The independent news organization of Duke University

Graduate applicants down 1,000

Applications to graduate programs dropped sharply this year, as foreign students increasingly steered clear of Duke and other American schools. Particularly down in this year's applicant pool is the number of students from China, as total graduate applications from that country dropped from about 2,000 to about 1,000.


  Nationwide, international applications for Fall 2004 are down 32 percent, according to a study by the Council of Graduate Schools. Dean of the Graduate School Lewis Siegel estimated that Duke's applicant pool dropped from about 8,000 to about 7,000 this year, meaning that almost all the difference came from China.


  Siegel said a variety of factors contributed to the steep decline, with the main cause being post-Sept. 11 U.S. security policies that have dissuaded foreign applicants from coming to the United States. He said, despite reports suggesting otherwise, acquiring a visa is no more difficult for a student this year than in past years. Siegel instead believes foreign students are worried about an unwelcoming environment in the United States.


  "There's a generalized feeling that once foreign students come here... they're simply not going to be as welcome," he said, adding that some fear they will need to report all their activities to an unfriendly government.


  Siegel also pointed to changes in the international administration of the General Record Examination, which is required for admission to graduate school and has been marked by widespread cheating at foreign test centers, as a cause for the decline in applicants. This year's "extremely increased" security provisions for the GRE and for the Test of English as a Foreign Language have discouraged some foreign applicants and have also led to fewer test administrations abroad, as Siegel noted the number of students taking the GRE declined by the same proportion as the number of students applying to U.S. graduate schools.

At Duke, the departments most affected by the international dropoff have been electrical and computer engineering, the doctoral program in economics and physics, and, to a lesser extent, computer science, chemistry and some other engineering departments.


  Professor Jeffrey Krolik, director of undergraduate studies for ECE, said applications for his department dropped from around 400 last year to only 237 this year, with most of the difference coming from Chinese and other foreign applicants. He noted, however, that the group of students discouraged from applying was generally of a lesser caliber than the students who typically matriculate at Duke. As a result, he said, this year's applicant pool was arguably as strong or stronger than last year's.


  The dropoff in international interest means there are now more American applicants than foreign applicants at the graduate school for the first time since 2001, Siegel said. The bulk of the applicants who opted not to apply to U.S. graduate schools are instead winding up in other countries like the United Kingdom, Germany and especially Australia.


  Chinese students also may be increasingly seeking to further their education or career in their homeland as China begins to provide students with better post-graduate options. "The Chinese economy is so good that it's not as attractive an alternative to go off to the universities and go to graduate school as it used to be," said professor Curtis Taylor, director of graduate studies for economics.


  A final explanation for the decline in Chinese applicants relatively unique to Duke is the mysterious months-long block of the University's website in China that was only lifted in January. Other universities, including Princeton University and the University of Michigan, experienced similar blocks. Speculated Siegel, "Maybe this is China trying to send a message to us."


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