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Acceptances Up for Foreign Applicants

August 16, 2011

American graduate schools accepted 11 percent more international applicants in 2011 than they did in 2010, according to a report being released today by the Council of Graduate Schools. That's the largest percentage increase since 2006. Last year the gain was 3 percent, and the year before that saw a 1 percent drop.

The gains in acceptances follow a year in which the number of international applications was also up. Final data for the year show a gain of 11 percent in applications, which is larger than the 9 percent gain projected in a preliminary report by the Council of Graduate Schools in April.

The most dramatic gains in admitted applicants are for students coming from China, for whom offers of admission are up 23 percent this year (following a gain of 15 percent last year). While China is expanding its own capacity in higher education (including graduate education) rapidly, even that growth is failing to keep up with student demand, sending more and more students to the United States. The country analysis also showed the figures up this year for admitted applicants from India, reversing recent declines.

By fields studied, the figures showed increases across the board, even in areas such as the humanities or education that in some recent years have experienced declines or had only modest gains.

Changes in International Offers of Admission, by Country and Areas of Study

  2007 to 2008 2008 to 2009 2009 to 2010 2010 to 2011
Total +3% -1% +3% +11%
Country        
--China +15% +17% +15% +23%
--India -2% -14% -5% +8%
--South Korea -2% -14% -7% +0%
--Turkey and Middle East +13% +14% +10% +16%
Fields of study        
--Arts and humanities +0% +1% +2% +7%
--Business +2% +4% +3% +16%
--Education -7% +10% -5% +11%
--Engineering +0% -3% +2% +11%
--Life sciences -1% +3% -5% +7%
--Physical and earth sciences +9% -5% +8% +15%
--Social sciences and psychology +1% -1% +4% +3%

One notable difference in the patterns for students from China and India is in the relative gains made at the institutions that already graduate the greatest numbers of international students compared to other institutions. Generally, international students are more likely to enroll at institutions that already have a critical mass of non-Americans. Many of these institutions have top international reputations, and they are more likely than others to have an infrastructure to provide student services to international students.

With Chinese students, this year has seen an acceleration of applications to and admissions offers from the institutions that currently award the most degrees to international students. India's growth is more spread out, and appears to include institutions not currently at the top of the list for foreign students. Indeed, admissions offers are down to applicants from India at the U.S. institutions that graduate the most international students, and are up substantially at those that are not in the top 100 institutions for awarding foreign degrees.

Change in Applications, Admissions Offers by Institutions With Most Non-U.S. Graduates

  China India
Largest 10 institutions    
--Applications +34% +9%
--Admissions offers +30% -6%
Largest 25 institutions    
--Applications +27% +8%
--Admissions offers +26% -1%
Largest 50 Institutions    
--Applications +26% +9%
--Admissions offers +28% +6%
Largest 100 institutions    
--Applications +23% +8%
--Admissions offers +26% +7%
All other institutions    
--Applications +17% +6%
--Admissions offers +16% +12%

Nathan Bell, director of research and policy analysis for the Council of Graduate Schools, said that the study just asks about numbers and not why colleges are seeing shifts in enrollment patterns. But he said that the return of strong gains for India is as likely about changes in Indian students' interests and finances as about "anything we are doing differently here." While Indian students are a huge presence on American campuses, their relative growth has "seen fluctuation" from year to year, and may continue to do so, while the numbers from China seem to be reliably up year after year.

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