Unemployment drives increase in graduate division admissions

Graduate division admissions offices are reporting increases in applications for the 2010-2011 academic year, citing the economy and unemployment as factors for the upswing.

By Gabe Valley

Graduate division admissions offices are reporting increases in applications for the 2010-2011 academic year, citing the economy and unemployment as factors for the upswing.

So far, five divisions have reported an increase in applications. Four—the Graham School for Continuing Education, the Division of the Social Sciences, the Pritzker School of Medicine, and the Social Service Administration—have yet to calculate their data.

The Harris School of Public Policy experienced the most dramatic increase: a 13.6 percent jump in applications from the 2009-2010 academic year. Dean of Students Ellen Cohen attributed this increase to initiatives the school has taken, as well as the current economic situation.

“It is almost always related to the state of the economy, the cycles of ups and downs,” Cohen said.

The Division of the Humanities, which saw a 9 percent increase from last year, also attributes its increase to the economy and the rate of unemployment.

“Applications to graduate programs typically increase during periods of high national unemployment, and this year is no exception,” said Thomas Thuerer, dean of students for the Humanities.

The Division of Biological Sciences has noted growth in applications as well: a 10 percent jump in domestic applications from the 2009- 2010 academic year. Application numbers have grown 95.5 percent since 2001, according to Parag Shah, the associate dean of students for the Biological Sciences division.

“This increase is probably due to the enhanced reputation of our graduate programs, both in scientific opportunities for research projects and overall programmatic enhancement dedicated to our students,” Shaw said.

Though the Law School and the Division of Physical Sciences have not yet calculated their numbers, both noted a 3 to 4 percent growth in applications.

Rick Hefley, dean of students for the Division of Physical Sciences, said the number of applications to longer programs, like Ph.D. programs, held steady at around 600, but the number of applicants has increased for the one-year professional masters programs.

“The financial math program has grown enormously in the past few years,” Hefley said.

These programs offer a Master of Science in areas such as financial mathematics and computer science, but do not offer graduate aid; they are usually aimed at people who are interested in or are already involved in the corporate and business world and would like further training.

Along with increased marketing, Hefley said the length of these programs and their applicability to the current economy are big draws for people who are not interested in research careers.

Graduate divisions have also seen a change in the distribution of applicants’ nationalities. Hefley observed a greater number of Chinese and American applicants in recent years, but a decrease in the number of Europeans applying to the division.

“Perhaps because of economic conditions, there seem to be more Americans, fewer Europeans,” Hefley said.

Shah also saw a lower number of European applicants since the beginning of the decade, but attributed the decline to a variety of factors, including the 9/11 attacks and the University of Chicago’s high requirements for TOEFL, a test which measures a student’s proficiency in English.

While Pritzker has yet to announce the number of applications they received this year, they have seen a reduction of more than 10 percent over the past few years.

According to Sylvia Robertson, the associate dean of admissions, this drop is due to a decrease in class size, from 112 to 88 students. The cut in class size is aligned with the Pritzker Initiative, a program instituted to better support excellence in education.

“We continue to have the strongest applicants in the country applying to Pritzker…evident in the excellence of their leadership, extracurricular, scientific, and academic achievements,” Robertson said.