International Graduate School Applications Drop for 2nd Year in a Row


A recent report based on a survey, conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools, found that the number of international graduate application received by institutions participating in the survey declined by 4% between Fall 2017 and Fall 2018. During the same time period, first-time graduate enrollment decreased by 1%.  

The study cites uncertainty about U.S. visa policies, ongoing debates concerning immigration and a contentious relationship with China as the potential reasons for the decrease in applications from international candidates. This slowdown in applications, based on data from 240 institutions, continues a decline first witnessed between Fall 2016 and Fall 2017 when applications from international students declined by 3%.

Despite a decline in master’s first-time enrollment of 2% for Fall 2018, doctoral first-time enrollment of international graduate students actually increased by 3% overall.


Final International Graduate Applications by Region/Country of Origin, Fall 2018 Admission Cycle

Final International Graduate Applications by Region/Country of Origin, Fall 2018 Admission Cycle

Key Takeaways from the Report:

Although international graduate applications continue to decline, there was no significant change in graduate application acceptance and yield rates for prospective international students across degree level and institutional types.

China and India continue to lead the list of countries in sending the largest numbers of international graduate students to the United States. In Fall 2018, 42% of first-time international master’s and certificate students and 34% of first-time international doctoral students were Chinese nationals. For schools in the survey, 31% and 13% respectively, enrolled Indian first-time master’s and certificate students and Indian first-time doctoral students in Fall 2018. The percentage of Chinese applicants did not change significantly from 2017 to 2018, while graduate applications from Indian nationals declined by 12%.

Between 2017 and 18, applications and first-time enrollment of Sub-Saharan African graduate students increased by 28% and 5% respectively, compared to Middle Eastern, North African,  Latin American, and Caribbean countries.

Overall, graduate applications from Mexican applicants declined by 4%, while there was no change in the number of applications from Canadian nationals. The number of graduate applications from Europeans declined by 13% between Fall 2017 and Fall 2018 which marked a dramatic turnaround after applications from European applicants increased by 18% from Fall 2016 to 2017.  

Between Fall 2017 and Fall 2018, the largest decreases in first-time international graduate enrollment by field of study were in public administration (-27%) and physical & earth sciences (-13%). International graduate applications for mathematics and computer sciences program (6%), and health sciences (5%) international graduate applications increased during the same time period.


Annual Changes in First-time International Graduate Enrollment by Region/Country of Origin, Fall 2012 to Fall 2018 Admission Cycles