"The weak increase in the number of students applying to take the entrance examination for graduate schools this year suggests a turning point, indicating that students will be less interested in graduate studies in the future," said a story appearing on influential websites like www.xinhuanet.com.cn after the examination period ended on January 21.
Though the absolute number of students signing up to take the examination is increasing, the rate of increase dropped precipitously this year compared with last year, according to data provided by the Ministry of Education.
This year, 1,282,000 people registered to take the exam, only 7,000 more than last year, representing an increase of only 0.5 percent.
In the years following the reinstatement of graduate applications in 1981, the number of students applying for the exam skyrocketed. Last year 1,275,000 students signed up for the entrance examination, 100,000 more than in 2005, representing a year-on-year increase of 9 percent.
"This year's slight increase shows that students are becoming more realistic in thinking about whether to take the entrance examination or not," said Tian Zhihui, vice-dean of the Graduate School of Communication University of China.
As potential applicants have noted, it takes time and energy to prepare for the examination.
The potential financial burden represented by the examination is another factor students have to consider.
During this period, the students usually do not work, which only adds to the burden.
"But maybe the main reason for this phenomenon (the declining growth rate) is that students are somewhat disillusioned because they have seen post-graduate degree holders losing their competitive edge in the job market in recent years," said Tian.
Because of the boom in master's graduates, many have found it difficult to find the kind of job they would had expected after investing so much time, energy and money in getting their degrees. The situation looks even worse for those without any work experience.