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Grad Applications Dwindle As Fewer Foreigners Apply

By Kathy Dobson


The number of applications to MIT’s graduate programs has decreased by more than 1,500 this year with international applicants declining the most, possibly due to increased immigration restrictions and uncertainty in the economy.

There was a 12 percent decline in graduate applicants to MIT this year to 11,142 from 12,653 last year, said Elizabeth S. Johnson, associate director of admissions. Much of this decline was due to a fall in international applicants, which decreased by 17 percent; however, MIT also received 437 fewer domestic applications. These numbers do not include applicants from the Sloan School of Management or Master of Science in Engineering from within MIT, and some departments may still be accepting applicants.

Johnson said uncertainty in the economy was a possible reason for the reduction in applications. She said that students might be unclear what kind of degree they should get, and they may be aiming for a broader education.

Reduced funds to cut admissions

Several departments may have to decrease the number of students they admit this coming year because of a decrease in their funding.

Arthur C. Smith, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science said he expects the Course VI department to cut back on its admissions from last year because “we have more [students] than we can handle.”

Of the 2,475 applicants received, Smith said he hopes to admit about 165 of those though there is “pressure to admit more.” Smith cited the unusually high yield from last year, over 70 percent compared with the usual 60 percent, and the unavailability of financial support and supervision as reasons for a decline in admissions.

The Department of Material Science and Engineering has seen a decline of about 100 applicants from last year but also expects to reduce the number of admitted students because of a reduction in fellowship money available, said Kathleen R. Farrell, academic administrator of the Department of Material Science and Engineering.

These numbers are not final, however, since Course III is still accepting applications until March, Farrell said.

The Department of Mathematics will also accept fewer students because of a decline in the fellowships available, said Etingof. The number of students enrolled in pure and applied math is expected to be decreased to 107 next fall, while it is usually around 120.

International applicants down

The number of international applicants decreased by more than 1,000 this year.

“The number of applicants are down across the country,” said Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook, director and associate dean for international students, mentioning that the result is possibly because of an increase in the number and enforcement of regulations introduced after Sept. 11.

She said that foreigners may potentially perceive the United States as a less friendly environment because of the new regulations, and choose to go to other countries instead for their education. However, “we don’t have the evidence that that’s happening yet,” Guichard-Ashbrook said.

The increased difficulties for international students are a result of increased enforcement as well as new laws that were created with the passage of the Patriot Act and the formation of Department of Homeland Security, Guichard-Ashbrook said.

She noted several additional procedures that international students must go through to enter and remain in the United States, including fingerprinting and an interview.

The time it takes to obtain a visa has also increased significantly, making it extremely difficult for students to leave the country and return home.

It is unclear what effect the decline of international applicants will have on the diversity of students at MIT. As of November of last year, international students made up 36 percent of MIT graduate students and 25 percent of all students.

Some departments will feel the impact of the international student drop more than others. About half the students in Course XVIII are international.

“We do suffer a lot from these policies,” said Pavel I. Etingof, associate professor in the Department of Mathematics. “We are trying to help [the students] as much as we can” by making sure they can still register and bending the rules to help late arrivers, he said.

While graduate applications are down, Sandra Wellford, academic administrator of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, said that the number of international student applicants for the PhD program are up.

She said a possible reason for this difference is that “a lot of our PhD applicants are already in the United States” because they are currently attending other universities or working.

Effect varies in other departments

The institute-wide applicant decline has affected some departments more than others. The number of applicants to the Department of Mechanical Engineering dropped by 200 from last year, after increasing significantly in the past two years. This year’s numbers were “pretty standard,” said Joan Kravit, senior administrative assistant in the mechanical engineering department.

According to an e-mail from Barbara E. Lechner, academic administrator in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Course XVI saw virtually no change in the number of applications it received, despite a 29 percent drop in international applicants.

The number of people applying to the Department of Physics decreased by 14 percent from last year, from 707 to 610, with a 19 percent reduction in international applicants according to an e-mail from Nadia Halhoul, graduate administrative assistant in the physics department.

The Department of Architecture saw a decline from 684 to 570 applicants, said Donna M. Beaudry, an administrative assistant in the Department of Architecture. This decline was a result of about an equal decrease in both international and domestic applicants.