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Foreign Students Compete for American College Seats

Updated on November 18, 2015

Colleges are Lowering Admission Rates

It's become more difficult than ever to get into a competitive college. Each fall, admissions offices around the country are flooded with applications. Many of them come from far away places, such as Saudi Arabia, India, Vietnam and China.

Right now, more than 800,000 foreign students are here in America, according to figures provided by the Institute for International Education, which seeks to advance the concept of studying abroad.

Students come to America to perfect their English and to earn a degree. This will give them a huge advantage, in the employment market, when they return home, if that's what they choose to do. However, oftentimes, they also end up staying in the United States after graduation.

American universities desperately want these students. They dispatch admissions officers to far-flung corners of the world, in hopes of finding a fresh batch of recruits to help fill the next freshman class. Even some cash-strapped community colleges are doing the same, as these institutes seek to capitalize on this lucrative market.

Foreigners are much better for the bottom line than home-grown students. That's because they pay the full price, something that's becoming increasingly out of reach for American families, and they usually don't require institutional aid. At public colleges, they're also charged an out-of-state rate, typically double the price of in-state tuition.

Although the official reason given for this foreign recruitment drive is to increase "diversity" on campus, there's also a huge financial incentive.

The Chinese Connection

Where do most of these students come from? Increasingly, the answer is China. Currently, nearly 200,000 Chinese undergraduates are enrolled in American colleges.

One institute with an overwhelming number of Chinese is the University of Washington in Seattle. The New York Times reported that 18 percent of its 2012 freshman class hailed from from foreign countries. In the vast majority of cases, it was the People's Republic of China. These students paid $28,000 in tuition, in addition to room and board. The in-state tuition rate, comparably, was around $8,242.

It's hard to imagine these foreigners are not taking seats that could be filled by Washington residents. As the state's flagship public university, it's fairly selective, admitting just 59 percent of applicants for approximately 6,000 seats in its freshman class.

The University of Iowa has also been in the news for recruiting large numbers of Chinese to its Iowa City campus. Currently, 10 percent of its students are from China.

Pasadena City College (PCC) in Pasadena, California is one of the largest two-year institutes of higher education in the country. It's also making an active bid to attract more Chinese students, according to a 2011 article that appeared in the Pasadena Star-News.

Whether PCC has the facilities to accommodate these students remains to be seen. Community colleges in California have seen record enrollments, along with complaints that it's nearly impossible to graduate in two years because of overcrowding and difficulty getting into the required courses.

Many foreign students come from China.
Many foreign students come from China. | Source

How Does this Affect American Applicants?

There's no doubt that foreigners are taking spots that could be filled by someone else, born in the United States. So recruitment of overseas applicants is not without controversy.

Colleges, however, contend that full-pay foreigners help to subside American students who, oftentimes, need a great deal of institutional aid to meet the total cost of attendance. Even public universities are becoming too pricey for the average American middle-class family, which can barely afford the $25,000 to $30,000 annual cost of attendance.

However, this also can be seen as a circular argument. Would colleges keep raising tuition, with no end in sight, if they weren't able to find so many foreign students willing to pay full price?

Since colleges and universities aren't like to change their marketing strategy, at least for the foreseeable future, it looks as if US-based applicants will need to adapt to the fact that college acceptance is much more competitive than it was a decade ago.

So, here are some tips for home-grown students to gain an admissions edge.

What Do You Think?

Do you believe American universities should accept so many foreigners?

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There's No Such Thing as a Safety School Anymore

At one time, if you had a minimum high school GPA and achieved a certain number on your SAT exams, you could pretty much count on admission to your local state college or public university. This has dramatically changed in recent years, as flagships, in particular, are increasingly selective. It has also become fashionable to add diversity to the student body. So, somebody from far away will be highly sought after.

The outrageous price tags of private institutes is another factor state colleges are enjoying unprecedented popularity. The cost of a four-year degree at some elite colleges now exceeds $240,000. Consequently, even wealthy families are taking another look at public education.

Lower-tiered state colleges are also turning away record numbers. Just a few years ago, these schools might have been considered "safeties."

Foreign Students in America

South Korea
Saudi Arabia
China sends more than 194,000 students to US colleges each year.
Right now more than 100,000 Indian students are studying in American colleges.
South Korea sends about 72,000 students to the US each year.
About 34,000 Saudi students now study on US campuses.
Many Americans cannot afford college.
Many Americans cannot afford college. | Source

Apply to a Wider Range of Schools

If you're a high school senior, and you want to attend a four-year college next year, you'll want to send applications to at least eight to ten schools. These should be a mix of "reach schools," in which your grades and SAT scores are a little lower than average, as well as "match schools," where you are in the ballpark.

In addition, if you're a good student, include three to four "safety" schools on your list. One "safety" school won't cut it anymore. Unless you're an above-average student, state colleges can no longer be considered "safeties."

Getting accepted is only half the battle. You'll also need to be able to pay for your education. In general, the higher your grades and test scores, the more institutional help you'll receive. You're also likely to receive more aid if you attend a school that's more of a "safety," rather than a "reach."

Foreign Students and SAT Revisions

Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About College Admissions

Choose Early Action

Applying before the November early action cutoff gives you a decided edge. It's often said that getting your application in early, figuratively, adds about a 100 points to your SAT score, in terms of your desirability as a student.

Most college admissions experts recommend applying non-binding early action. Note that this is radically different than single-choice early decision, which is a binding agreement that you'll attend if accepted.

Hold off on your application, though, if it's not ready. A well-done regular deadline application is much better than one that's put together hastily.

Early action improves admission chances.
Early action improves admission chances. | Source

Be Fastidious With Your Application

Given the fact that college acceptance is becoming increasingly difficult, especially at the more selective schools, you can't afford to make a glaring mistake. Your college application needs to be perfect, with no grammatical or typographical errors. Make sure one of your parents or another adult proofreads it carefully before you send it anywhere.

Also, pay close attention to your college essay. The admissions department is well aware that grade inflation is rampant in American high schools, and they are very accustomed to reading applications from straight-A students. An essay that jumps off the page will set you apart from the pack.


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Are You Applying to College This Year?

Submit a Comment
  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    Hi Peg, I agree that it is shameful, especially since a college education is needed in order to succeed in this country. Thanks so much for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    Hi Suzanne, it certainly is a shame and I feel so badly for this generation. A lot of students and their families are going to get caught in this.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    Hi FlourishAnyway, it is amazing how much of an "education" we're getting as parents as we explore the college process. Our children desperately need four-year-degrees unless they have a specific trade, such as plumber or carpenter. But no one needs to go deeply into debt to do this, because there are other ways if you don't have the money. I do hope these articles help someone. Thank you for reading.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    5 years ago from USA

    You have a great niche here. You've tackled the issue with finesse, offering superb advice. This hub is going to prove very helpful for hopeful college students and parents alike. You have certainly educated me, as I did not know some of the international student rates were so high. I never understood the motive until now. Of course, it all comes down to money! Voted up and more, plus pinning on a "College" board created because of your fine hubs.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    Eric, I agree. American students must now compete with wealthy foreigners for a seat at college. Thank you so much for reading.

  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 

    5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    Very Interesting. I think there are a host of problems with these current trends.


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