Laurier sees spike in grad school applications

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Since 2016, Wilfrid Laurier University has seen an increase of over 100 per cent in graduate school applications for various programs — nearly doubling interest in the graduate and postgraduate departments at the school. 

In 2021 in particular, Laurier has experienced a surge of roughly 1000 new graduate school applicants — a 25 to 30 per cent growth — compared to this time last year, showing an unusual rise in potential students. 

While it is a phenomena that graduate school applications for certain programs tend to increase during “times of economic downturns,” the nature of a global pandemic has created the unprecedented situation of increases across the board.

Douglas Deutschman, associate vice-president and dean of the Ffaculty of Ggraduate and Ppostdoctoral Sstudies at Laurier, attributes this increase in part due to Laurier’s strategic planning efforts. 

“It’s part of a longer-term trend … there’s been an emphasis as a comprehensive university in increasing research activity [and] increasing graduate numbers,” Deutschman said.

“So we have been thoughtfully and carefully reviewing our graduate programs, both in terms of the offerings we have and the class sizes — we’ve been increasing [them] — we’ve had some new programs come online and we’ve also been increasing enrollment in some.” 

According to Deutschman, since 2016, Laurier has been averaging an overall growth in graduate applications of approximately 15 per cent. Last year, during the pandemic, compared to other universities who saw decreases in their applications, Laurier instead saw a “flattening out” of their numbers.

“This year, it seems like we’ve had a surge that makes up for last year’s flattening, so it continues the trajectory that we started in 2016 and 2017,” Deutschman said.

“I think that’s really encouraging and it’s really exciting, as I think Laurier is embracing a broader identity as a comprehensive university.” 

A greater number of applications for graduate programs will allow Laurier to be more selective of its applicants, which will likely increase the overall quality of those programs.

It will also likely advance Laurier’s effective conversion rate for students, which is the number of people that will come to Laurier after they’ve received an offer from their selected program.

“We’re making fewer offers per application and we’re still getting very good conversion rates — probably enhanced conversion rates relative to five years ago,” Deutschman said.

“I think that suggests that Laurier’s graduate enterprise is building momentum and getting some recognition for some of the strong programs we have.”

Because of this surge, many schools are also experiencing the issue of whether or not to “over-offer” acceptances into graduate programs due to concerns about what the fall term will bring for conversion rates. 

“They’re worried about people not coming in the Fall because of changing circumstances — financially, personally, COVID-19, [etc.],” Deutschman said. 

“From what I’m hearing from other Deans, our increase is typical or above-average. Some schools are planning to over-offer in a significant way, different from other years, and others are planning to essentially follow the same logic as previous years.”

This year, Laurier will most likely not be increasing their offer rates for graduate programs.

“We’re really not expecting to see conversion rates be lower than previous years, and they didn’t change that much last year, so I wouldn’t expect them to change much this year,” Deutschman said. 

Looking to the future, Deutschman is optimistic about what the year to come will hold for graduate programs at Laurier.

“This year, we’re coming out of COVID-19, we don’t know exactly when and how that will progress, but it’s progressing, and so the future is becoming more certain in terms of the kind of experiences grad students will be able to get, and particularly hands-on and experiential learning, which has been so terribly impacted by COVID-19,” Deutschman said. 

“I am very excited about the growth in our graduate programs, in terms of [the] diversity of programs we’re offering, the diversity of students we’re attracting and the growth we’re seeing, and that’s really gratifying.

“I think Laurier is still going through this evolution toward a more research-intensive, comprehensive university, and it’s nice to see that progressing. So, for me, that’s the most exciting thing to see and I don’t see any reason for that to stall. It seems to be going well and I think we’ll continue that trajectory,” he said.

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