A record 1.8 million students across China spent the first week of the new year cracking books and preparing for the intensive kaoyan national exams that would get them into post-graduate university courses, state media reported on Sunday.
Held over the weekend, about 70 per cent of the candidates taking the National Entrance Examinations for Postgraduates (NEEP) were university graduates from the previous year.
A survey conducted by independent research institution My China Occupation Skills found that nearly 34 per cent of NEEP candidates believed taking the national exams would lead to better career prospects. An additional 30 per cent aimed to “study at higher-quality universities”, the China Daily reported .
For some candidates like Han Wanyun, who was taking the NEEP for the second time in two years, it was simply a matter of not giving up. Grad school would “guarantee” better employment opportunities, she said.
“I took the test last year but failed…I am quite confident this time,” Han said to CCTV News in an interview.
For most who can afford the time, pursuing graduate studies may provide temporary refuge from a dire job market  that has so far left nearly one quarter of 2012 university graduates unemployed .
“This year's competition is quite fierce, because the job market is weak. Many of my coursemates haven't found jobs yet so doing a master's degree can buy us a few years' time,” said postgraduate candidate Du Yuan.
According to the Ministry of Education, Chinese universities churned out 6.8 million university graduates in 2012, all vying for work in an increasingly cutthroat job market.
But official statistics reveal that the same will apply for postgraduates. For three years in a row now, employment rates for postgraduates have been lower than graduates.
The China Daily reported  in October that master’s degree-holders were applying for menial jobs as cleaners and drivers at government-affiliated institutions.
The Chinese Household Finance Survey has recently reported a 16.4 per cent urban unemployment rate amongst youths aged 21 to 25, nearly double the overall national rate which is just over 8 per cent.