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Record number of foreign students apply to UW, WSU

Sun., March 23, 2008

SEATTLE – Foreign students are applying in record numbers to the University of Washington and Washington State University, school officials report.

Applications from abroad are up 40 percent to join next fall’s UW freshman class, and at WSU foreign student applications have increased 32 percent.

Other universities around the U.S. are telling similar stories. They suspect the tumbling dollar.

“Our major (college) competitor has been the U.K. But the pound is so strong,” said Madeleine Green, vice president for international initiatives at the Washington, D.C.-based American Council on Education. “Every day, we get cheaper than Europe and the U.K.”

Currency fluctuations are even more important at state schools, where tuition is about three or four times higher for foreign students. State residents pay about $6,400 a year at the University of Washington, for example, while out-of-state and out-of-country applicants pay $22,100.

Nearly 2,200 people from outside the U.S. have applied to be freshmen at the UW next fall, along with another 7,500 from other states. A total of almost 20,000 people have applied for 5,500 slots. Freshman applications are up a record 12 percent, and unlike many colleges, the university limits students from other states and countries to 20 percent of its freshman class.

The falling dollar is not the only factor driving foreign applications, Green said. There is also huge demand from students in China and India, where leaders haven’t been able to build new colleges fast enough.

Jasmeet Singh, president of the UW’s Indian Student Association, said her e-mail box has been flooded this year with questions from India.

One UW student who made that move is Koshal Thirumalai, 21, a junior majoring in computer engineering.

“I definitely wanted to go to school in Washington or California,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to go anywhere else if you are into computers. That’s pretty much where the tech hubs are.”

In his home country, he applied to the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, but didn’t make the cut. Only about 1 percent of applicants are accepted, he said. So he moved to the U.S. and into the Redmond home of his older brother, who’d earlier landed a job with Microsoft.

“The biggest change was the attitude. The Asian culture is more family-oriented, and friends get together every day. Here, it was more like everyone was minding their own business,” he said. “But that’s good, in a way, when you get used to it. … I love the people here and the culture here.”

Like many foreign students, Thirumalai hopes a company in Washington will want to hire him and sponsor him for a work visa.

Philip Ballinger, UW’s director of admissions, said foreign students add a “wonderful diversity” to campus. “All our students are richer for it,” he said. “The best thing is that it all happens unconsciously, often during fun, extracurricular activity.”

He said the university doesn’t actively recruit freshmen from overseas and hasn’t done anything differently this year to contribute to the application spike.

“Even though the foreign-application pool has grown tremendously, it’s not a disadvantage to Washington students at all,” Ballinger pointed out. “We just can’t take all those nonresidents.”

Perhaps most striking in the numbers is the demand from China.

At WSU, freshman applications from China are up more than tenfold in the past three years, and China has now topped South Korea for the most international applications there. The UW has received nearly three times as many applicants from China this year as from any other foreign country.


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