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US sees declines for first-time international graduate students


Overall, international graduate application rates increased at US universities for Fall 2020 – increasing by 3% between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020. However first-time enrolment decreased by 39%. 

“The first-time international graduate student enrolment decreases are alarming”

While first-time enrolment at the master’s level declined (-43%) at a higher rate than at the doctoral level (-26%), the rate of decline was consistent across institutional types. 

Significant decreases were noted in first-time graduate enrolment from the key markets of China and India. 

“The first-time international graduate student enrolment decreases are alarming, because they undermine the international diversity and vitality of US graduate programs,” said CGS president Suzanne Ortega. 

“Between the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly on health concerns and international travel, and the lack of consistent and timely direction from the Trump administration regarding international graduate student visa policy, we were prepared to see declines.” 

The findings came from a CGS report which includes Fall 2020 admissions data received from 326 US colleges and universities with 69% from public universities and 65% from doctoral universities. 

Source: CGS

There were substantial decreases in first-time graduate enrolment in Asian (-47%) and Middle Eastern & North African (-36%) regions. 

In China and India, two countries that consistently represent the largest shares of international graduate applications, first-time enrolments, and total enrolments, there were significant decreases in first-time graduate enrolment, -37% and -66%, respectively. 

There were less significant declines in first-time international graduate student enrolment from Canada (-5%) and Mexico (-6%), which CGS said were most likely due to fewer travel restrictions.

“When thinking ahead, one of the biggest lingering questions is how the deferrals will affect offers of admission”

“Although the declines are concerning, we know our members have prioritised staying connected to both the students who deferred and their existing international graduate student community,” Ortega said. 

“When thinking ahead, one of the biggest lingering questions is how the deferrals will affect offers of admission and first-time enrolment for Fall 2021 and beyond, particularly if there are still travel limitations.”

CGS fielded two additional surveys: the 2020 NAGAP/CGS Survey of Graduate Enrolment Management Professionals and the 2020 CGS International Graduate Admissions Supplemental Survey. 

More than 80% of survey respondents reported an increase in the number of newly admitted international graduate students who deferred, and a majority of those institutions indicated a greater than 5% increase in deferments overall when compared to prior years. 

The deferrals were relatively consistent across degree levels, with 12% of the offers of admissions deferred at the master’s and certificate level and 10% at the doctoral level.



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