Foreign applications to U.S. grad schools rebound after two-year decline

The number of international students applying for admission into U.S. postgraduate institutions is on the rise, according to the Council of Graduate Schools.

The group’s “International Graduate Admissions Survey” found that the number of international graduate school applicants rose by 11 percent between 2005 and 2006, after applications had dropped by nearly a third over the previous two years.

“This increase in applications from international students is good news, and is a result of sustained efforts by both the federal government and graduate schools,” CGS President Debra W. Stewart said. “But the lower volume compared to three years ago bears watching.”

The growth is especially important with the United Kingdom’s announcement of a new immigration policy designed to attract foreign students to their postgraduate institutions. With this immigration relaxation, the UK joins other members of the European Union, China and India as areas of the world that are trying to increase competitiveness within higher education and beyond.

The countries that saw the largest increase in applicants were India and China, which improved their application numbers by 23 percent and 21 percent, respectively. There were other increases across Asia as well, with Korea’s applications increasing by 3 percent, and the Middle East’s’ applications rising by 4 percent.

Individual fields of study also increased notably, with engineering applications increasing by 17 percent, life sciences by 16 percent, physical sciences by 10 percent, and social sciences by 10 percent.

The exact cause of the two-year decline remains murky. Some have suggested that multiple delays to visa processing often keep applicants from being able to enter the country, let alone enter a graduate school. Others find fault in the admissions systems of the graduate schools themselves. It was found after the decline that many institutions were not making a concerted enough effort to attract foreign applicants to their school, thus reducing the competition within the school itself.

According to Stewart, those problems are getting better, but are far from being solved.

“The federal government has made considerable progress in reducing delays in visa processing, and graduate institutions continue to improve their admissions systems and enhance efforts to attract international applicants,” she said. “The change in these numbers demonstrates the fluidity in international applications. It would be a mistake to presume that things are back to normal.”

The Council of Graduate Schools is an organization with over 450 member institutions that seeks to advance the goals and ideal of post-graduate schools through federal policy-making. The organization’s members account for 90 percent of the doctoral degrees and 75 percent of the master’s degrees issued in the U.S. every year.

The study is the first part of a three part annual survey conducted by GCS, examining the amount and the kind of international applications that are being submitted to their member institutions. Part two of the survey, expected to be released later this year, will focus on what is contained within the applications themselves to better gauge the quality of applications themselves.

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