Dec. 15, 2005 • Volume 14 Number 8

International Applications Rebounding

By Greg Frost
Staff Writer

International applications to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences have rebounded from last year's low levels, when factors like tighter visa restrictions on foreign citizens and increased global competition appeared to keep many would-be students away.

Mirroring a national trend, international applications to GSAS last year fell 30 percent, from 990 to 693. This year, however, the number of students abroad applying to GSAS bounced back, rising just over 8 percent to 750.

The news is particularly encouraging for Boston College, administrators say, because it indicates GSAS may be bucking a "brain drain" reported at the national level in the form of reduced interest by foreigners in United States graduate programs.

Among the seven graduate schools at BC, GSAS admits the most international students - between 50 and 55 - each year. Within the school, they make up nearly a quarter of the student population, and in some departments such as Economics and Physics they are in the majority.

"International students make up a significant percentage of the applicants in many of our departments, particularly in the physical sciences," said GSAS Dean Michael Smyer, noting that 85 percent of the applications to the graduate physics programs last year came from abroad.

Concern about declining numbers of international students seeking US graduate degrees prompted the Washington-based Council of Graduate Schools to begin surveying its 450 members in the winter of 2004.

CGS research has shown that first-time international graduate enrollments have declined for three consecutive years following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington: a 5 percent drop between 2004 and 2005, following a 28 percent plunge seen between 2003 and 2004.

The three factors CGS cited as most likely responsible for declining international graduate admissions are increased competition overseas, changed visa policies, and diminished perceptions of the United States abroad.

For decades, Smyer says, American universities have had some of the most outstanding graduate programs in the world, but in recent years there have been signs of increased competition from institutions in Europe and Asia.

"The European Union has really made it a priority to attract the best students, both from within the EU and elsewhere," Smyer said. "Secondly, Asian schools - particularly those in China and Japan - are also recruiting vigorously.

"At the very time US universities are facing increased competition, there has been a decline in our applicant pool."

GSAS administrators said although the school saw a significant drop in international applications in 2004, the quality of students studying at the school has not suffered. They said this was largely a result of better marketing overseas and better recruitment at the department level.

"The departments report that they continue to be pleased with the caliber of the applicants they admit into their programs," GSAS Associate Dean Robert Howe said.

However, he said that if GSAS continues to experience declining international applications, it would ultimately affect the quality of applicants and result in a drop in international admits.

Howe noted that GSAS departments attract far more applicants than the school can accommodate. In 2005, for instance, more than 2,200 people applied to GSAS programs and some 235 enrolled.

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