Graduate Students Face Fewer Opportunities, Stiffer Competition

It’s always been a standard feature of Graduate Student Barbie that when you pull her string she says, “Graduate School is tough!” But these days, she’s also liable to say, “The competition is cut-throat!” and possibly “There have to be more opportunities than just these!” 

Graduate school is an opportunity to improve your ability to find a job by allowing you to acquire skills beyond what a bachelor’s degree provides – that’s why they call it a “master’s” degree, after all. It also provides an alternative to trying to find a job when the market is tight – like, say, at the tail end of a global pandemic when the economy is severely depressed and no one is looking for your specific skill set.  

It gets tricky, though, when so many people get the same idea, and apply to graduate school at the same time. Then, there can be a nasty scramble for the limited number of seats in the graduate-school lifeboat. 

Karla Rockhold, Assistant Director of Career Development at the OSU Career Development Center, told Cara Nixon of The Daily Barometer that many people who have been laid off or had their hours reduced are applying to graduate school hoping to qualify for better jobs in their field, or to move into new fields. This includes people who come from families where they would be the first to go to graduate school, or were even the first to go to college.  

One thing Rockhold suspected has increased the number of applicants was that many graduate programs have dropped the requirement that applicants pass the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and making other experimental modifications. 

“I think that’s encouraged people to apply to graduate school programs as well, because some people have a fear of test taking,” Rockhold said. 

Besides competing for limited slots in graduate schools, would-be graduate students must also hunt for increasingly rare internships. 

“I think the biggest thing that’s made career planning difficult for students, especially undergrad, is a lack of internship opportunities,” Rockhold said.  

Because of the economic downturn, and especially because of the reduced face-to-face contact people are having at work, the number of internships offered is greatly reduced – four out of five have been cancelled. 

“Many students have been concerned about difficulty getting internships or job shadowing experience (this was especially an issue last summer),” said Beau Baca, academic advisor at the OSU Honors College. Internships are, of course, vitally important in gaining experience and building contacts within a field. 

Rockhold says that really, the only hope for the situation to improve is for the economy itself to improve, but she thinks that is indeed happening. “I think the market right now is getting brighter,” she told Nixon, “with more people being vaccinated and businesses being able to have people back in person.” 

For current undergraduates, Rockhold urges them to begin planning for graduate school sooner, not later. Senior year is “too late to start thinking about it. They really need to start, preferably, their sophomore year.” 

John M. Burt