USA: postgraduate enrollments soaring past pre-Covid levels

International student applications and first-time enrollments for postgraduate programs in the USA increased again last year, with master’s enrolments soaring past pre-Covid levels, according to the latest annual report by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), driven by growth from India and Sub-Saharan Africa.


The annual CGS International Graduate Admissions Survey, completed by 370 institutions, shows that in Fall 2022 the number of international applications received increased by 26 per cent compared with the previous year to 983,385 – the fourth year in a row of growth.

Applications from India increased by 58 per cent year-on-year, and accounted for 38 per cent of all international applications received, while China declined by three per cent and represented a quarter of all applications.

First-time enrolments: The enrolment of new international students on postgraduate courses rose by eight per cent in Fall 2022, compared with the previous year, to 112,705, CGS said.

The progression of total master’s/certificate and doctoral international enrolments over the last five years. Graphic source – Council of Graduate Schools.

The was strong growth in first-time enrolments from India (22 per cent) and Iran (33), although there were declines in new international graduate enrolments from China (-11) and Saudi Arabia (-40). First-time enrolments from the Sub-Saharan Africa region rose by 11 per cent to record levels for both master’s/certificate and doctoral courses, and there was also 10 per cent growth from Latin America.

Commenting on the Chinese decline, Suzanne T. Ortega, President of CGS, said, “Potential reasons for this continued decrease could be Chinese students choosing to attend the new institutions of higher education in their own country and the growing geopolitical tensions between the USA and China.”

Total enrollments:

The total number of international students on master’s and certificate courses in the 2022/23 academic year was 122,328, an increase of 27.8 per cent compared with the previous year, and well above the pre-pandemic total of 85,174 in the 2019/20 year, mainly driven by growth from India.

Total international enrolments on doctoral programs have gradually increased over the last five years, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and stand at 75,666 in the current year, an increase of 2.5 per cent, over the previous year.

Academic subjects:

By subject, there was an increase in first-time international enrolments in most academic fields, including arts and humanities (+12 per cent), mathematics and computer sciences (11), business (8) and biological and agricultural sciences (8).

By share, mathematics and computer sciences accounted for almost a third of new entrants in Fall 2022 (32 per cent), followed by engineering (22) and business (16).

Commenting on the overall data trends, Suzanne said, “It’s clear that demand for higher education from international students is not only rebounding, but we are seeing a change in where the demand is coming from.

“Our higher education institutions need to prepare for a more diverse set of countries and regions sending their students. We need to think about diverse mentoring needs and support systems so all students can reach their fullest potential.”

Mode of study:

The report showed that almost all international students and institutions had returned to predominantly in-person delivery. Only 2,457 new international students enrolled on master’s/certificate courses that were delivered online only.

In May, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) terminated temporary guidance that has allowed online study in excess of regulatory limits, although currently enrolled students will be able to complete the current academic year under the flexibility arrangements.

Further reading:

The CGS report is the latest positive data set for the USA, following the IIE Open Doors report showing an increase in overall international students in higher education in 2021/22; SEVP data showing 10 per cent growth in student visa holders in 2022; some recovery for Intensive English Programs in 2022 and hopeful signs for the year ahead from EnglishUSA  members; and a report from INTO University Partnerships on soaring demand for pathway and degree courses at its partner institutions in the USA.

The Council of Graduate Schools is an organization of approximately 500 higher education institutions in the USA and Canada engaged in postgraduate education, and first launched the Admissions Survey in 2004.

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