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Why do some unis have so few international students?

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Sorry if this topic has come up before. I don't think of it as a bad thing if there are few internationals at an institution. Obviously it's good if there's more multiculturalism, but ehh, it's not a deciding factor, esp when I am moving to a foreign country and want to experience the culture there. I'm just asking out of interest. 


My undergrad institution and the other place I've been accepted at have a high proportion of international students from all over the world, which may be why I noticed at my last visit that there are very few international students there - nearly all American. Why is that? 


I thought about: 

  • perhaps not good advertizing to the international community - I know my undergrad institution does it well
  • higher perceived cost of living
  • very expensive air fares from the West Coast to Europe, Central Asia or Africa
  • not-quite-'Top 10' current ranking
  • perhaps international students are less aware of this particular uni's current strong push up the ranking tables?
  • international reputations are surely different from 'native' reputations. My mum (no education to speak of) has only heard of two American 'brand name' unis and thought they were the only good ones; one of them isn't even that good for my subject... and we all want people "back home" to think we're doing well...
  • few international students already = fewer want to come?? 

Anyone think of any reasons I might have missed? 



Also has anyone noticed that (massive generalization here) eg: Chinese-origin professors tend to have research groups with many Chinese students - even if the prof has lived in the US all their life? Why is that? Are they expecting a familiarity and understanding, or something along those lines? 

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I'd add to that list funding concerns.  Depending on how the department get's their funding, they may not be able to fund international students very easily.  Also, it is often harder for international students to win external funding (ie the NSF or other US fellowships that require citizenship).  This makes international students less appealing.

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Chinese professors tend towards Chinese students probably because there's some inherent cultural understanding, communication in native tongue, etc. It just removes (or mitigates to some extent) a few of the unknown variables that come with accepting grad students. Internationals seem to tend to cluster around certain locales in the U.S. where there are good schools/jobs (e.g. California as a whole, NYC).

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Money is often a huge factor.  Tuition costs often skyrocket for international students,  add to this less funding opportunities, moving costs, leaving behind family and friends, and that there may be a university nearby with similar educational quality, and I think the puzzle quickly fades.

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Interesting. At all the places I applied to, international tuition fees were the same as out-of-state. Of course, the situation is very different in the EU...! It's still a mystery to me with respect to this uni though: funding for international students (at least from the students' point of view) isn't bad. I'm talking about UC Irvine, which makes out weirder with the "international students come to California", no?

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I think a fair number of international students come to the USA for the "prestige factor" and apply to the high-profile universities with names they recognise. 

In the case of UC Irvine...I suspect most of the international students that fancy doing a PhD in California will be looking at UC Berkeley first then UCLA & UC San Diego. From my experience as an international, UC Irvine is one of the less-familar institution names.  


I don't think having a large local contingent is a bad thing when you're an international PhD student. Through my experiences I've found it a more fulfilling experience befriending & hanging out "locals" rather than the transient international students. It made me feel more settled in my new place, more part of the community.

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The funding us international student receive is usually the same as a domestic student. However, the actual cost "behind the scenes" (aka "overhead costs") is often much much higher. The main contributor to the extra cost is usually tuition -- I'm actually surprised that UC Irvine has the same rate as domestic (if that's what you're saying above), since I know at other UC schools, the tuition is much higher for international students! I also know that on average, a UC school has 10% of its graduate student be International, while a private school in California, e.g. Caltech, has a 40% international graduate student population. At Caltech and other private schools, the cost for international and domestic student is the almost the same, I think.


Moving to another country is a tiring process and dealing with immigration laws is also a pain, especially if you're from a country that doesn't have such good ties with the US. Personally, since I had a good program I could go to in Canada, I only applied to the top programs in the US since I only wanted to deal with the extra hassle if it gives me some opportunities that a Canadian school couldn't. Many other international students might feel the same way, so that could be why there are much fewer international students at the schools outside of the "top X" rankings.


I also think you're right about "fewer international students = fewer want to come" aspect. Even though being Canadian is pretty much as close as you can get to being American, I do feel like an outsider here sometimes. I still get excited when I find out another student is a Canadian. I also think that having a large number of international students make that school's International Student Program/Office much more influential. With a 40% international grad student population, Caltech's ISP offers us a lot of support! We had a special orientation and there's events every week! I don't think it really matters what country the other international students are from, it's nice to know that other people understand the extra hassles a non-American has to go through to get, e.g. a driver's license, travel outside of the US, etc.


I also agree with the other things said (e.g. wanting to live in areas with large ethnic communities so that we can get ethnic groceries, etc.)

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  • 2 weeks later...

From what I have seen, international students are a big ticket item for the colleges that have the gears in motion to keep them and attract more. My Undergrad for example had about a 10% population and a large proportion of them were either from Asia, Europe or Middle East. Some colleges also have what colleges call an American English Institute, which in some ways creates partnerships with other colleges overseas and helps those colleges to consider sending summer groups to experience college life first hand. Some of those students come back and tell friends. When you have a group of visiting Phd candidates and faculty, the word that spreads has more weight.


Regional considerations fall behind that of money. It's likely that an international student won't transfer (i have no idea what that is like now, but one feeling amongst undergrads was the whole reporting your status...)So once you have found a college, and you can figure out the financial obstacle course, you are maybe happier staying than moving. This especially if you now have discovered the few financial gems that may exist for you as a student. Some look towards work-study, some are Resident Assistants, some have scholarship help. Others have family.


