PHILADELPHIA — Law school applications are up dramatically — the biggest increase in at least two decades — as more young people are deciding the job market out there is just too rough.
With business schools and other graduate programs also reporting a surge in applications, it’s a big difference from late 1990s, when students skipped graduate school for high-paying jobs and big signing bonuses at dot-coms.
“With the way the economy is, there’s really nothing I can do right now except go to graduate school and hope that in another three or four years something will change,” said Brett Tishler, 21, who is entering his senior year at Temple University and applying to law school.
Some of those applying are going straight from college to graduate school. Others have been in the work force for a while and have decided to go back to school.
Law school applications are up 17.9 percent for 2002-03, the biggest spike in more than 20 years, according to the Law School Admission Council. As of July 5, the council counted 88,418 applications nationwide, compared with 74,994 at the same time last year.
A record 2,914 applications poured into the University of Connecticut law school in Hartford, up 46 percent from the previous year. The school expects to enroll about 240 people, up from the usual 210.
“It got very crazy,” said admissions director Karen DeMeola. “Any given applicant could be a perfectly good attorney, or a great attorney, but there’s just no room at the inn.”
Columbia University’s business school received 7,400 applications this year, up about 26 percent. Some 1,700 applied to the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate school of education, a 38 percent increase.
“There might be a little bit of a dot-com backlash,” said Tom Kecskemethy, associate dean of the education school at Penn. “Graduate education tends to be a haven for students when you’re choosing between a lousy job market and the prospect of increasing your education, even if there is a price tag attached.”
In a spring survey of 415 members by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, companies estimated they would hire 36.4 percent fewer graduating seniors this year than last.
Starting salaries also are down. Computer science graduates saw their offers drop 5.9 percent to $49,957, sliding under $50,000 for the first time since the fall of 2000. Undergraduate psychology majors saw their offers fall 12.8 percent to $26,456, according to the association.
Medical school applications have been falling since 1996, and interest remains low. Experts said those numbers may take longer to rebound in a slow economy. Most students cannot decide on the spur of the moment to go to medical school; they need a premed education as undergraduates.
Medical school applications climbed from 37,402 in 1992 to 46,965 in 1996 before starting their slide to 34,859 in 2001, a drop-off attributed to the burdens of managed care and the big money to be made in business, technology and other fields. The 2002 figures are not yet available.
“It may be bottoming out. That’s the impression we have,” said Dr. Jordan Cohen, president of the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Stacy Heenan, a 26-year-old television producer in Philadelphia, will start law school next month at Temple, where applications soared 32 percent this year. The Sept. 11 attacks convinced her it was time to get moving.
“It gave me the sense that life is short, and you’ve got to make things happen — follow your dreams — while you can,” Heenan said.