Depending on the discipline, it can be extremely difficult for graduates to break into the world of academia.
Andrew Debicki, dean of the Kansas University graduate school, rattles off a few of the departments nationwide that offer only a few jobs: English, history, philosophy.
In the natural sciences, the situation is better, Debicki said. In fact, one of the problems that some of those fields face is that there are few well-qualified American applicants.
"It varies from discipline to discipline," he said.
Debicki, who also is vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and public service, said he's most familiar with how graduate students in Spanish fare.
"We've been able to place people pretty well," he said. "It's a good department. It has a good national reputation, and there is some demand."
A department's quality and its standing among its peers nationwide can make a difference in whether its doctoral students can find jobs in academia.
Debicki said some predictions made a number of years ago that there would be a tremendous shortage of academic jobs have not been borne out. Some college departments, in the midst of budget crunches, replaced full professors with part-timers.
"There were shifts, some of them due to economic conditions," he said.
If advising a sophomore in college about his or her career choice, Debicki said he'd tell the student to think twice before deciding to enter a field that is packed with candidates for few jobs.
"I think people ought to be very realistic about what the potentials for jobs are," he said. ``... I think it's actually irresponsible to let people go on to graduate school when prospects look dim."