In the midst of an economic recession, the members of the Class of 2002 are weighing the option of graduate school before they decide to enter the workforce.

Paul Wong

At least that is the conclusion at area test preparation centers, which are seeing evidence of increased interest in graduate school among students. Enrollment for graduate test classes rose this year at centers including the Princeton Review and Kaplan. The centers offer preparatory courses on graduate school exams such as the MCAT and the LSAT.

Kaplan”s graduate testing business increased 20 percent nationally between January 2001 and October 2001, said Kaplan spokeswoman Bonnie Eissner. She added that this growth suggests more students will apply to graduate school this year.

“Since the majority of students who prepare for business, law or medical school do so with Kaplan, our numbers are strong predictors of future trends,” Eissner said.

Increased numbers of students also signed up for the preparation courses at the Princeton Review, said Amber Clark, assistant director of outreach for the center at 1220 S. University Ave. She said this is typical for a year when the economy is in recession.

“I think there are a few more people out there who are searching for something because of the economy,” Clark said.

LSA senior Robin Trombley modified his plans to deal with the state of the economy. Originally, he wanted to head to New York City after graduation and try his hand at acting. In light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the economic recession, he said he decided it would be too hard to break into performing.

“As it is, it”s difficult to get a job (in acting),” he said. “Now it”s nearly impossible.”

Trombley said he opted to take the GRE exam this semester instead. After his graduation, he said he will try substitute teaching for a year while he decides whether to find a more permanent job or return to school to earn either his master”s degree or teaching certificate.

Like Trombley, most University students who attend graduate school choose to work for a year or two before they return to academia, said Terri LaMarco, associate director for employee relations at the Career Planning and Placement office. The approximately 20 to 25 percent of students who do continue their education are merely changing their timing as a result of the economy, she said.

Rather than working for a few years, members of this year”s graduating class tend to consider attending graduate school before entering the job market, she said.

Graduate school is “still not a good choice if you”re going just because of the economy,” LaMarco said. “You should be looking for personal enrichment.”

But graduate programs can serve as a viable alternative to looking for work in a tight job market. Until she found a job at a Fortune 500 company, LSA senior Jen Cowley said she intended to take the LSAT and apply to law schools.

“I did have a back-up plan to go back to school if I didn”t get a job offer,” she said.

Cowley said she found it more difficult to find a job than her acquaintances who graduated last year by pursuing job openings more intently.

An environment where fewer employment opportunities are available like this often causes demand for preparatory courses at Kaplan to grow, Eissner said. In particular, she said business and law programs become more popular because they are influenced more by the job market than programs that involve long-term planning like medical school. The company”s GMAT business rose 34 percent and LSAT business increased 26 percent during the first 10 months of 2001 as a result, she said.

The flexibility of these graduate programs continues to provide an alternative to the job market for students. Trombley said many of his friends plan to attend graduate school immediately after graduation. They will wait out the recession while continuing their education.

“If I weren”t burnt out, I”d probably do the same thing,” he said.

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