US: Admissions decline first in five years

Offers of admission from US graduate schools to prospective international students decreased 3% from 2008 to 2009, the first decline since 2004, according to the Council of Graduate Schools.

A survey report on admissions trends by the council shows that more than half of responding institutions reported a decrease in international offers of admission. There were 16% declines in offers to students from India and South Korea, after offers to students in each country fell 2% last year.

Although the survey also found a final one-year 4% increase in international applications, the total number of international applications received in 2009 remains 5% below 2003 levels.

The council report includes findings on domestic student admissions trends: the change in domestic applications at responding graduate schools was a median 8% increase. Offers of admission to American students grew by a median 2%.

Growth in US applications was more widespread than growth in international applications. While 75% of graduate schools received more applications from prospective US students in
2009 than 2008, just 55% received more international applications.

Institutions were also more likely to report growth in offers of admission to domestic applicants than to international students.

"The decline in admissions of international students this year, after several years of slowing growth, is a concern for US graduate education," said council President Debra W Stewart.

"For the past few years growth in first-time graduate enrolment has been driven by international students. However, the fact that so many schools reported strong growth in admissions to US students this year may signal a reversal of that trend."

The changes in admissions of prospective international students vary by country of origin, field of study and institution type. While the decline in offers was driven by the sharp decreases in India and South Korea, offers to students from China increased 13%, marking the fourth year of double-digit growth.

On the other hand, admissions in all three of the most popular fields of study for international students - engineering, physical sciences, and business - declined by at least 4%.

There was a 2% decrease in international offers at doctoral universities compared with a 9% decline at master's-level institutions. Despite the overall decline, offers of admission increased by 4% at the institutions with the 10 largest international enrolments.

Domestic applications and offers of admissions varied by type of institution as well. Similar to international trends, 84% of doctoral universities reported an increase in US applications, versus just 58% of master's-level institutions. Doctoral universities were also more likely than master's-level institutions to report an increase in offers to domestic students, 62% to 52%.