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Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
25th Oct 2023

Further growth in international enrolment in US graduate programmes

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • There was an increase in applications to US graduate programmes in 2022 vs. 2021, mostly driven by demand for the master’s level
  • International first-time enrolments in graduate programmes grew by 10.2% compared with a 4.7% decline in domestic students

International students drove an increase in first-time enrolments in US graduate schools in 2022 compared with 2021. The Council of Graduate Schools’ Graduate Enrollment and Degrees: 2012 to 2022 report shows that international commencements grew by 10.2% between 2021 and 2022, in contrast to a 4.7% decline in domestic commencements.
 
The significant jump in international enrolments comes on the back of a 12% jump in international applications to US graduate programmes in Fall 2021 and a 26% surge in 2022.
 
Only one field of study – engineering – did not see growth in first-time international graduate enrolments in 2022. Mathematics and computer sciences saw a 16.6% bounce, biological and agricultural sciences enrolled 16.6% more, and physical and earth sciences saw 10.3% more new international students.
 
The table below shows the increasing importance of international students to US graduate schools. In Fall 2022, 72.7% of first-time graduate students were American, down from 76.4% last year. At the same time, the share of international students moved up to 35% in 2022 compared with 30.4% in 2021 and 12.6% in 2019. As the CGS report notes,

“There were more than 400,000 first-time domestic enrolments in Fall 2020 compared to the less than 300,000 in Fall 2022. First-time international enrolments instead increased over that same period, up from just under 65,000 in Fall 2020 to just over 100,000 in Fall 2022.”

Domestic/international enrolment trends over time in US graduate schools. Source: Council of Graduate Schools

The chart also suggests that even with that growth in international student numbers, overall enrolment in US graduate programmes has been trending downward in recent years.

Where do international graduate students prefer to study?

At private, not-for-profit universities, international students made up a third (33.2%) of all first-time enrolments, while at public universities, their share was lower (25%).

The following table shows the share of first-time international students across fields of study. Foreign students accounted for almost 7 in 10 commencements in mathematics and computer science and more than half in engineering programmes. 

International students are the most concentrated in the fields of math and computer science, engineering, and business. Source: Council of Graduate Schools

International students compose ever-larger share of all graduate enrolments

International students represented more than 1 in 5 graduate enrolments in the US in 2022. Their share moved up almost 3% compared with 2021 to compose 21.9% of total enrolments. 

Master’s programmes see the biggest increase in applications

Overall, applications to US graduate schools rose by nearly 4% between Fall 2021 and Fall 2022. This increase was driven by interest in master’s programmes, especially from Indian students.
 
Applications – both domestic and international – to master’s programmes jumped by 18.8%, compared with an increase of 10.4% for doctoral programmes in the “R1” category (high research activities). More advanced doctoral programmes saw modest growth of 2–3%.

The chart below shows the growth in demand for master’s programmes relative to doctoral programmes over time.

There was a 6% increase in master’s applications in 2022 versus a nearly -1% decrease in doctoral applications. Source: Council of Graduate Schools

A handful of fields claim almost half of all graduate applications

Mathematics and computer sciences, business, engineering, and health sciences accounted for 47% of all graduate applications for which the intended field of study was known.

For additional background, please see:

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