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Graduate schools in the United States saw an increase of only 1 percent in applications from 2012 to 2013, ending years of larger increases, according to a preliminary study of admissions data being released today by the Council of Graduate Schools. The previous three years saw gains of 9 percent, 11 percent, and 9 percent -- and the gains haven't been this small since the few years after the September 11 attacks, when applications fell.

International graduate students are important to American graduate programs both educationally (in many science and technology fields in which there is not sufficient interest from American students) and financially (with foreign students of means bringing much-needed tuition dollars to many programs).

The most dramatic change was in applications from China, which fell by 5 percent. China is the home country of about one-third of all international graduate students, and the previous three years have seen increases of 19, 21 and 20 percent. The reason the overall increase isn't a decrease is a 20 percent increase in applications from India, a much larger gain than has been the case in recent years. This year also saw large gains from Brazil, whose government has been putting money into scholarships for top students.

The Council of Graduate Schools survey doesn't track applications from every country, but does track changes from some countries and regions. The figures on the table below compare final data on one-year gain in applications from a year ago, with preliminary data for the most recent year. (Typically, the preliminary data in the annual studies are fairly close to the final figures.)

Change in Graduate Applications by Country and Region

Country or Region 2011 to 2012 2012 to 2013
China +19% -5%
India +3% +20%
South Korea -1% -13%
Taiwan -2% -13%
Canada +7% -4%
Mexico +10% -11%
Brazil +9% +24%
Africa -3% +6%
Europe +7% -4%
Middle East +11% +2%

The council's report does not offer reasons for the shifts, but suggests that educators and government officials should move quickly to analyze the situation. "While the large increases from India and Brazil are encouraging, the decrease in Chinese applicants needs attention," said a statement from Debra W. Stewart, president of the organization.

By region in the United States, institutions in the Northeast saw a 1 percent drop in international graduate applications this year. The Midwest saw a 1 percent gain, and the rest of the country saw a 2 percent gain.

The data by field of study show a range of modest gains and a few declines. The largest proportional gains are in the arts and humanities, fields with relatively small foreign graduate enrollments. The largest fields of study -- engineering, physical and earth sciences and business -- saw gains of 2 or 3 percent.

Change in Graduate Applications by Field of Study

Field 2011 to 2012 2012 to 2013
Arts and humanities +7% +4%
Business +7% +2%
Education +18% -3%
Engineering +14% +2%
Life sciences -1% -7%
Physical and earth sciences +8% +3%
Social sciences, psychology +11% +1%


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