Just what are the global aspirations of high school students in India?

India Map

As we look forward to the rapidly approaching 2016 editions of NAFSA, International ACAC (formerly known as OACAC), NACAC, and the College Board Forum, I thought I would take the opportunity to look back at data presented about India during previous years. I think most of us now know that 2015 was a banner year for Indian undergraduate students coming to the U.S. with a 30% increase over 2014, according to Open Doors.

At the 2015 College Board Forum, Clay Hensley, Doug Christiansen, Angel Perez and Bryant Priester put together a fantastic set of slides on emerging opportunities for international student recruitment. In particular, I am curious about what re-examining the various SAT statistics might mean to North American colleges keen to see more undergraduate applications from India.

Travelling recently on the KIC UnivAssist Spring India Tour to Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore with side trips to Chennai and Kolkata, I heard over and over again that increasing numbers of Indian high schools students are considering the U.S. for their undergraduate studies. And indeed, looking at the data, in this case the five-year compounded annual growth rate of SAT Reasoning Exam takers (2010-15), India was actually the fastest growing global region at +14%; the Middle East and East Asia trailed significantly at some 9% (a number that may drift even lower with the recent move by the Saudi leadership to cut scholarships, but that’s another topic for another post).

What’s perhaps even more noteworthy is that students from India taking the SAT are sending their scores to over 1,272 institutions across the U.S. This sizeable number implies that Indian students (and families) have both an openness to less-known institutions and tendency to look beyond commonly-accepted quality indicators (read “rankings”). Prospective undergraduate students from China on the other hand, averaged a third more SAT score sends per student (9.9 vs. 6.7) but targeted a substantially reduced set of colleges (1,063). By the way, prospective applicants from both countries were more open than those from Turkey, which forwarded scores to an average of 8.1 institutions among a total of just 554 colleges and universities.

So what does this all mean for the admissions and recruitment community? First, if we assume that the SAT is a good proxy for interest in U.S. undergraduate programs, India may surprise us. I have a hunch that other metrics, such as the growing number of schools offering IB, CIE and other various international curricular options will confirm this hypothesis, and I hope to share that soon. Second, given India’s size, geographic diversity and demographic profile, U.S. colleges and universities have a current window of opportunity where strategies that communicate each institution’s unique strengths, history and culture to “best-fit” students may translate to growing numbers of students from India on campus.


MEET US IN DENVER: We will be at the NAFSA 2016 Annual Conference in May, and hope to see you there! Schedule a time to chat with us — we would love to learn about your internationalization plans and share our latest news with you in person.

David is an established leader in the field of international education with a focus on the acceleration of student mobility from Asia and cross-campus comprehensive internationalization.

One Reply to “Just what are the global aspirations of high school students in India?”

  1. David thank you for this piece. You have given us a great overview of some of the big issues in India. thank you.

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