Prior to "Fashion 2.0" and the return of gauchos, women's hemlines used to be a good predictor of the state of the stock market: in good times, skirts were short (think flapper era). In hard times, hemlines fell.
Today, a more appropriate predictor of the economy is the graduate school application rate: when the market goes down, applications go up. Today's market is no exception. As of September, the number of prospective b-school students taking the GMAT admissions exam is up almost 25 percent from 2006 (This is in stark contrast to 2004, when the Graduate Management Admissions Council published a white paper entitled "Where Have All the Applicants Gone?")
If you're considering a return to graduate school, here are five quick tips for the application process.
1. Ask not whether graduate school is a good option, ask whether it is the right choice for you...
2. Decide where to apply with your career goals in mind.
Conventional wisdom is often rankings-driven: "go to the best school you can get into."
In practice, additional factors also include: financial aid/affordability, faculty research expertise, and campus recruiting relative to your career goals. For example, if you are a Florida resident and hope to practice law in Miami, it may be easier to get a job--and less expensive--if you go to a state school than it is to go to Yale.
3. Benchmark your test scores--and practice before you take the "real thing."
Many graduate schools, especially law school and business school, require admissions testing. Save yourself the headache of testing and re-testing, and know your potential scores before you take a test "for scores." Testing prep companies such as Kaplan and Princeton Review frequently offer a free practice test prior to enrolling in study courses. Study guides for the LSAT, GMAT, MCAT, and GRE also often include practice assessments as well.
4. Be a Great Applicant: Study Programs & "What Not to Do"
Shortly after I started a graduate school program in counseling, I learned that I had committed a near-fatal application error: I had written my admissions essay with the same thesis as 90% of other candidates--i.e. "I wanted to pursue a Master's in Counseling because I liked to help people." My professor rolled her eyes as she talked about reading our applications:
If you are a doctor, you are helping people. If you are a teacher, you are helping people. If you are a carpenter, you are helping people through what you build. There are so many ways to help people. If you want to be in this program, you need to answer other questions: Why counseling? And why this program?
Pretend you are writing a paper instead of an admissions essay: Study programs of interest, research faculty interests, and ask questions about outcomes. Then write your essays and connect your experience and interests with something specific that you have learned about the school--it will help you stand out.
5. Be Discreet About the Application Process
This article from Princeton University provides an interesting perspective on admissions officers and how they conduct online research on candidates. Key take-away: Admissions staff spend less time looking at applicants than employers, but prudence is still advised. It's a far better thing to comment about areas of interest to your course of study or to post news items of general interest than to say what schools you are most and least interested in...If you do decide to post in online forums on graduate school programs, use a screen name.