A survey released last month by the Council of Graduate Schools—which examined Fall 2017 admissions numbers from 175 American graduate schools, including Harvard—showed a three percent decline in international applications since Fall 2016. It marks the first time in more than a decade that overseas interest has dropped.
Applications from the Middle East and North Africa declined sharply across the country for the second year, a decrease that comes after Trump administration travel bans aimed at foreign nationals from several countries in the region.
“Since the issuance of the travel ban, the graduate education community has carefully monitored changes in the flow of international graduate students from the Middle East and North Africa region,” the report read. “The 175 institutions contributing data for both Fall 2016 and Fall 2017 reported, in aggregate, a decline in both final applications (-17%) and first-time graduate enrollment (-5%) from this region.”
In Jan. 2017, Harvard affiliates from countries affected by the first ban faced uncertainty over their immigration status, and a group of graduate students petitioned Faust to provide additional support for international students. Harvard has provided legal resources and offered to extend the graduate students' G-clocks—a measurement of the number of years students have been studying towards a PhD—among other measures.
Since GSAS does not release data on the regional makeup of students or applicants, it is unclear whether Harvard has experienced a decline in interest from the region. International applications overall, though, are up slightly, according to GSAS spokesperson Ann Hall. Currently, 30 percent of the school's roughly 4,200 students come from outside the U.S.
Hall attributed GSAS’s success in attracting international applicants to a new master’s program in data science, which the school announced last March.
“GSAS saw a two percent increase in the number of international applicants during the 2017–2018 admissions season, in part due to strong interest from international applicants in a new master’s degree program in data science,” Hall wrote in an email.
David-Maximilian “Max” Vani, who represents GSAS on the Harvard Graduate Council, praised GSAS’s efforts to aid prospective international students.
“Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences remains an attractive place for international students due to a variety of factors,” Vani said. “The school administrators have pledged to show some flexibility for admitted students who may be facing problems due to recent travel restrictions and natural disasters. I think this appeals to the school's international audience.”
—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.
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