BYU grad school enrollment is steady despite national decline

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High School Diploma. Check. Bachelor’s Degree. Check.

So what’s next?

Law School. At least, that’s where Brian Anderson is headed.

Anderson, a sophomore from Whittier, Calif., double majoring in international relations and Russian, hasn’t always wanted to go to law school. In fact, he was initially heading towards music education.

“I personally feel in the study of music, I wouldn’t be able to use all of the talents and abilities that I feel I’ve been blessed with,” Anderson said. “My father is a lawyer and I have seen how he has been able to use his talents to not only broaden his own horizons, but to serve others as well.”

While obtaining a degree beyond a bachelor’s hasn’t been uncommon in the past, recent reports from the Council of Graduate School said that first-time graduate enrollment dropped 1.1 percent between the fall of 2009 and fall of 2010. This drop has been the first in the seven years. However, BYU hasn’t seen this same decline.

“First-time graduate  school enrollment decreased in five broad fields between fall 2009 and 2010,” the report said. “Education, ‘other fields’, public administration and services, business and social and behavioral science.”

This drop suggests that less students are attending graduate schools than in the past seven years. The question being asked is why. Kris Tina Carlston, prelaw director at BYU, said the drop can be attributed to the increase in attendance when the recession first hit.

“When the recession really hit, a lot of people were applying to graduate school as a safety because they couldn’t find any jobs and thought by the time they finished, they would have a great job,” Carlston said. “Then as people started to realize that attending graduate school didn’t necessarily guarantee a great job, they started to decide they didn’t want to go to school because they realize it wasn’t as much of a safety net.”

Law schools have seen a large decrease in enrollment numbers as of recent. According to the Law School Admission Council, across the United states law school enrollment is down 11.5 percent from one year ago, the lowest it has been in 10 years.

Carlston said that when the recession hit, that is when the surge of applicants occurred because of the mindset that the recession would be over afterward, causing a 20 percent increase in law school applicants. She said that the BYU Law School didn’t see that surge and that may be a contributing factor to why there hasn’t been a decline here.

“BYU has been very stable, which says a lot about the caliber of the students,” Carlston said. “Most students here are more more methodical about their decisions regarding education and there is often more maturity at BYU that helped beat out that thought process.”

Anderson said a high salary or better job isn’t what is attracting him to law school. He has always wanted to help people and feels that a degree in law, particularly intellectual property law, would allow him to do this as well as still stay close to the arts.

“The idea of having a specific knowledge set that can benefit others has always appealed to me,” Anderson said. “I like the idea of people coming to me if they have a question, and I feel that law is the greatest place for me to go in order to become that person that people turn to for help.”

Carlston said that while some may be choosing to not attend law school because they don’t think there are jobs to be found afterwards, this should not be the deciding factor. She said the six-figure law jobs may not be as readily available, but working at an entry-level job right out of law school can provide valuable experience that will bring in a higher salary later on.

“The job market has stabilized but there aren’t as many six-figure jobs right out of law school because a lot of firms are being more careful about who they hire,” Carlston said. “Having a law degree isn’t necessarily the golden egg that some students think it is. If you want to be a lawyer, it will work out. They just have to lower their salary expectations.”

Daniel Barker, a BYU graduate and student at Phoenix School of Law, said he had heard that less high-paying jobs were available right out of law school before enrolling. This did not deter his decision to attend, despite the large amount of debt that would be incurred, especially during a time when the job market isn’t as good as it could be.

“The statistics are still high for law students getting jobs,” Barker said. “It is not always the most high paying, top-of-the-law-firm job that they are getting, but moving up and getting higher pay requires individual effort and sacrifice. In many cases, I believe it depends on one’s attitude and desire to work their way up.”

James Crane, the assistant dean at BYU Graduate Studies, said the economy can be to blame for less students attending graduate school. He said less money is available to assist students with pursuing graduate degrees. However, he said that BYU has not seen a decline in the amount of students attending graduate programs overall.

“Some of our more specialized degrees and smaller programs have seen a small dip in applications in the last couple of years,” Crane said. “However, new recruiting efforts have been successful and these programs have rebounded nicely or are on their way.”

The report released by the Council of Gradate Students also shows that women have been enrolling more in graduate school programs in the past 10 years at a rate of 4.1 percent, compared the 3.5 percent annual increase for men. Crane said that BYU has seen more female students pursuing graduate school than males for several years.

“I don’t have concrete data to tell you why but my feeling is that many of our male students enter the workforce as soon as possible to support their families and oftentimes feel that they don’t have the luxury to remain in school to pursue a graduate degree,” Crane said.

Despite the job market and that attending graduate school may not guarantee a better job, Carlson encouraged students to go to graduate school if they have the desire.

“A lot of students say they don’t know if it will work out,” Carlson said. “My advice is that if you want it to work out, it will work out. Just work hard.”

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