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Fewer coterms?

Records for the number of coterminal degree applications received this year reveal a slight decrease from previous years, according to some University departments — running contrary to worries that a tough job market would bring more “coterm” students back this fall, possibly impacting graduate housing.

Administrators attribute the decline to myriad reasons; in some cases, applications are up, and the drop rate also varies across departments.

Applications to the coterminal degree program in biology have been declining; sociology may be following suit, say administrators. Other departments, such as mechanical engineering, have seen increases in fifth-year masters’ applications. (JIN ZHU/Staff Photographer)

Biology has determined that its numbers have steadily declined since 2005, though only by a few applications each year. This year, 16 students submitted applications and 14 were granted admission.

Valerie Kiszka, the department’s student services officer, said that she was surprised at what these statistics showed, especially because the department has made efforts to cut some of its requirements, such as the GRE exam.

“The faculty assumed that that would increase our applications,” she said. “We were all under the assumption that the number was growing. My only guess is that, between pre-med advising and the advising that faculty and staff do in the department […] students are realizing that they don’t need to coterm to get into medical school.”

Students in previous years had thought that, Kiszka added.

On the other hand, sociology, which has changed its application process multiple times in the last five years, has had a much harder time describing the slope of the trend. The department’s student services officer, Sarah Giberman, said on average, she receives about 40 applications per year.

Although that seems to be a higher figure compared to other departments, even that number has recently dwindled down by one or two from last year.

“We started requiring the GRE, so I think that some people that would have applied maybe didn’t apply this year,” she said.

But in some departments, there are increases.

Patrick Ferguson, the student services specialist in the mechanical engineering department, said there has been a 72 percent increase in applications this year from 41 applications last spring, a trend that has increased competition among applicants.

“I can’t say exactly but my guess is like everyone else’s,” he said about possible reasons for the increase. “With the economy being the way it is, students will stay in school to gain more skills.”

Some recent coterm admits and graduates agree.

Though Crystal Zheng ’10, an admit to the new public policy coterm program, was not worried herself about job market woes because she had once planned to apply to medical school, the prospect of a job search served as a sufficient impetus for her friends to pursue coterm degrees.

“A lot of them mentioned that there weren’t a lot of job opportunities,” Zheng said.

“Even if they didn’t end up doing the coterm a lot of them wanted to have [it] as an option in case they couldn’t find jobs,” she added.

While most departments admit more than 50 percent of their application pool, this is usually out of 30 or 40 students.

Student services officers in these departments maintain that criteria for admission will be based on whether or not faculty members believe students will succeed in doing graduate-level work in that field, regardless of the size of the applicant pool.

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