Where we’re at:
Right now, if I walk down the street almost anywhere in the United States, I will see “Help Wanted” signs in the windows, on Amazon trucks, and almost everywhere. The United States is experiencing a labour shortage and one of the tightest labour markets since records were kept.
As a result of the labour shortage, current grads are getting jobs and great salaries. The Wall Street Journal wrote “The Class of 2022 represents the most in-demand college graduates to enter the job market in years.”
At the same time and probably as a result of the tight job market, application volume declined this past cycle at many graduate programs. In several podcast interviews that I conducted, whether with medical school, law school, or business school, admissions deans and directors, the school representatives indicated that application volume was down from the stratospheric levels of 2020-21, but not below pre-COVID levels. At May’s AIGAC conference, several top MBA admissions directors also expressed concern about summer melt – the number of admitted applicants who have indicated they will attend and then decide either not to go for an MBA or to attend another program – as well as the employer incentives NOT to go for an MBA.
The drop in application volume stemming from the tight job market, however, is good news for applicants. It means it’s easier to get into better programs than it was at the height of the COVID recession. Fewer applicants also almost always lead to more and larger scholarships for highly qualified students.
The question for applicants thinking about applying during the 2022-23 application cycle is: Will the applicant party continue? Will grad admissions, especially MBA admissions, see further declines in application volume? Will it remain a buyer’s market?
I really doubt it. And here’s why.
Listen: Linda Abraham talks about why you should apply to grad school asap in this special podcast episode
Drumbeat of warning about a coming recession
In late 2021 and early 2022 the economic predictions were optimistic. By May, that confidence had dissipated. Inflation surged, the stock market slumped, supply chain snafus multiplied, Russia invaded Ukraine, and interest rates climbed.
Headlines increasingly relayed recession and layoff warnings.
- Lloyd Blankfein, senior chairman of Goldman Sachs, warned on Face the Nation on May 15 of a high risk of recession.
- Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf said there was “no question” that we are headed towards a recession.
- The Wall Street Journal reported; “Companies which saw substantial growth during the Covid-19 pandemic are starting to take a more cautious approach toward hiring and spending.”
- BusinessInsider blared: “A wave of layoffs is sweeping the US. Here are firms that have announced cuts so far, from Carvana to Wells Fargo.”
Impact of previous recessions on graduate school application volume
I have been an admissions consultant since 1994. During every recession since then, whether the dot-com bust, the Great Recession of 2008, or the COVID recession of 2020, potential grad students, especially MBA applicants, seek shelter from the economic storm: They enroll in grad school and improve their skills while opportunities for advancement are more limited and the risk of unwanted unemployment is higher.
As a result, the graduate education market becomes a seller’s market. Application volume soars. Competition increases, and it’s harder to be accepted. Programs can be choosier about whom they admit and stingier when it comes to scholarships.
You do not have to look far for an example of this counter-cyclicality. The COVID recession saw an unprecedented spike in applications to business, law, and medical school, with MBA admissions in particular being counter-cyclical. Other grad segments seem a little less sensitive to economic cyclicality, but both law and med saw huge increases in application volume when the COVID recession hit:
- Law school applicant volume increased by roughly 19% per LSAC for the class that matriculated in 2021 but declined somewhat this cycle.
- AAMC reported a 17.8% increase in applications for the class that matriculated in 2021. However, most med school admissions directors say that application volume declined somewhat this year but is still above 2020 levels.
- Business schools also reported a banner year during the recession per Poets and Quants. Application volume soared 17.6% at top-25-ranked MBA programs in the 2020-21 application cycle versus the pre-recession, pre-COVID 2018-19 application cycle.
What does all this mean for you if you want to apply to graduate school?
Apply before a recession hits and application volume soars. If you are applying to MBA programs and either have a test score, assuming you need one, or feel you can prepare well in 4-8 weeks, do so ASAP. Aim to submit most or all of your applications Round 1.
If you are applying to law school or other grad schools and need to take the GRE or LSAT and think you can prepare well in 4-8 weeks, then start now. Today. So that you can get the test finished and finished well. Then focus on effectively presenting yourself and your qualifications so that you apply early in the application cycle – before unemployment and application volume rise. For those schools with rolling admission, “early” could mean you submit your application and have it evaluated before schools are inundated.
To apply effectively and early, ensure you also have these foundational elements of a successful graduate school application:
- Goal requiring the education offered by the specific program you are applying to.
- Evidence you can do the work at those programs (usually competitive grades and test scores).
- The personal qualities, skills, and values the schools seek.
- An ability to contribute to the diversity and richness of the class and school’s community.
If you meet those basic criteria, then you should plan to apply R1 for most business schools and early in this application cycle for other graduate programs.
I’m NOT recommending that you submit a rushed, sloppy, mediocre application. I am urging you to get cracking now and start working on your graduate applications ASAP so that you can submit when classes are wide open and schools are uncertain what application volume will be.
If you don’t have the foundational elements outlined above, then you may have to first work on them and may not be able to submit early. However, if you already have them, you can do it. If you are just lacking the test score and can prepare in 1-2 months, then you will have the score in enough time to submit early.
It’s also quite possible that if you apply now and the recession hits in late 2022 or early 2023, you will ride out most of it in graduate school, and depending on the length of your graduate education and the recession, you could graduate into an expanding economy with new skills and a shiny new degree.
If the recession doesn’t materialize, the economy continues to roar on, and you have great professional opportunities, you can withdraw your applications, attempt to defer, or choose not to attend grad school. Or you can choose to attend because you were accepted to your dream schools and don’t want to pass up the fantastic educational and professional opportunity.
Bottom line: Applying as early as possible, provided you have the foundational elements outlined above has little downside and lots of upside.
Start working on your grad school application NOW.
Do you need help evaluating your unique situation and determining if now is the right time for you to apply? Convinced that the time is right, and need help with your application? Our expert admissions consultants can help you at any and every stage of the admission process. Check out our admissions services for more information.
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted. Linda earned her bachelors and MBA at UCLA, and has been advising applicants since 1994 when she founded Accepted. Linda is the co-founder and first president of AIGAC. She has written or co-authored 13 e-books on the admissions process, and has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News, Poets & Quants, Bloomberg Businessweek, CBS News, and others. Linda is the host of Admissions Straight Talk, a podcast for graduate school applicants. Want an admissions expert to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!