UBC grad school applications increased by 25–30 per cent this year as 2021 graduates fear for job prospects

As UBC prepares for its second year of remote graduation ceremonies, undergraduate students are looking ahead to the future and making preparations to graduate into a pandemic.

When asked what her plan is post-graduation, fourth-year creative writing major and psychology minor Aslı Sözen said that she doesn’t know yet.

“I want to take my time with it. Just get an apartment and after, get a job and get a dog and dye my hair violet,” Sözen said, laughing. “I’m not kidding. This is my list. I need lists.”

The uncertainty that surrounds graduation is not an unfamiliar feeling for graduates, though fears about job prospects have been heightened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rather than risk entering the workforce, many undergraduates are applying to graduate school. Applications to masters and doctoral programs at UBC jumped from 21,435 applications in 2019 to 23,253 applications in 2020.

In a statement to The Ubyssey, Dean Susan Porter wrote that applications have increased from 25–30 per cent compared with previous years, depending on the faculty. This increase, however, is not unexpected.

“As expected on the basis of observations from previous global crises and economic downturns, UBC-V has seen a significant increase in applications,” wrote Porter in a statement to The Ubyssey.

But even though graduate school has garnered interest in the past year, UBC does not anticipate an increase in admissions.

“Enrolment in more programs is constrained by capacity of the individual program,” Porter wrote.

“In the case of research programs these limitations may be research funding, graduate student funding, or faculty or laboratory capacity issues. Increased applications do not necessarily result in increased admissions.”

Kenny Lin, a fourth-year chemical biology major, always knew that he wanted to apply to medical school after he completed his undergraduate degree. The pandemic only solidified his plans — he felt that there was too much instability within the job sector to comfortably enter the workforce after graduation.

“People, in general, don’t want to go into the job market, because it’s pretty bad due to the pandemic. There’s also potential job security [in regards to graduate school]. This might just be a great opportunity to further their education,” Lin said.

Graduates who go on to complete a master’s degree earn on average one-third more compared with graduates who enter the workforce with an undergraduate degree.

Other students are applying to graduate school because they feel that the shift to remote work and learning has increased accessibility to programs. Bachviet Nguyen, a fourth-year microbiology and immunology major, said that the transition to remote learning expanded his options for graduate school.

“I’m in a better position than I would have been if the pandemic didn’t happen. The pandemic hasn’t changed my future plans, it’s only reinforced my convictions,” Nguyen said.

Certain faculties, like the medicine faculties Nguyen applied to, required in-person interviews prior to the pandemic. Students who were offered interviews were expected to cover the cost of a return flight to the university, a financial cost that may deter those in a lower socioeconomic class from applying.

“Professional schools, in general, tend to benefit those who are in socioeconomically higher classes, because there’s just so much money that goes into the application process. But the pandemic has kind of been an equalizer because now someone with less economic resources … has the same shot as someone whose parents are probably millionaires,” Nguyen said.

Because of remote interviews for medical school, Nguyen applied to more graduate programs than he would have prior to the pandemic.

“That did prompt me to go on an across Canada applying spree as opposed to if the pandemic didn’t exist. Because … I’ve saved potentially thousands of dollars in … overnight hotels and … costs,” Nguyen said.