CGS International Survey Report: Applications
    April 8, 2013

    Julia Kent
    (202) 223-3791


    The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) is reporting that the number of applications from prospective international students to U.S. graduate schools increased a mere 1% in 2013, following a 9% gain in 2012 and an 11% increase in 2011.


    The initial snapshot of international graduate applications for fall 2013, released today, marks the smallest growth in applications over the past eight years. The slowdown in international applications was driven primarily by the decline in applications from China that was offset, in part, by an increase in applications from India. Chinese students constitute roughly one-third of all international graduate students in the United States, and their large numbers have helped to mitigate recent declines in first-time enrollment among all graduate students attending U.S.-based institutions.


    The survey collects data on all international graduate applications, and detailed information on international applications from seven countries (China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil) and three regions (the Middle East, Africa and Europe). China, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Canada are the top five countries of origin for international graduate students in the United States. Altogether, the seven countries and three regions highlighted in the CGS International Graduate Admissions Survey are home countries to about 86% of all international graduate students in the United States.


    This reduced growth in overall international applications was primarily the result of the five percent decline in applications from China, the source country of 29% of international graduate students at U.S. institutions. Chinese applicant declines were offset by a 20% increase in applications from India, which accounts for 20% of all international graduate students at U.S. institutions. Applications from Brazil, having increased by 9% in 2012, grew markedly this year, by 24%. Applications in 2013 also increased from Africa (6%), which saw a 3% decline last year, and the Middle East (2%), whose increase follows a more substantial jump of 11% last year. Applications across the other countries and regions covered by this survey (i.e., South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Mexico, and Europe) decreased between fall 2012 and fall 2013. 


    Just over half (52%) of institutions reported an increase in applications over last year with an average increase of 9% at these institutions, while 48% of responding institutions reported a decrease, averaging 7%. 


    “The overall slowed growth in international applications merits serious attention from policymakers as well as universities,” said CGS President Debra W. Stewart. “While the large increases in applications from India and Brazil are encouraging, the decrease in Chinese applicants needs attention. As a country, we simply can’t afford to maintain obstacles to international graduate study, especially as other countries are decreasing these barriers for highly qualified students.”


    Application trends by field of study


    Increases in applications were minimal (1% to 4%) in all broad fields, with the exception of education and the life sciences, which saw declines (3% and 7%, respectively). The three most popular fields of study—engineering, physical and earth sciences, and business—experienced increases in international applications of 2% to 3%. The arts and humanities and social sciences and psychology, fields in which few international students enroll, saw the largest increases in applications at 4%.


    Application trends by institutional characteristics


    CGS also analyzed changes in international applications by various institutional characteristics. On average, applications increased in public institutions (3%), but declined at private, not-for-profit institutions (-4%) in 2013. Additionally, applications from prospective international graduate students increased 18% on average at master’s-focused institutions in 2013, a sharp jump from the 5% decline that occurred in 2012, while international applications remained flat at doctoral institutions in 2013, following a 10% increase in 2012.


    Application trends by region


    Applications from international students increased minimally in all regions of the U.S., except for the Northeast. Increases were largest in the West (2%) and South (2%), while the Midwest increased only by 1%, and the Northeast declined by 1%.


    About the report


    Findings from the 2013 CGS International Graduate Admissions Survey, Phase I: Applications is based on the first phase of a three-part annual survey of international graduate student applications, admissions, and enrollment among CGS U.S. member institutions. The analysis includes responses from 276 schools, including 80% of the 25 institutions that award the largest number of degrees to international graduate students, and 88% of the top 50 institutions. Collectively, the 276 respondents to this year’s survey award about 64% of the degrees granted to international graduate students in the U.S.  The report is available at

    The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) is an organization of over 500 institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada engaged in graduate education, research, and the preparation of candidates for advanced degrees. Among U.S. institutions, CGS members award 92% of the doctoral degrees and 81% of the master’s degrees.* The organization’s mission is to improve and advance graduate education, which it accomplishes through advocacy in the federal policy arena, research, and the development and dissemination of best practices.


    * Based on data from the 2011 CGS/GRE Survey of Graduate Enrollment and Degrees


    CGS is the leading source of information, data analysis, and trends in graduate education. Our benchmarking data help member institutions to assess performance in key areas, make informed decisions, and develop plans that are suited to their goals.
    CGS Best Practice initiatives address common challenges in graduate education by supporting institutional innovations and sharing effective practices with the graduate community. Our programs have provided millions of dollars of support for improvement and innovation projects at member institutions.
    As the national voice for graduate education, CGS serves as a resource on issues regarding graduate education, research, and scholarship. CGS collaborates with other national stakeholders to advance the graduate education community in the policy and advocacy arenas.  
    CGS is an authority on global trends in graduate education and a leader in the international graduate community. Our resources and meetings on global issues help members internationalize their campuses, develop sustainable collaborations, and prepare their students for a global future.