Report: International graduate student enrollment booms by 100% since the pandemic

Since fall 2018, doctoral program enrollment among international students has increased by 9.7%. It's the only program that did not dip across the pandemic.

International graduate student enrollment continues to rebound since the pandemic froze students in place, and new countries and regions favoriting a U.S. education are contributing to the trend, according to a new report from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS).

From fall 2021 to fall 2022, first-time enrollment increased by 8%, and international graduate applications grew by 26%. Enrollment has exploded by 100%, thanks to a significant influx of international students who have entered the U.S. since being deferred by the pandemic in 2020.

The positive trend of international graduate students enrolling in the U.S. is a silver lining for higher education’s overall meek graduate enrollment numbers. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that since fall 2020, total graduate enrollment has grown by 1.2%, undercut by a 1.2% decrease in enrollment in fall 2022. And since fall 2019, enrollment across both undergraduate and graduate programs has decreased by 5.8%.

Since fall 2018, doctoral program enrollment among international students has increased by 9.7%. It’s the only program not to dip across the pandemic.

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International applications and enrollment

China and India remain as the two most significant countries whose students are applying for U.S. graduate studies, amassing 63% of all applications in fall 2022. However, China’s rate of applications has dwindled by 19% since fall 2020, while India’s rate of applications has grown by 94%. Students from Sub-Saharan Africa have increased their rate of applications in that same period by 147%, and Iran’s have by 91%.

These bursting rates of applications across India, Iran and Sub-Saharan Africa have been conducive to a parallel increase in enrollment rates. India’s enrollment rate has increased by 452%, Iran’s by 191% and Sub-Saharan Africa by 116%.

India surpasses China

The year 2020 marked a significant change in enrollment trends for India and China, the two most-populated countries in the world. In the three years prior to the pandemic, graduate enrollment from India was down 14%, while China’s was up by a healthy 8%. While the U.S. endured contracting enrollment numbers from both countries by more than 35% in fall 2020, Indian graduate student enrollment shot up by 430% the following year. While enrollment among Indian students continues to grow, China’s has shrunk. Consequently, India now leads all countries in U.S. graduate enrollment with over 24,000 students, besting China by almost 10,000.

India’s prominence is predominantly due to their pursuit of master’s degrees. Specifically, 85% of all offers of admission made to their students in the fall 2022 admission cycle were for master’s and certificate programs. While the U.S. has long been the preferred destination for Chinese graduate students, heightened geopolitical tensions between the two countries, state bills antagonizing the country, increased incidents of hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans and competition from the U.K. may contribute to dwindling numbers.

(Source: International Graduate Applications and Enrollment Fall 2022, CGS)

Most popular fields of study

Since international student enrollment has rebounded since the pandemic, several fields stand out as the most popular among those enrolling for the first time. Among them are:

  • Math and computer science
    • % change in fall 2021: 189%
    • % change in fall 2022: 11%
    • Total change since fall 2020: 200%
  • Engineering
    • % change in fall 2021: 129%
    • % change in fall 2022: 2%
    • Total change since fall 2020: 131%
  • Other fields
    • % change in fall 2021: 58%
    • % change in fall 2022: 35%
    • Total change since fall 2020: 93%

“Other fields” include programs in architecture and environmental design, communications and journalism, and homeland security.

While “other fields” had the highest percentage over the past one-year period, public administration and services had the second with 14% and arts and humanities had the third with 12%.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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