Asian students flock to the US for graduate degrees

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Nearly half of all the applications to American graduate institutions came from international students, according to a recent research report by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS). A total of 395 institutions responded to the survey conducted in September-October 2016.

Of nearly 1.8 million applications submitted for admission to graduate programs (master’s or doctorate) for Fall 2016, nearly 47% or 838,627 were submitted by prospective international students. American graduate institutions received 667,389 applications (79% of total) from Asian students.

This is not surprising with the size of Asia. With 4.3 billion inhabitants, Asia is home to 60 % of world’s population and Asian families place a strong emphasis on education as a pathway for upward socioeconomic mobility. The quality and reputation of American schools are also a strong attraction for international students. The combination of these factors results in strong aspirations to study in the US for a master’s or a doctorate.

Three-fourths of all first-time or new international graduate students starting their studies in Fall 2016 were from Asia. Eighty percent of the total 70,234 Asian students were enrolled in Master’s and Certificate programs, and the remaining 20% were in enrolled in doctorate programs.

America stands as the top destination of choice for many Chinese and Indian students. China and India are home to 37% of world’s population, yet they form 67% of all international applications to American graduate schools. Chinese students submitted 320,486 applications (38% of total) while Indian students submitted 246,951 (29% of total).

By the fields of study, engineering received the most international applications, followed by mathematics and computer sciences. Half of all international applications were for these STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.

This strong interest in STEM fields is not only due to the presence of high-quality research institutions but also the access to an ecosystem of world-class engineering and technology companies for future career opportunities.

Likewise, the presence of top-ranked business schools makes America a highly attractive destination. One out of every sixth international graduate application was for a business program.

The data from CGS report suggests that American graduate institutions hold a strong preference for Asian students. At the same time, US universities are becoming increasingly dependent on the presence of Asian students on their campuses to meet enrollment goals.
However, the political environment in the US is becoming unwelcoming for international students and moving towards limiting immigration and work opportunities. So far, Asian students have been flocking to the US, however, any policy that reduces opportunities for finding internships and jobs for international students would hurt attractiveness of the US graduate schools.

Rahul Choudaha & Di Hu
Dr. Rahul Choudaha is the principal researcher and co-founder of DrEducation. He researches, presents, and consults on international student mobility trends and enrollment strategies. Di Hu is the principal coach and co-founder of As an intercultural trainer and career coach, she specializes in working with international students.