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Foreign enrolment surging in US graduate programmes

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • US colleges and universities received more graduate applications in Fall 2022 than Fall 2021
  • There are now more first-time international students in graduate programmes than there were in 2018
  • But US master’s programmes are faring much better than doctoral programmes in terms of international student demand
  • Indian students are driving the surge of applications to US graduate programmes, particularly at the master’s level
  • The Chinese market continues to cool for US colleges and universities

US degree-granting institutions received 26% more applications from international students for graduate programmes between fall 2021 and fall 2022. This is the fourth year of growth for graduate applications to US universities. The growth occurred even as Chinese graduate applications fell for the second year in a row (-3%). Countering the Chinese trend was a 58% increase in Indian student applications between 2021 and 2022.

The news comes from the 2023 International Graduate Admissions Report published by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS). The report is based on a survey completed by 370 colleges and universities between September and November 2022.

Driving the growth in graduate applications are students from India and sub-Saharan Africa. In fall 2022, Indian students contributed 38% of all graduate applications, while Chinese students accounted for 25% of the total. Sub-Saharan African students and MENA students accounted for 10% and 6% of all applications, respectively. Only 4% of applications came from Europe.

Indian students are particularly interested in master’s programmes; 85% of all Indians who applied in 2022 were master’s students.

Interest in master’s programmes soars

There has been a much steeper rise in international enrolments in US master’s programmes from 2020 to 2022 than for doctoral programmes (see chart below). A big reason for this is the popularity of master’s programmes among Indian students.

Master’s enrolments jumped by 28% from 95,716 in fall 2021 to 122,328 in fall 2022. Doctoral enrolments rose by only 2.5% from 73,809 students to 75,666 students.

Between 2019 and 2020, master’s and certificate enrolments declined while doctoral enrolments were stable. But from 2020 to 2022, master’s and certificate enrolments have surged. Source: 2023 International Graduate Admissions Report, CGS

Mostly positive trends for first-time enrolments

First-time international graduate enrolments in fall 2022 exceeded fall 2018 levels, driven by students enrolling in master’s and certificate programmes. Again, India is responsible for a good part of the growth, while first-time enrolments from China and Saudi Arabia fell by -11% and -40%, respectively, in 2022 compared with 2021. Along with India (+22%), Iran sent more fist-time graduate students in 2022 than in 2021 (+33%).

Opposite trends

The chart below offers a stark illustration of:

  • How much Indian master’s students now mean to US graduate schools;
  • A growing imbalance between first-time enrolments in master’s programmes versus doctoral programmes at those schools.
Chinese and Indian first-time enrolments in graduate programmes over time. Source: 2023 International Graduate Admissions Report, CGS

Sub-Saharan Africa is an increasingly important source region

Of all sending regions, Sub-Saharan Africa contributed the largest percentage increase in first-time enrolments to US graduate programmes. Interest in doctoral programmes is increasing at a slightly faster rate than interest in master’s-level programmes among students in this region.

Meanwhile, first-time enrolments from the MENA region grew for doctoral programmes but fell slightly for master’s-level programmes between fall 2021 and fall 2022.

Trends over time in first-time enrolments from Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA. Source: 2023 International Graduate Admissions Report, CGS

For additional background, please see:

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