Where International Students Want to Study in the U.S.

Indian students top those sending scores to U.S., according to Duolingo. ETS sees China with the most interest.

May 17, 2021
Table shows where the most students are sending scores.

A big question in admissions this year is: Are new international students going to show up in the fall?

It's anyone's guess what the numbers will look like. Generally colleges that are competitive in admissions are reporting good numbers of international students expecting to enroll for the first time in the fall. But there's a big difference between wanting to enroll and actually enrolling.

Nonetheless, people are anxious for any indication of whether students will enroll, and where they will come from.

Duolingo, a testing company that has gained significant market share during the pandemic, has released data on reporting by students of their Duolingo scores. The data reflect only those tests that are reported, so a student who took the test but decided they couldn't get a visa or be admitted wouldn't count.

For the United States, the top six countries over all are India, China, the U.S. (for international students taking the exams while already here), Brazil, Iran and Bangladesh.

Jennifer Dewar, director of strategic engagement for Duolingo, said the data cover the time period for taking the test from July 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021. She acknowledged that there have been some changes in the world -- most notably the COVID-19 outbreaks in India -- that could affect whether students can travel to the United State (or anywhere).

Duolingo did not release exact numbers of students. But it noted that last year it had a 2,000 percent increase in test takers.

For applications to American undergraduate programs, the top countries are China, India, Brazil, the U.S., South Korea and Bangladesh.

For applications to graduate programs in the U.S., the top countries are India, Iran, the U.S., China, Bangladesh and Nigeria.

For applications to community colleges, the top locations of senders were India, Brazil, the U.S., Bangladesh, China and Kyrgyzstan.

Dewar said she was particularly struck by the numbers from Bangladesh as a country where American colleges may want to recruit students (when the pandemic is over).

Historically, the Educational Testing Service has been the dominant player for American colleges with the Test of English as a Foreign Language, known by its acronym, TOEFL.

Srikant Gopal, executive director of the TOEFL program, said TOEFL's biggest testing markets are China, the United States, India, Japan and Korea, and "there is a varied profile of TOEFL test takers across these countries and others, which is a testament to the versatility of the test."

For example, in India, the majority of test takers use TOEFL scores to apply for graduate programs; in China, the market is split between undergraduate and graduate; and in Japan, a significant proportion of test takers use TOEFL scores for the purposes of admission to -- or in order to graduate from -- Japanese universities.


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