Wednesday, May 21, 2014

China Focus: Know Your Competition and Know Yourself

Admit Data: Make Informed Application Decisions
By Zhengrong Lu

Are you planning to study in the U.S.? Whether you are choosing an undergraduate or graduate major, you will understand that the field of study you are interested in is probably the first priority. Choosing a university should also depend on the majors offered and how competitive the admissions process is. Some U.S. universities have a quota of international students’ they can admit, which means popular U.S. universities among other international students can be more competitive. So we’re sharing some data and tips today on what fields of study your peers are studying, so that you can make an informed decision before applying to schools in the U.S.
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According to the Institute of International Education’s 2013 Open Doors report, almost 30 percent (29.0%) of students from China are studying Business or Management in the U.S., another 19.2 percent are studying Engineering and 11.2 percent are studying Math or Computer Science, making the above three fields of study the most popular for Chinese students. Let’s take a closer look at the historical data, to get more insight on the trends of majors for Chinese students in the U.S.

What majors are increasing?

From 24.3% in 2009 to 29.0% in 2013, Business/Management has been the No.1 choice for Chinese students for 4 years in a row. Even though Chinese applicants to U.S. graduate schools is declining, Chinese enrollment to U.S. MBA programs is still increasing. So, you should be aware that admission will be more competitive for these majors. Additionally, these majors also attract a lot of international students from countries such as South Korea, Canada, Japan, and Germany. This is because U.S. business schools are considered to provide one of the best quality education in the world. Other than Business/Management, there are also an increasing number of Chinese students coming to study Fine/Applied Arts, who choose to follow their interests and be themselves.

What majors are steady?

The proportions of Engineering and Math/Computer Science majors have been high and steady for the past few years. This may be due to the fact that these two fields have the most promising career prospect in the U.S. As part of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) majors, these also have an extended Optional Practical Training (OPT) after graduation, which gives them more time to accumulate overseas work experience. However, applying to Engineering, Math, and Computer Science means you will inevitably face increasing competition from Indian students in the admissions process, because in 2013, over half of all students from India were pursuing Engineering (35.6%) or Math/Computer Science (23.1%) in U.S. As English speakers, there is no doubt Indian students have an advantage of language over Chinese students.

What majors are decreasing?

The number of Chinese students studying in the health field in the U.S. has decreased by 4% since 2009. The different job license requirements in the U.S. and China may explain the reason why there are less students studying in the field of Health Professions in recent years. This field also requires a lot of time and money. In addition, Physical/Life sciences are losing popularity, which could be partially attributed to the narrow job market compared to Engineering and Math/Computer Science. However, if you plan to go back to China after graduation, your return on investment may be higher because less Chinese students have overseas degrees in this field.

So what does this all mean to you?

First of all, it is very important to start thinking about your career plan after graduation, and take into account that there are significant differences between the China and U.S. job market demand in different majors. Second, you should focus on different preparations based on the field of study you choose. For example, if you are going to apply for Math/Computer Science degree, then improving your English level will be very important. One option is to attend an ESL/Pathway program at a U.S. university which is for students with high achieving academics but low English proficiency. Lastly, be sure to diversify your university application portfolio, especially if you are applying to these competitive fields like business/management. A common tactic for everyone is applying to 3 dream schools, 3 fit schools and 3 safe schools.

Hope this was helpful to you and we welcome you to leave a comment below about any question you would like to ask about study in the U.S. To your success!

*Data Source: Institute of International Education. (2013). "Fields of Study of Students from Selected Places of Origin, 2012/13." Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from

Zhengrong Lu is currently a research assistant intern of Research & Advisory Services team for World Education Services in New York. She joined WES with enthusiasm to explore the field of international higher education and help international students make wise decisions in studying abroad. Zhengrong earned her Master's degree in Applied Statistics from Teachers College, Columbia University and Bachelor's degree from Fudan University in China.

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