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US: three-quarters of first time graduate enrolees on master’s path

Master’s degree seeking students made up more than three-quarters of first time international graduate school enrolments in the US in 2015, data from the Council of Graduate Studies has shown. Indian and Chinese students share the greatest proportion of enrolments at this degree level, 36% each.

Nine out of 10 first-time Indian graduate students enrolled on master's courses

However, demand for master’s programmes among Indian students is higher than in any other nationality with nine out of 10 first-time Indian graduate students enrolling on master’s courses. Interest was also high among Saudi Arabian students, 80% of whom enrolled on a master’s programme.

This is the first year CGS has broken the data down to show differences in enrolments of master’s & certificate programmes compared to doctoral students. Hironao Okahana, one of the report’s authors, said the division reveals how particular nationalities are using US graduate degrees.

“Different countries of origin appear to have a different way to value US graduate education”

“Different countries of origin appear to have a different way to value US graduate education and in types of potential fields and the degree objectives that they’re going toward,” he told The PIE News.

Referring to Indian master’s enrolments, Okahana said the data highlights the trend among these students to enter the US system at a later stage of study compared to their Chinese counterparts. “My guess is they’d be responding more directly to immediate economic or labour market circumstances in India, in the more short-term period.”

Among Chinese students, 77% were enrolled in a masters programme while 53% of Koreans studied at this level and 56% of students from the Middle East and North Africa.

First time enrolment data gives the most comprehensive and up to date information on graduate students currently in the US. This year overall first time enrolment growth has slowed down, increasing only 5% compared to 8% last year and 10% in 2013.

China dominated PhD enrolments, accounting for 35% of the total, while India followed with 12%.

Engineering was the most popular subject among both PhD and master’s students but business far outpaced other subjects to be the second most popular among masters students. Physical and Earth Sciences was the second most popular subject for PhD students while Mathematics & Computer Sciences was the third most popular for both.

The overall figures reflect similar trends at the undergraduate level in the US: China and India dominate nationalities and STEM and business fields continue to be the most highly subscribed. Rahul Choudaha, researcher and consultant in international student mobility, told The PIE News the over dependency on these two source countries and two subject areas is especially risky for master’s programmes.

“We know it’s a more career conscious segment of students, and they are more prone to economic changes”

“We know it’s a more career conscious segment of students, and they are more prone to economic changes,” he explained, pointing to a 30% drop in Brazilian first time enrolments this year compared to 91% growth in 2014.

“If you go to bachelor’s level, it’s a less price sensitive segment. They have been saving it for a long time or they are in the upper middle income bracket where economic changes do not make or break their decision.”

Choudaha added that the data also presents an opportunity for master’s programmes to expand their capacity in order to capitalise on the consistent interest in US graduate studies. This year, some 786,000 applications were filed but only 84,000 students enrolled.

“You see a large appetite for applying to a US master’s degree so how can institutions feed that appetite in a creative and innovative manner,” he said.

“I see an opportunity, how these online, blended programmes which are currently being offered in the domestic market, have a potential to go to global markets.”

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