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Kai Ryssdal: Back in better times, Wall Street was one of the biggest destinations for graduates of MBA programs, Maters of Business Administration trying to become masters of the universe. Now Wall Street's in ruins, though, you might expect the schools that mint those MBAs to be in trouble. Lower demand for their product from one of their main customers, right? But it turns out just the opposite is happening.
From Chicago Public Radio, Adriene Hill reports that as the economy sinks, applications to MBA programs are on the rise.
Adriene Hill: The admissions office at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management is buzzing. It's slammed with prospective students, all in their business best, waiting nervously for interviews.
The phones are humming too, with applicants making plans to visit. The school has had to hire additional people to help handle the rise in demand for places. That makes prospective students like Tom Sternweis nervous.
Tom Sternweis: It's definitely made me a little more wary, just based on the increase in competition.
Right now, Sternweis works at a private equity firm in New York. He's been eyeing business school for a while.
Sternweis: Looking to kind of change industries, and I think the best way to do that with the opportunity to see a lot of different vantage points in different industries is to go through an MBA process.
For Sternweis, an MBA is a way to be more competitive down the line. And as the economy falters, it's not a bad time to go back to school. Others turn to business school when they lose their jobs. Beth Flye is an assistant dean at Kellogg. She says she's curious to see whether the school will be overrun by refugees from the financial sector.
Beth Flye: It's quite early, and I have not yet seen a significant difference. However, that could be more prominent once we have the full set of information on this round.
Just like Tom Sternweis, those applicants will encounter competition for places. Wanna-be MBAs have taken a record number of B-school tests this year. Flye says one of their biggest concerns is how they're going to pay for the program -- tuition alone is nearly $47,000 a year.
Flye: Looking at the news with some of the banks and the tightening on the credit markets, there's some concern right now.
Students are worried loans might be hard to come by or rates could rise. Stacey Kole is a deputy dean at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business, where applications are up 20 percent this year. She says uncertainty about the credit environment is matched by students' worries about what kind of jobs will be available when they graduate.
Stacey Kole: In a good year, in a good market, everyone assumes they'll get a job. Today, there's more probing on this front.
She says students are anxious to position themselves properly, and they're grilling admissions officers about the school's network.
Kole: What's the set of companies in this industry that the school has a relationship with? Do you have alumni in this field? Will alumni talk to me?
Kole says there's good reason to be nervous -- some recruiters have canceled networking events for second-years. She says with some of the big brands out of the hiring picture, students are looking at firms and jobs they might not have considered, and that's not a bad thing.
Kole: Students have to think harder about what it is they want in an employer. Is it geography? Is it function? Is it the mix of colleagues? Is it the set of clients that you'll work with?
Kole says students are being forced to consider what they really want to get out of the degree, and that means they'll be more likely to end up with a job they are happy with.
In Chicago, I'm Adriene Hill, for Marketplace.