International Students in the U.S.: What the Numbers Tell Us

Last Updated on February 23, 2023

The numbers are in. There are more international students in U.S. graduate programs than American students, according to a recent report by the New York Times. An example used in the report showed that 80 percent of undergrads at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, and 80 percent of graduate students there are from other countries.

The high numbers of international students in the U.S. is being driven in large part by the plethora of jobs available in the U.S., especially in the tech sector. The numbers may also be driven up by the drop in American students attending graduate programs – as we’ve covered before, the labor shortage in the U.S. is very real, and the two shortages could easily be connected.

International students in the U.S. choose STEM

STEM programs are particularly popular with international students seeking advanced degrees.

STEM programs have the most international students of all the grad programs in the U.S., according to the same Times report, and American students in STEM programs are few and far between. The report cites a study of the 2015 fall semester by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board, which found that 55 percent of grad students in math, computer science and engineering were actually from outside the U.S. By contrast, arts and humanities had 16 percent international students and business had less than 19 percent. For advanced studies in computer sciences in particular, there’s even more of an international student presence: They make up about 64 percent of PhD candidates and 68 percent of master’s students.

Many international STEM students remain in the U.S. following an educational program for up to two years, thanks to the F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension program. This program often leads to employers sponsoring students full-time on work visas like H-1B visas or others.

The Trump Effect

Despite the strong presence of international students in the U.S., the past two years have seen a decline in numbers of new international students choosing the U.S. for education. According to a study by the Institute of International Education, enrollment of new international students in the U.S. decreased by three percent in fall 2016. This marked the first decrease in new international students IIE has seen in 12 years – as long as they have been reporting numbers like these.

To get up to date on recent trends in immigration, tune into our on-demand webinar, The Current State of Immigration.