summer, but applications always peak in December and January because most programs’ individual deadlines fall in these months, Tsantir said. “It’ll probably be not long before we surpass last year’s total of applications,” Tsantir said. “So it’s been quite an uptick this year.” A clear sign of the jump in applicants is the record-breaking year for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) , a standardized test considered by most graduate schools. Approximately 670,000 people took the exam in 2009, more than any year in history and 8.6 percent higher than the previous year. Though the recession was a main factor, broadened awareness of the exam and a trend of MBA programs beginning to accept GRE scores also contributed to the increase, Mark McNutt , spokesman for the Education Testing Service , which administers the GRE, said. “There’s no question that historically there has been a correlation between times of recession and GRE volumes,” McNutt said. “That’s also in play now.” The increase in applications came some time after the recession began and thus later than some experts predicted. This may be due to the lengthy graduate school application process, Phelan said. Phelan, who also serves on the admissions board for the graduate program in economics, said he has seen an approximate 50 percent jump in applications. “We’re swamped,” he said. Law schools are seeing a similar boost in applications. Nationally, 2009 was the first year since 2003 that saw a significant increase — 5 percent — in applicants, according to the Law School Admissions Council , which administers the Law School Admissions Test. The 3,594 applicants to the University’s Law School for fall 2009 trumped the 2,783 for fall 2008.