Students from China Snag 40% of All US Grad School Admissions

The number of acceptance letters sent to prospective grad students from China grew even as the number of their applications declined for the first time in years, according the latest report by the Council of Graduate Schools.

The number of students from China applying to US graduate schools for the 2012-13 academic year fell 3% but admission offers to those students surged 5%. As a result students from China received 40% of all admission letters sent out by the over 500 members of the Council of Graduate Schools in the US and Canada.

China isn’t the only nation that produced fewer applications to US grad schools. The total number from all international students declined 2% this year, in sharp contrast to the 9% and 11% growth seen, respectively, in 2012 and 2011.

During the past decade the number of students from China have surged in US universities. In the 2009-2010 school year China passed India as the country sending the most international students to the US. By the 2011-2012 school year China accounted for about 200,000 of the 764,000 international students in US universities. That was nearly twice the 100,000 students sent by India, the second-place source. S. Korea was third, followed by Saudi Arabia, Canada, Taiwan and Japan.

International students make up a bit less than 4% of all undergrad enrollment but 17% of all graduate-school enrollment in the US. Today China makes up about a third of all international graduate students — and many feel the proportion is continuing to grow. They question the council’s report suggesting a slight falling off in growth from China, noting that the council’s member schools account for only about half of US graduate schools enrolling foreign students.

Overseas study consultancy EIC Group saw a 20% increase in students from mainland China applying to US US colleges, according to its training general manager Zheng Zhaoyu. He noted that his firm had seen a similarly high growth rates for each of the past five years. One reason may be that increasing numbers of students from middle- and even lower-income families in China are coming to study in the US.

The strong growth owes also to the simple fact that US grad schools need students from China. Attracting a large number of highly qualified and motivated graduate students is crucial to a university’s ability to attract top professors who rely heavily on talented students to staff their research projects.

As of 2011 international students made up 16.9% of all grad students in the US, but the percentage is much higher in scientific and technical fields. Foreign students make up 45.5% of the enrollment of US graduate engineering programs and 42.4% of those in mathematics and computer science programs. Chinese students make up as much as half of all graduate students in technical fields.

Another field that has been seeing rapid growth in international students is health sciences where foreign grad student enrollment rose 6.4% in 2011. However, that’s a slower pace than the 9.8% rise in enrollment among all grad students in the field.

The ability of US universities to continue attracting ever more grad students from China, India and other Asian nations has become a key element of the US ability to fuel growth of an economy increasingly dependent on global technological leadership.