Stanford GSB | Ms. Top Firm Consulting
GMAT 710, GPA 3.7
Harvard | Mr. Green Energy Revolution
GMAT 740, GPA 3.4
INSEAD | Mr. Truth
GMAT 670, GPA 3.2
INSEAD | Mr. Powerlifting President
GMAT 750, GPA 8.1/10
Harvard | Mr. Mojo
GMAT 720, GPA 3.3
Ross | Mr. Law To MBA
GRE 321, GPA 3.77
Stanford GSB | Mr. Failed Startup Founder
GMAT 740, GPA 4
Wharton | Mr. African Impact
GMAT 720, GPA 3.8
Harvard | Mr. Sommelier
GMAT 710, GPA 3.62
Wharton | Mr. MBA When Ready
GMAT 700 (expected), GPA 2.1
Kellogg | Mr. Danish Raised, US Based
GMAT 710, GPA 10.6 out of 12
Kellogg | Mr. AVP Healthcare
GRE 332, GPA 3.3
HEC Paris | Mr. Strategy & Intelligence
GMAT 600 - 650 (estimated), GPA 4.0
Harvard | Ms. Analytical Leader
GMAT 760, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Technopreneur
GRE 328, GPA 3.2
Harvard | Mr. Schoolmaster
GMAT 710 (to re-take), GPA 3.5 (Converted from UK)
INSEAD | Mr. Sustainability PM
GRE 335, GPA 3.5
Cambridge Judge Business School | Ms. Story-Teller To Data-Cruncher
GMAT 700 (anticipated), GPA 3.5 (converted from Australia)
Kellogg | Mr. Operator
GMAT 740, GPA 4.17/4.3
INSEAD | Mr. Business Manager
GMAT 750, GPA 3.0
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Army Marketing
GRE 327, GPA 3.8
Harvard | Mr. STEM Minor
GMAT 740, GPA 3.78
HEC Paris | Mr. Productivity Focused
GMAT 700, GPA 3.6
MIT Sloan | Mr. Energy Transition
GMAT 760, GPA 3.95
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBB to PM
GRE 338, GPA 4.0
McCombs School of Business | Mr. CRE
GMAT 625, GPA 3.4
Emory Goizueta | Mr. Tech Engineer
GRE 310, GPA 4.0

12 Top Reasons Why International Students Continue To Fall In The U.S.

What’s behind the slump in international student enrollment in U.S. MBA programs? Some blame visa issues; others point to politics

For U.S. business schools, the canary in the coal mine became Harvard Business School‘s surprising announcement in early June that its incoming class of MBA students this fall will be more than 200 students short of its typical class size of 930 to 940 candidates. The primary reason: Many admitted students from outside the U.S. can’t get student visas in time to start the program or they face travel restrictions due to the pandemic that prevents them from getting to the U.S.

Enrollment of new international students this fall is expected to plunge 63% to 98% from 2018-2019 levels, according to a National Foundation for American Policy analysis. The more dire percentage in that range would place enrollment of new international students at its lowest level since the end of World War II.

Yet, it may surprise some that even before the COVID-19 outbreak that closed U.S. embassies and consulates across the world, making it impossible for many to get a student visa in a timely manner, the number one reason for declining international enrollment was already the visa issue. Last year, in fact, it was at the top of the 12 major reasons cited by higher education officials for the continuing decline in foreign students, according to a survey by the IIE Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact.


Among U.S. institutions experiencing declining new enrollment, an overwhelming majority listed the visa application process issues or delays/denials as the top reason for fall 2019 drops in new enrollment. The proportion of institutions citing this factor grew from 68.4% in fall 2017 to 86.9% in fall 2019. Even among institutions that reported that their new enrollment had increased or stayed the same, visa issues remained the top issue when asked about factors that may be affecting their institution (81.5%).

This coming year, when the organization fields its latest surveys, you can not only bet that visas will remain the number one issue for falling international enrollment. It should reach new records. After all, due to the pandemic, many U.S. embassies remain closed and routine services, including the processing of student visas, are still suspended. The State Department says visa services are being phased back in, but it hasn’t given dates for when it will reopen which consulates. And even if consulates in countries that send the largest numbers of students, such as India, reopen soon, there’s likely to be a big backlog of applications to be processed.

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business recently began offering internationals deferments due to the problem. “Despite our expectations that embassies would begin opening in July, many continue to offer limited visa services,” wrote MBA admissions chief Kirsten Moss in a July 13th email. “We recognize the stress this has caused for international students who need a visa to travel to Stanford, and we want to support you during this challenging time. We know that obtaining a visa is out of both your and Stanford’s control, and we also cannot predict when embassies will resume regular operations. Given this uncertainty, we are offering those admitted students who need a visa to travel to Stanford the opportunity to defer enrollment. If you request a deferral, you may choose to enroll either in the fall of 2021 or the fall of 2022.”


Yet, the challenge of getting a student visa is hardly the only reason why international enrollments keep falling in the U.S. The IEE survey found that among institutions reporting declines, an overwhelming majority (95.3%) said that multiple factors contributed to falling new student enrollment numbers. Institutions continued to cite visa application issues or delays/denials, the increasingly competitive global market of higher education options, the social and political environment, and the costs of U.S. higher education as the leading factors contributing to declines in new enrollment.

In every single one of these categories, the situation has only worsened. The reputation and prestige of international business schools have only increased, making them viable alternatives to U.S. options. It’s no accident that INSEAD, with its entering MBA classes on campuses in France and Singapore, recently reported a 57% surge in applications to its ten-month-long MBA program.

Trump’s penchant for creating headlines around the world on its anti-immigration policies have made even more internationals feel less than welcome in the U.S. The racial unrest, which exploded with the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, will only make more prospective international students fearful of coming to study in the U.S. And finally, costs to attend a U.S. business school not only remain high; they continue to climb.

Here are the top 12 reasons cited:

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.