Surge of Indian Grad Students

New report on international admissions at U.S. graduate schools shows continued growth, driven by big increases in Indian students and despite modest drop in applications from China. 

August 21, 2014

Foreign applications to U.S. graduate schools and initial admission offers to international students continue to increase, driven by a surge of interest from India and despite a slight drop in applications from China, according to a new survey on international graduate admissions from the Council of Graduate Schools. International student applications increased by 10 percent at American graduate schools this year – the ninth consecutive year of growth – while initial admission offers rose by 9 percent, marking the fourth straight year of 9 percent increases.

In short, one big takeaway from the CGS data is “more of the same,” at least as far as the last two years are concerned. The findings are consistent with those included in recent reports from the council documenting modest declines in applications from China after years of significant growth and big gains in students from India, the two largest countries of origin for international students in the U.S. 

For China, which until very recently was a booming market for U.S. graduate schools, final application numbers declined 1 percent this year while initial offers of admission stayed flat. This marks the first year since 2006 that graduate admission offers to students from China did not increase.

For India, applications and admission offers are up by 33 and 25 percent, respectively. As the report notes, the fact that this is the second straight year for such double-digit increases for India is especially important given that enrollments from India have historically been prone to fluctuations (a fact that’s not lost on universities in England, which have recently seen sharp drops in their numbers of Indian students). 

Applications and initial admission offers for students from Brazil also increased dramatically, by 61 and 98 percent, respectively, but from a much smaller base (students from Brazil account for only 1 percent of the total offers of admission to U.S. graduate schools). Other countries and regions that saw increases in terms of initial offers of admission include Canada (4 percent), Africa (3 percent), Europe (2 percent ), and the Middle East (9 percent), while countries with decreases include South Korea (-9 percent), Taiwan (-6 percent) and Mexico (-1 percent). 

Percent Change in International Offers of Admission by Country or Region of Origin

  Final Offers of Admission, 2010-11 Final Offers
of Admission, 2011-12
Offers of
Admission, 2012-13
Initial Offers
of Admission, 2013-14
Intl. Total +9 +9 +9 +9
Country of Origin        
China +21 +20 +5 0
India +2 0 +27 +25
South Korea -2 0 -10 -9
Taiwan -- -4 -3 -6
Canada -- +9 -1 +4
Mexico -- +6 0 -1
Brazil -- +6 +46 +98
Region of Origin        
Africa -- +10 +7 +3
Europe -- +2 0 +2
Middle East +16 +17 +12 +9

     ***Data for Taiwan, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Africa and Europe were not collected prior to 2011-12.

“We’re encouraged that the applicant pool remains robust,” said Suzanne Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools. “I think we continue to wonder what the flattening in Chinese applications and admissions means. We know in part it’s the growing strength of Chinese institutions themselves, but the overall picture just reminds us that a strategy that is heavily reliant on recruiting efforts and partnerships in only one country is a risk in the sense of having predictable growth in enrollments.”

The data show that growth in international admission offers was highest at institutions with smaller numbers of international students. While initial offers of admission increased by 8 percent at the 100 largest institutions in terms of their international enrollment, they increased by 12 percent at institutions outside the largest 100, where the growth in Indian student admissions was especially strong. The CGS data don’t account for the reasons behind these differences, but Ortega speculated that anecdotal reports of an increase in international student interest in master’s programs may be contributing to the gains at graduate schools that historically have had smaller numbers of international students. The CGS data are not broken down to distinguish master’s versus Ph.D. degrees.

In terms of field of study, there were increases in applications in every broad field save for the life sciences (down 1 percent), while initial offers of admission increased in all fields (arts and humanities, up 5 percent; business, up 6 percent; education, up 1 percent; engineering, up 11 percent; life sciences, up 6 percent; physical and earth sciences, up 13 percent; social sciences and psychology, up 6 percent; and "other," up 7 percent).

The survey also collected information on international experiences at U.S. graduate schools. Respondents were asked to identify which types of international experiences were in place or in the planning stages at their institutions (see chart below) and identified issues related to financial support, family-work-life challenges, and concerns about finishing the degree in a timely fashion as the top three factors hindering graduate students from having international experiences. More than half (59 percent) of graduate deans responding to the survey reported that none of the graduate programs at their institution had an explicit requirement for international experiences.

Prevalence of International Experiences in U.S. Graduate Education

Type of Experience Percent of Graduate Deans
Reporting that Experience
is in Place or Planned
Short-term study abroad (six weeks or fewer) 61
International research opportunities 61
Field research 58
Joint or dual degree program 48
Mid-term study abroad (between six weeks and three months) 42
Long-term study abroad (three months or longer) 40
Language study outside of country 29
Other 10

A total of 299 universities responded to the Council of Graduate Schools survey for a response rate of 59 percent. The council estimates that the 299 institutions confer about 66 percent of the graduate degrees awarded to international students in the U.S. This is the second phase of a three-part survey of international applications, admissions and enrollments that the organization administers annually. The first installment, with preliminary application numbers (since revised for this newest report) was released in April; the third and final installment, due to be released this fall, will include revised, final numbers regarding international admission offers and data on enrollments.

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