Indian students aspire for top US universities: Applications up; offers down

In my earlier postings, I argued that Indians will continue to go abroad for higher education and US will maintain its prominence. The recent report by the Council of Graduate Studies confirms the trend. According to this report, applications from India for fall 2010 are up by 1%. Many expected that the impact of recession and increasing choices both at home and abroad would decrease the outward mobility of Indian students. However, I believe that outward mobility will remain high for at least three reasons:
1. Indian higher education system has grown at a rate much faster than the capacity of the economy to absorb.
2. Quality of higher education at majority of the institutions is mediocre resulting in skills gap and unemployability.
3. Further education options at the graduate level in India are not very aspirational, except MBA.

  • More Indians are aiming for top-100 institutions:

Within the US, Indian students continue to aspire for top-100 institutions. This is an indicator of the “reputation” obsession by many prospective Indian students. For example, according to the CGS survey, applications from Indians increased by 12% for 10 largest institutions but fell by 8% for institutions outside 100 largest institutions, in terms of the graduate degrees awarded in academic year 2007-08. This perception issue poses challenges for institutions outside top-100 in attracting Indian talent, despite having excellent programs and fit with the student.

  • Acceptance of Indian students is slowing at the leading US institutions:

While Indian students continue to apply to the US universities, there seems to be slowing down of the acceptance by leading US institutions. This is evident from the decreasing rate of offers to Indian students as compared to the increasing rate of applications by Indians. For last three years, number of offers to Indian applicants had been decreasing. This includes admission to fall 2009 class when applications from India fell by 12% but offers fell even sharper by 14%.

Given that a large proportion of Indian applicants are competing for the same top-100 institutions, which already have large number of Indian students, the rate of acceptance had been decreasing at these institutions.  This is in contrast with admissions trends from China, which has seen double digit growth in applications and offers in last three years. This could also be a result of higher propensity of Indian applicants to rely on scholarships/assistantships as compared to Chinese applicants.

  • 3 out of 4 Indian students are enrolled in engineering/computer science or  business

Indian students are also very heavily concentrated in engineering or business fields. For example, 1 out of 2 Indian student is enrolled in engineering or computer science (NSF Report, 2010). This is in primarily driven by the expansion of engineering programs at undergraduate level in India and also it had been relatively easy to find work opportunity in the US IT services industry. With Business field added in mix, 3 out of 4 Indians are enrolled in Engineering/Computer Science and Business. This clearly indicates, the popularity of career-safe, professional programs among Indian students.

Recent trends, reaffirm that expansion and supply characteristics at undergraduate level in India will continue to fuel aspirations of Indian students to study abroad, especially the US. They will also continue to seek programs that support professional and career advancement.

Any thoughts/comments?

– Dr. Rahul Choudaha


  1. Engineering and Business has become a default field of study for most of the Indians after the boom in IT and other engineering related fields.
    You mentioned that 3 out of 4 students are enrolled in either of these fields is matter of concern, I believe. There are many professional jobs in these categories but in next 10 years India needs to perform in other sectors also so as to keep its young population employable.

    I have been searching the PhD programs in Education in US universities. In 147 of these universities, I hardly came across 1 or 2 professors of Indian origin. Whereas, I am sure, I could have easily found out a Dean of engineering department of Indian origin in some US university.

  2. Rahul,

    I used to be a grad student for six–seven years at a good US univ and spent a decade totally in the US. Recently I visited a couple of US Univs — computer science departments — and based on empirical observations arrived at a hypothesis the number of enrolled grad students from highly ranked Indian institutes (IITs, IISc, BITS etc) has significantly come down and that enrollment from second-rung institutes have gone up; and whether this is also contributing to the reduction in acceptance rates for Indian students in US Univs.

    I have often wondered if that means that the top undergrads from India are staying back working in US MNCs in India (empirically this pool of opportunities has increased) or ending up in finance jobs or finance MBAs.

    I wonder if you have any data confirming or contradicting this.


  3. I would like to share few things which I have noticed in Indian Students and I need to discuss the same with you.
    Few questions are always coming in my mind. why students don't want to go Dubai for pursuing their further studies because the reason is Indian Students are very much influenced by the western culture and western life style. see the career wise ratio of getting jobs after completing their studies from US or UK based universities is still very low due to the enormous competition in the job market.
    If we see the current scenario, Dubai is the major hub of corporates even many US & UK based universities as well as the big and giant corporates. The corporates already set-up and started their operations in Dubai from last one & half decade. See according to the corporates, Dubai is also comes under the favorite destination for getting and acquiring fresh and best talent. According to this, the Dubai job market is not having that much of competition which is right now going on India but still the mindset of Indian students has not turned -up due to the hype of US and UK based Universities. At this point of time, US and UK based universities has also start investing in Dubai. So now, they have a brief and planned Idea for establishing their offshore campuses in Dubai also. Even, the availability of working visa for US and UK is very easy and the authorities are taking very less time for giving and issuing the same.

  4. About the great policy makers
    Kindly say what deference between the candidates who was PhD awarded before 11 July 2009 and other was after 11 July 2009. Suppose one is awarded PhD on 10 July 2009 and other is 12 July 2009 according to blind rule of UGC first is qualified for assistant professor and other second one is not qualified for same post. First you are differentiate people and people by cast and now your label of mental fall so bellow you are seeing the same degree are deference.
    I though this is not the dreams of our freedom of fighters like Mahatama Gandhi and any other. I think theirs is great need to fight for re freedom from corrupt officers and leaders.
    The students of PhD, are spent his peak times for his/ her carriers. This knows the makers of regulation for assistant professor because they are all the PhD holders before 11 July 2009 and they are not PhD according to UGC regulation 2009. I thinks the deference between the makers of UGC regulation and us are they are holders of such post, which they can destroyed our carrier and intent in research other hand we are only poor holders of PhD. I thinks this types of PhD man are real terrorisms of our country, who are pays a game for providing job to his/ her relative so they makes like this regulations. If they are really thinks about the our country then they see all the students like one sight but our planes makers and our leaders are all cupped and they makes plan in view of only some powers full man, which can provide them benefits.
    The such PhD holders or makers of regulation for assistant professors now say the increase the limits retirement 60 to 65 but they are want now checks the PhD holders after 11 July 2009 or the students who are registered before 11 July 2009 and decrease the opportunities and self earns more and more money. Can such PhD holders or makers of regulation for assistant professors work as emeritus scientist, answer is always NO and Never. Others hands crowds of qualified are standings or waiting for job and want to do goods for country. The policy makers (pets of leaders) pay the roles of olds British rulers. Examples are in 6th pay commotions theirs a lots are mistakes, why makes this types of policies. So such works are they do who are not thinks about our country, they are thinks only about the benefits of self.
    I want to say this is the mistake of students or university, who did not, follows the rules which are determined by UGC. This is the maters of UGC and universities, why punished to students. Can they come the opportunity for us, no and impossible.
    I want to say to all the policies makers and respected and responsible ministers of every ministry improve first your labels thinking and do not work only for self.
    By Dr. Kundan Prasad

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