Grad school applications increase

Correction appended

Applications to GW’s graduate programs have increased 7 percent from this time last year, but opinion is split on what effect the country’s recession will ultimately have on graduate admissions.

In addition to the 7 percent master’s degree application increase, doctoral applications are up by three percent. This follows last year’s five percent decrease in applications.

Individually, four of the seven schools that offer master’s degree programs have seen an increase in applications. The School of Business and the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy have increased 21 and 20 percent respectively, while the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Graduate School of Education and Human Development both reported increases of over 8 percent.

A recent surge of interest in graduate study has been exhibited nationwide. Test preparation company Kaplan said that since September 2008, they have seen a 45 percent increase of interest in business, law and graduate school preparation programs.

This is prompting more aspiring graduate students to take tests like the GMAT, which has been taken by 5.8 percent more students than last year in the United States and 11.6 percent more worldwide.

Though graduate school popularity is widely speculated to be a byproduct of the sparse job opportunities caused by the recession, Kristen Williams, executive director of GW’s Office of Graduate School Enrollment Management, is cautious about conflating that with GW’s early rise in applications. She believes it has more to do with the individual graduate programs.

“At the graduate level, all enrollments are very program and school-specific,” she said. “There are programs that get popular and gain more interest for students, so what drives application rates are a number of things.”

Williams said that the spike is due in part to a growing number of students seeking to take advantage of financial assistance opportunities the school offers. She noted the numbers are not yet complete and there are still several months before the final deadlines pass.

“Right now our numbers are up and we’re happy about that,” she said. “But there are a lot of variables that are out of our control and we won’t have a real sense of total applicants until later in April when most of our deadlines have passed.”

Murat Tarimcilar, associate dean for graduate programs in the School of Business, attributes the nearly 20 percent increase in applications his school has seen to factors other than the financial crisis.

“We believe the main reason for that increase is the restructuring of our program, its marketing and the attention it has received from the media in the last few months,” he said, referring to recently reformed parts of the school’s curriculum and marketing to emphasize ethics in business.

Tarimcilar conceded that the school has been following the economy closely.

“There are many uncertainties about the impact of this financial fallout,” he said. “We are keeping current with the trends and constantly upgrading our prediction models, because the entire economy will be affected and it is hard to imagine that it would not impact our applications and enrollments.”

Tarimcilar also pointed out other ways in which the crisis might be affecting admissions. Rather than making graduate school more attractive, the financial situation appears to be discouraging aspiring graduate students from applying immediately.

“About 30 percent of the inquiries normally ends up with application by this time, this year it is only about 15 percent,” he said. “The reason for students waiting before they pay the application fee is the financial crisis. We think everyone is waiting for the last minute to get more clarity on the crisis.”

Matthew Dillard, senior admissions counselor at the GW Law School, said the economic crisis has not had a bearing on Law School admissions thus far.

“At the moment it hasn’t really changed things at all,” Dillard said.

Dillard was reluctant to make any future predictions.

“We’re not able to gauge how the economy is affecting things,” Dillard said. “It would be pure conjecture to speculate how the economy might affect our school.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: (January 29, 2009)

The Hatchet erroneously reported incorrect application statistics for the School of Business and the School of Public Policy. The School of Business increased 21 percent, not 18 percent, and the School of Public Policy increased 20 percent, not 17 percent.

Also, a front page graphic in the print edition displayed the wrong colors for doctorate and master’s applications. Red represented master’s programs and orange represented doctorate programs.

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