When you have an established International Student Community and Student Association, it makes a big difference when you need to decide on applying. It also makes a difference when you consider transferring. I think others have hit the nail on the head. A big part is finances but the cultural environment you have established on campus makes decisions very easy for some incoming international students. The colleges that don't have high numbers maybe work with other sister/brother colleges to have students do a study exchange sometimes. International recruiting is big. Lets face it, students are also looking towards Europe, Australia and Asia is creating a lot of incentives to attract future students (China and South Korea come to mind)


It's a lot of pieces that either fall into place or not to give a student a sense of hope. Some get here, mess up and then drop out but that's a different conversation altogether.

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  • 1 month later...


I am from a former British colony and currently living in US, so I think I also have little bit of understanding about this phenomenon.

I think most of u overlooked some other important factors.

Education system.

Most of the former British colonies(Most of Africa , Indian subcontinent , Southeast Asia ) have British style of Education system which is far different than American education system(Especially true for Professional Education ).e.g American dont have MBBS instead they have BS+MD system. So a student who sit for O/L(age 16 ) +A/L (age 18/19) may choose UK over US due to time factor and unfamiliarity of system. This is true for most of the professional fields except Engineering and few others and on top of this most of the time American universities dont even directly recognizes most of these British style of qualifications.

Familiarity and reputation of Universities
If you look carefully,you will find that most of the student at UK universities are from British Commonwealth nations and Europe and they are much familiar with the names of UK universities in compare to US unis . so with reason 1 described above , they tend to choose UK unis over US.In contrast student from countries like Japan South Korea and China who are more familiar with US system prefer US over UK.ref:http://www.iie.org/en/Services/Project-Atlas/United-States/International-Students-In-US and http://www.ukcisa.org.uk/about/statistics_he.php

student population and number of universities to choose.

Except Cambridge , Oxford ,Edinburgh , London,Manchester and few others, actual student population of UK unis are far smaller than big stat or private universities in US and number of universities in US are far greater(UK~100uni against US ~4000unis ). so this may explain the reason for low percentage of international students in most of the US universities. In reality US received more international students than UK(US ~700000 UK ~400000).

UK universities have more visibility in overseas
Most of the UK unis have far greater oversea presence through overseas campuses and distance, flexible or distributed learning centers . until recently big US university not that much interested about this options. This may be due to fact that US universities have much bigger domestic market and big ones are well funded in comparison to UK universities( you can just look at Endowment and research funding of US and UK universities to realize this: e.g even the big UK universits like Edinburgh , London,Manchester have very small endowments which are even far smaller than in comparison to a big state university in US ). So these UK universities try to recruit more international students to get money.

Graduate Schools cost. A LOT. And international students almost never get any funding so they have to put all the money in all by themselves. So, for me, it's all about money"

I think this statement is wrong . In reality US provide more assistantship and fellowship to graduate students (Basically US unis have more funding than UK ). but due to relative higher number of domestic students and higher number of universities resulting the low international student percentage.

Edited by nipwe
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I can only speak about Canadian schools and perhaps the reasoning in the US is similar.


Most research scholarships that are issued at the federal and provincial levels are only available to Canadians. (I am talking about big scholarships that pay all of your tuition and living expenses). Often, before a supervisor will agree to take on an international student they need to secure funding from their home country. If this money does not come through for whatever reason (like if the scholarship does not get renewed after a year, for instance), the lab supervisor needs to come up with the money to fund the student. Whereas if Candians are accepted into the program, if it's a highly competitive program, these students are highly likely qualify for scholarships paid for by the government and not the lab supervisor. International students are financially risky. 


If you are applying to a course-based masters program that does not require a research component or thesis, then it should be easier to get in as most students (Canadian or otherwise) do not get full funding to attend these programs and many do not get funding at all.  

Edited by jenste
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"Graduate Schools cost. A LOT. And international students almost never get any funding so they have to put all the money in all by themselves. So, for me, it's all about money"

I think this statement is wrong . In reality US provide more assistantship and fellowship to graduate students (Basically US unis have more funding than UK ). but due to relative higher number of domestic students and higher number of universities resulting the low international student percentage.

That statement is correct when it comes to external funding (i.e. fellowships) for international graduate students.


Given that you will be a Chemistry (or Science) student, you will find that most of the U.S. government funding agencies require their applicants or awardees to be U.S. citizens or legal residents. You can look up NIH or NSF fellowships for pre-doctoral students if you wish. Even if you are looking at private company's funding (which isn't a lot in first place), there is still almost 0 predoctoral fellowships for non-U.S. citizens. So, technically that statement up there ("international students almost never get any funding so they have to put all the money in all by themselves. So, for me, it's all about money") is correct, with the clarification of "they" probably refers to schools that wish to pay money for international students.


While there is 1 science fellowship that I know of is eligible to international students, most of the international students who have their own funding are usually directly/indirectly funded by their home country (other than Fulbright) - Canada, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, China, and so forth. But again, those are usually competitive and there would be some sort of requirements to fulfilled, before getting the award (e.g. graduated from a home country university, or first honor standing, etc.)

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I agree that there are very small numbers of fellowships available to international students, but this is not going to explain the lower number of international students at US universities in comparison to UK. So as far as financial aids are concern US universities give more assisianceshipes and recruit more international student than UK universities.

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