U.S. Colleges, Universities Report 68 Percent Increase in Int’l Student Enrollments in 2021

In the United States, the number of international students plummeted from its 2019 highs of 1,095,299 to lows of 914,095 in 2020. The last time these numbers were visited and subsequently broken the year after was in 2013 when there were a reported 886,052 international students in the U.S.

Key Takeaways

  • Higher education institutions in the U.S. reported a 68 percent annual increase in the number of first-time international students in 2021

  • According to a Common App study, it revealed that the number of distinct international applicants in 2021 increased almost triple the rate of domestic students.

  • In the midst of recovery, the U.S. announced important changes to its student visa policy like charging higher processing fees and the waiving of in-person interviews.

  • While the economy is returning to its feet, an Interstride study reveals that international students in the U.S. are not feeling confident about their careers in the future with 34 percent of them saying they aren’t prepared to have one.

It is a welcome development, therefore, for stakeholders in the international education sector in the U.S., to see a rebound in international education enrollment. 


According to data published by comprehensive information resource on international students Open Doors, higher education institutions (HEIs) in the U.S. reported a 68 percent annual increase in the number of first-time international students in 2021. Although, this comes after an infamous 46 percent decline the previous year; one that could be attributed to the announcement of the pandemic.


Data released by Common App—the largest undergraduate college admission application in the United States with more than 900 institutional members—revealed that through March 15, 2022, 1,182,322 distinct first-year applicants had applied to 853 returning member institutions.


“The number of distinct international applicants has increased at nearly triple the rate of domestic applicants since 2019–20 (33% versus 12%),” stated the study.




The University of California revealed that it received 251,179 applications to its campuses in 2022. The same report also showed the number of distinct international applicants tripled when compared to the rate of domestic applicants (33 percent versus 12 percent). China, India, Canada, Pakistan, and Nigeria were the leading source countries.


On the East Coast, the University of Florida reported 74,000 new first-year applications. This already includes international students. Indiana Public University saw international applications for admission of first-year students increase by 11 percent. Private institutions like Dartmouth College and Yale University saw international education enrollment increases of up to 71 and 99 percent, respectively.




While the numbers are overall encouraging, the U.S. has set out important changes to its student visa policy ranging from charging higher visa processing fees to the waiving of in-person interviews.


“The Secretary of State has extended consular officers’ current ability to waive the in-person interview, through December 31, 2022, for the following other categories of nonimmigrant visas: Temporary Agricultural and Non-agricultural Workers (H-2 visas), Students (F and M visas), and Student Exchange Visitors (Academic J visas).  We recognize the many contributions of international visitors to our communities and campuses,” stated the press release from the U.S. Department of State.




While the U.S. is ramping up its efforts of not only maintaining but also further solidifying its status as the top destination country for international students in a post-pandemic environment, it could be expected that recovery would be simultaneous. This means that while government policies are drawing back international students, communities and HEIs need to work on the availability of jobs and the student experience, respectively. 


A January 2022 survey pointed out that studying in the U.S. is one thing but getting a job is another. Therefore, international students are having second thoughts about staying in the country and contributing to the workforce after graduation. 


The signs of a recovering international education sector in the U.S. this 2022 are uplifting; the work is cut out for HEIs, local business communities and policymakers if they are looking for a full-on revival. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

MSM President - Global

Suneetha has 15 years of experience in the international education sector, 25 years overall for various industries. As president of MSM, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray into edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each MSM partner institution, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application pre-screening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.

She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.


Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.

Data sources:

Duffin, E. (2021, November 17). Number of international students in the United States from 2003/04 to 2020/21.


Statista. Retrieved from



Nott, W. (2021, November 15) 68% rise in new first-time international enrolments across US for 2021/22. The PIE News. Retrieved from



Stacey, V. (2020, November 16) Open Doors: fall survey suggests new starts down 43%. The PIE News. Retrieved from https://thepienews.com/news/us-sees-first-drop-intl-student-numbers-in-15-years-as-covid-adds-pressure/


Freeman, M. (2022, March 21) Deadline update: first-year application trends through March 15. Common App. Retrieved from https://s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/ca.research.publish/Research+briefs+2020/20211123_Deadline_Update_FY.pdf


Fact Sheet: Fall 2022 Freshman and Transfer Application Highlights (2022, January 18) University of California. Retrieved from https://www.ucop.edu/institutional-research-academic-planning/_files/factsheets/2022/fall-2022-information-summary.pdf


Farnum-Patronis, A. (2022, February 17) FSU sees record-breaking number of first-year admissions applications. Florida State University. Retrieved from https://news.fsu.edu/news/university-news/2022/02/17/fsu-sees-record-breaking-number-of-first-year-admissions-applications/


International applicants grow up in American colleges (2022, April 8) Exbulletin. Retrieved from https://exbulletin.com/world/1541773/


US announces important changes for student visa policy (2022, January 12) ICEF Monitor. Retrieved from https://monitor.icef.com/2022/01/us-announces-important-changes-for-student-visa-policy/


Expanded Interview Waivers for Certain Nonimmigrant Visa Applicants (2021, December 23) U.S. Department of State. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/expanded-interview-waivers-for-certain-nonimmigrant-visa-applicants/


Most international students in the US want to stay after graduation but worry about getting a job (2022, March 23) ICEF Monitor. Retrieved from https://monitor.icef.com/2022/03/most-international-students-in-the-us-want-to-stay-after-graduation-but-worry-about-getting-a-job/


Esaki-Smith, A. (2022, January) Is Studying in the U.S. Worth it? Interstride. Retrieved from https://www.interstride.com/researchreport/


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