A record 4.74 million students signed up for the 2023 national postgraduate entrance exam held from Saturday to Monday, 170,000 more than last year, the Ministry of Education said on Saturday.
The annual increase of 3.7 percent was considerably lower than the 21 percent recorded previously.
According to a report by the online education portal EOL, while well-known universities have seen slight increases or even drops in applicants this year, less famous ones have witnessed big jumps in test-takers, showing that more students are willing to settle for less famous universities to avoid fierce exam competition.
Applicants to Yunnan Minzu University jumped by 55 percent to 9,486 this year and Jiangxi Agricultural University also witnessed an increase of around 40 percent. Meanwhile, Nankai University in Tianjin and Beijing Forestry University saw slight decreases in test-takers.
More attention should be paid to the increasingly intense competition in postgraduate exams, so that it does not become as stressful as the national college entrance exam, or gaokao, the report said.
Chen Zhiwen, editor-in-chief of EOL, said the slower increase may be the result of some students being intimidated by the intense competition.
Moreover, reports of the rising numbers of graduates only able to land jobs at the grassroots level or at primary and middle schools despite having a master's degree have made postgraduate studies less appealing as they do not guarantee a decent job.
Many of the applicants are born after 2000 and prefer a more stable and easier lifestyle, Chen added.
The report also found that around 55 percent of those surveyed chose to pursue postgraduate studies due to the difficulty in finding employment and more than 40 percent said they are interested in their major.
There will be an expected 11.58 million new college graduates next year, and employment remains a complicated issue, according to the Ministry of Education.
When asked what factors influence the choice of university, almost 60 percent of respondents said they care about whether the university has high entrance scores, and 41 percent said they pay the most attention to how many students the school plans to accept. Meanwhile, around 56 per-cent said they care about the strength of the university and 35 percent said the ranking of the major matters.
According to the report, the student mentality has changed from a desire to get into a good university for postgraduate studies to a feeling that getting into any university is fine.
According to the Ministry of Education, around 1.1 million of the 4.57 million applicants were accepted into postgraduate studies this year, an enrollment rate of 24 percent, meaning that more than 3 million test-takers failed to get places.
China Comment, a fortnightly magazine by Xinhua News Agency, said that when test-takers fail to get into their desired schools, many chose to try their luck again at postgraduate entrance exams.
These students usually have not found a job and many live in school dormitories and eat at school canteens to cut daily expenses, the magazine recently reported.
They are under great pressure to perform well in the exam and although many are determined to pursue postgraduate studies, they often feel lonely, at a loss and stressed during the long preparation period.
Qian Shujie, who took the exam for the second time this year, said she felt anxious when preparing, fearing that her peers would do better than her.
Qian told the magazine that her anxiety is also a result of her age, as many of her former classmates are already making progress at work and she feels she is stuck in the same place and will be 30 by the time she finishes postgraduate studies.