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After two consecutive years, the continuous decline in international graduate student applicants in the United States has broken its streak.


A new survey by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), which consisted of 403 US institutions, revealed that enrollment for international students in graduate schools increased by four percent in fall of 2019. Overall international applications also increased by three percent.


Despite the overall growth, CGS noted that not all institutions experienced an upward movement. Doctoral Universities with Highest Research Activity (R1) and Master’s Colleges and Universities (M1-3) saw increased students in both enrollment and application. On the other hand, Doctoral Universities with Higher or Moderate Research Activity (R2 & R3) continued to decline, and masters and certificate programs stagnated.


Fields of Studies

The survey also highlighted fields of study with the most applications, namely the arts and humanities (6%), health sciences (7%), mathematics and computer sciences (7%), and biological and agricultural sciences (14%). Meanwhile, applications for engineering and business decreased by two percent and three percent respectively.


Among the final enrollments, the fields with the highest growth were in the mathematics and computer sciences (11%), social sciences (11%), and biological and agricultural sciences (10%). Business programs still saw a decrease of enrollments by two percent.

Sending Countries

According to their report, China (3%) and India (1%), which formed the largest international student population, saw the largest growth in first-time enrollments. Mexico also grew by 10 percent, while the entire Sub-Saharan region grew by 22 percent.


In contrast, Iranian enrollments decreased by seven percent, but this is likely caused by the travel ban set by the Trump administration.


While students were supposed to be exempted from the ban, there were still dozens of cases of students having their visas revoked last minute and prevented from boarding their flights.

The ban also included those from Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.



Challenges for Potential Students

Institutions also told CGS that they experienced a significant increase in student delays and denial of entry, even for fully funded students. Among them, 21 institutions said that denial of entry at ports were caused by “former employment, social media posts, electronic device searches, or no reason with an emphasis on Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, and Libya.”

This year, the Trump administration added six more countries to the travel ban and includes Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa and one of the continent’s top senders. Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania are also part of the ban. While international students should not be directly hit, similar problems as before may still arise.

The recent travel restrictions in response to the coronavirus outbreak also pose further challenges. They directly affect the largest international student demographic – not only potential Chinese students but also American students located in China.

For higher education institutions to better improve their relations with international students and boost recruitment, an effective admissions team and a team that connects to students on the ground can be of great benefit. Institutions can easily promote their programs on the ground and manage applications with ease and efficiency.

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MSM Reporter is collated by a globally spread team of MSM and is published every Thursday.

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