Thursday, May 14, 2015

What Degrees are Saudi Students Pursuing?

By Brendan Twist 
World Education Services

The number of Saudi Arabians studying in the U.S. has more than quadrupled over the past five years. Saudi Arabia is the fourth leading place of origin for the U.S. higher education sector, ranking first among Middle Eastern countries. Nearly 54,000 Saudi students came to the U.S. in 2013-2014, the seventh-consecutive year of double digit growth for this population thanks to the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. This spring, WES Student Advisor was fortunate to host a group of Saudi students for lunch at our New York offices – and you may see some of those students’ writing on our blog before long!

Saudi students are competing for placement in American schools, and not only with prospective international students from across the globe – they’re also competing with one another. Here’s a look at the most popular fields of study among Saudi students, and how they’ve changed or remained constant in recent years.

Just over 40 percent of Saudi students in the U.S. are in the STEM fields – engineering, health professions, math/computer science, and physical/life sciences – which is identical to the average among all international students in the country.

(Note: Other on this chart includes education, fine/applied arts, humanities, social sciences, undeclared students and more.)

The Saudi student population bears some similarities to the Nigerian students we looked at last week. Among both groups, nearly a quarter of the students study engineering, which is slightly above the national average; and the percentage of students in business and management, while still high, has dropped beneath the national average over the past five years.

Where the Saudis are real outliers, though, is in the field of intensive English. One out of every four Saudis students in the U.S. during the 2013-2014 school year was in an intensive English program; only 5 percent of all international students in the U.S. were pursuing intensive English degrees. An ICEF Monitor article from 2012 reported that only 10 percent of the Saudi population speaks English, so it makes sense that international students would want to build their English skills before tackling full degrees. It also speaks to the breakdown of Saudi students in the U.S. at the academic level: last year, 50 percent were in undergrad, 20 percent were in grad school, and nearly 30 percent were classified as “other” – many of whom were probably enrolled in intensive English programs.

We want to hear from our Saudi students! What do you hope to study in the USA? Let us know below in the comments, write on our Facebook wall, or email us at

Data: Institute of International Education (2014), Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange.

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