About 2.38 million Chinese were expected to take the entrance exam for postgraduate studies between Saturday and Monday, up by 370,000 people (18 percent) year-on-year, according to the Ministry of Education.
The surge comes as a record 8.2 million university students are expected to graduate in 2018. Growing competition in the job market is the primary reason, according to a survey report by education website EOL.
Of the applicants, about 1.3 million are preparing to graduate next summer - 180,000 more than last year. The number of graduates who signed up for this year's exam also increased by 190,000 to almost 1.1 million.
The survey found that 70 percent of applicants believe postgraduate studies could make them more competitive in the job market. About 39 percent said they saw postgrad studies as an opportunity to change focus because they did not like their undergraduate majors.
Song Qiren, 21, a student at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, said he realized, just as he was about to graduate, that he is not suited to work in his major field, communication technology engineering. He took the postgrad exam hoping he could change to finance.
"It's easy to find a job with my current major, but I want to do something that is suitable for me," he said.
Almost 53 percent of respondents said they reckoned a postgraduate major might give them a competitive edge in the job market.
The report did not give the number of respondents.
It found the location of a university was a more important factor for applicants than its reputation. Almost 66 percent of applicants said location is more important than the specific school because most prefer to work near their school after completing postgraduate studies.
"More students would like to work in the area where they study for their master's degree," eol.cn said in the survey report. Universities in the western part of the country didn't attract as many applicants as those in the east, it added.
It also said the enrollment scale for postgraduates in China has been expanding steadily by about 6 percent a year since 2006. In 2016, China enrolled 589,800 postgraduate students.
The country, however, has seen little increase in recent years in students who want to continue their studies abroad.
China saw a year-on-year increase of 19 percent in the number of people who applied to study abroad for master's degrees in 2012. There was no increase and even a slight decrease from then until 2015. The number increased by only 4 percent in 2016.