Applications from outside the United States are up 7 percent in 2010 at American graduate schools, a healthy increase that will please many universities, according to a new survey  released by the Council of Graduate Schools.
But the increases are uneven. Continuing a trend from last year, the three countries that send the largest numbers of foreign graduate students to the United States are experiencing distinctly different patterns, with the numbers from China way up, while India and South Korea are flat. Programs at doctoral institutions are seeing increases, while master's universities are encountering drops. And the application increases are largest at institutions with the most international students already enrolled, suggesting that among institutions trying to increase their international enrollments, it may be easier to build on success than to create a critical mass.
The 7 percent total gain for 2009-10 is up from the council's final analyses of previous years, which found gains of 4 percent in applications the prior year and 6 percent the year before that. While applications do not necessarily yield enrollment gains, universities that rely on foreign graduate students have been pushing hard for application gains, given that competition has increased for the best foreign talent, with countries like Australia, Britain and Canada -- as well as home-country universities -- bidding for some of the best students.
Trends over the past four years in students' country of origin and discipline show some consistencies: Applications continue to soar from China and the Middle East. But other countries and some disciplines are less consistent from year to year.
Changes in International Graduate Applications, 2006-10
|2006 to 2007||2007 to 2008||2008 to 2009||2009 to 2010|
|Country of Origin|
|--Middle East and Turkey||+17%||+14%||+22%||+18%|
|By Field of Study|
|--Arts and humanities||+8%||+7%||+5%||+6%|
|--Physical and earth sciences||+12%||+7%||+2%||+10%|
The survey also noted differences in the trends by sector. Among doctoral universities, the rate of increase in applications at private institutions outpaced the rate of increase at publics, 12 percent to 6 percent. And among master's institutions, the decreases were smaller at private institution than publics, -10 percent to -22 percent.
The Council of Graduate Schools report cautions against reading too much into the master's institution decline, given that a relatively small percentage of international students apply to such programs, making large fluctuations likely.
The study also shows the extent to which the best way to attract more international applications is to already have more international students. Among the 100 institutions with the largest international enrollments, the average increase in applications this year was 8 percent. Among all other colleges, the figure was 4 percent. Analyzed by country or region of origin, it appears that this centralization of interest has the strongest impact on Chinese applicants.
Change in International Applications by Size of Current International Enrollments, 2009 to 2010
|Place of Origin||10 Largest Institutions||100 Largest Institutions||All Other Institutions|
|Middle East and Turkey||-1%||+13%||+40%|
Nathan Bell, director of research and policy analysis for the Council of Graduate Schools, noted that the survey doesn't produce definitive information on why some countries are sending more applications than others.
However, with regard to China, he said that the consistent double-digit percentage increases are widely understood. "There is a rapid increase in degree production at the undergraduate level in China, and there is a capacity issue in which they can't accommodate the numbers of students who want a graduate education," he said.
As for the larger increases at institutions that already have many foreign students, Bell said that these tend to be institutions with large enrollments (of all students), making them more likely to have name recognition abroad; and, too, foreign would-be students are more likely "to know someone there."