Foreign Graduate Applications Up Again

Rate of growth slows, though, and numbers still trail pre-2003 level.
April 16, 2007

Applications to American graduate schools from students outside the United States continue to increase, although the rate of growth is slowing, according to the latest figures from the Council of Graduate Schools.

International student applications for fall 2007 rose by 8 percent over the comparable number from 2006. That's down from a 12 percent gain measured last year, which followed two consecutive years of decreased student interest. More than 70 percent of the institutions that have participated in the council's survey since its inception in 2004 have fewer foreign applicants now than they did when measured that year, and among those that take part consistently, the number of applications is still down more than 25 percent since 2003. 

“The gains are welcome news, but we’re far from out of the woods," said Debra W. Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools. “No matter what we do, we will not return to a situation where America is the only game in town."

Stewart said the slowing rate of growth might indicate that graduate schools have already seen effects of the U.S. Department of State's changes to the visa application process that it says have opened the doors to more foreign students coming to the United States. Creating new policies designed to keep students here after graduation might be the only way to return to pre-September 11 totals, she said.

The findings are part of an annual three-part survey by the council that measures international applications, admissions and enrollments. The latest analysis includes responses from 145 schools, including 8 of the 10 institutions with the largest international graduate enrollment. Last fall, CGS reported that total enrollment figures grew by 1 percent in 2006 after a decline the year before.

The council's data show that applications are up 8 percent in both engineering and physical sciences, though the rate of increase is slowing in both of these fields, which along with business attract the majority of international students. Life sciences and education also saw moderate growth.

Percentage Change in International Graduate Student Applications, 2004 to 2007

  2003 to 2004 2004 to 2005 2005 to 2006 2006 to 2007
International Total -28% -5% 12% 8%
Country of Origin        
China -45% -15% 19% 17%
India -28% -5% 26% 6%
Korea -14% 1% 4% -2%
Middle East 4% 7% 10% 9%
Field of Study        
Business -24% 0% 16% 7%
Education -21% 3% 1% 8%
Engineering -36% -7% 19% 8%
Arts & Humanities -17% 0% 5% 12%
Life Sciences & Agriculture -24% -2% 9% 13%
Physical & Earth Sciences -22% -2% 15% 8%
Social Sciences -20% -2% 6% 0%

For the first time, the council broke down changes in international graduate applicants by size of institutional grad student enrollment. In all, schools with the largest such enrollments had the greatest gains in applications, while ones with smaller pools of foreign students saw only small increases or declines. At the 10 colleges with the largest international populations, foreign applications rose 13 percent, compared with gains of 5 percent for institutions with international graduate enrollments below the largest 50.

“Students have always clustered," Stewart said. "We know they are unevenly distributed and go where friends have gone. It's critical to treat international students well; they are the best recruiters.”

The survey also revealed a 17 percent increase in applications from China, slightly down from last year's total. Applications from India went up by 6 percent, a modest growth considering the 26 percent rate of a year ago. Middle Eastern applications also rose.

Applications by students from India to the colleges that are top 10 foreign student hubs jumped 22 percent, while the numbers fell by 8 percent at those whose international student enrollments aren't in the top 50.


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