Most international graduate students in US on master's degrees

Report from the Council of Graduate Schools contradicts 'common assumption' that international students choose US for doctoral degrees

December 17, 2015
United States map
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More than three-quarters of first-time international graduate students in the US are enrolled in master’s or certificate programmes, new data has found.

Research from the Council of Graduate Schools found that 77 per cent of graduate enrolees are pursuing these courses, which it claims contradicts a common assumption that many, if not most, international graduate students go to the US to pursue doctoral degrees.

The report International Graduate Applications and Enrollment: Fall 2015, which is based on an annual survey of 350 graduate institutions in the US, found that Chinese and Indian students represented the largest share of first-time master’s and certificate enrolment for this autumn, together accounting for more than 7 in 10 enrolees in these programmes.

Indian students, for whom first-time enrolment has seen double-digit growth over the past three admission cycles, demonstrated the strongest interest, with nine out of every ten graduate students from the country choosing a master’s degree or certificate.

Despite the overall trend, some regions demonstrated strong first-time enrolment in doctoral programmes; 47 per cent of South Korean graduate students in the US and 44 per cent of students from the Middle East and North Africa enrolled in these courses.

Council of Graduate Schools

Engineering remains the most popular field of study for international graduate students, representing nearly one third (32 per cent) of final applications and over one quarter (29 per cent) of first-time international graduate enrolment.

However, engineering fields reported only a small increase this year for both final applications (2 per cent) and first-time enrolment (1 per cent), while mathematics and computer science fields saw the largest growth (9 per cent and 11 per cent respectively).

CGS president Suzanne Ortega said the report’s findings demonstrate the strong reputation of US master’s degrees outside the US.

“While doctoral programs and institutions have long been viewed as a major draw from international students, it is clear that international students also recognize the value of US master’s education,” she said.

“Master’s degrees are critical entry points for a wide variety of professions. International students are taking advantage of the skills and knowledge these programs offer in addition to the stellar doctoral training provided by US institutions.”

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