The article in the Times gives a sampling of numbers from a few different schools, reporting their increases in applications. Compared to just last year, some graduate schools are receiving between 20 to 40 percent more applications.
The more interesting numbers, however, are those coming from the testing services. If you look at the increase in applicants to any particular school, part of that is accounted for by the fact that prospective students may simply be sending out more applications, casting a wider net. The number of people taking the admissions tests tells you more specifically how many people there are trying to get back into school.
This past October (2009), the number of people taking the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) hit an all time high of 60,746. That was a 20 percent increase from the year before. The number of people taking the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) was also at a record high at 670,000. That was a 13 percent increase from the year before.
The year before (2008), there was actually a slight decrease in the number of people trying to get into grad school. The recession was already underway, but apparently, it was too early for many recent college graduates to give up hope of finding work and too early for many in the labor force to realize that they were going to need to retrain.
Going back to school to weather a recession is a time-honored tradition, and for many, a really smart move. The Times captured it nicely with a quote from a woman with two bachelor's degrees who had been laid off after ten years working for the CIA:
"I had no luck finding anything, so I said to myself, 'What is it in my life that I have wanted to do that could make something good of a situation that has turned horribly wrong?'"Her decision was to work towards a Master's degree.
The basic concept here is that if things aren't going well right now, and if it's gotten to the point where you're just spinning your wheels looking for work, maybe it's time to start preparing for tomorrow.
I recently spoke with two young adults who actually finished their Masters' degrees, just as the recession striking hardest. One of them got an MBA after being laid off from a really good engineering job. He's not in a panic, but he has submitted Law school applications. The other one has a challenging and interesting job, but it is one of a series that were offered on a temporary basis, and that may or may not continue. She took the GRE and has applied for Ph.D. programs. She is not in a panic either.
For both of these individuals, the important thing is that they are keeping all of their options open. Neither is necessarily counting on getting back into school. Both of them are continuing to actively seek other employment opportunities. Both of them have back up plans for using their time and their talents. The man has his eyes on a survival job that will tide him over if nothing else pans out. The woman is now working by day in a corporate consultancy, and on the weekends she sells soup and smoothies in a public market. Both are obtaining important life skills.
If you took and passed the Serious Job Seeker IQ test, you know that looking for work is itself a full time job. But while you are looking for work, you should be thinking about whether it's time to go for another degree or another training program. Sometimes, that is the smartest move, taking advantage of this time to prepare for the future.