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February 5, 2015

Pitt seeks more international students

Pitt is putting more effort than ever into recruiting international undergraduates.

Lauren E. Panetti, senior assistant director in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid (OAFA), told the Jan. 20 meeting of the University Senate’s admissions and student aid committee that international students make up 3 percent of Pitt undergraduates on the Pittsburgh campus. “I would love that to increase to 5 or 6 percent but we can’t increase too quickly,” she said. “We have to have the resources,” including specific tutoring and counseling services for international students’ needs.

In 2013, OAFA representatives began visiting high schools in countries from which Pitt receives, or hopes to receive, international applicants to its undergraduate programs. Recruitment efforts also target individual students who already have taken the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), SAT or ACT and students who leave their contact information on the Pitt website, which has sections in several languages to serve applicants’ families.

While the number of international applications to Pitt has dropped over the last three years, the number of admissions and enrollees has remained fairly steady. Fall 2012 saw 2,778 international applications to Pitt, 570 admissions and 90 enrollees. In fall 2013 there were 2,340 international applications, 587 admissions and 119 enrollees, and for fall 2014, 1,883 international applications, 554 admissions and 108 enrollees.

Thus far for fall 2015 Pitt has received 912 international applications, admitted 174 and enrolled 1.

China is the source of the largest number of international applicants by far, accounting for 1,402 in fall 2014. Rounding out the top 10 international applicant source countries last year were South Korea, 72; India, 48; Saudi Arabia, 38; Taiwan, 28; United Arab Emirates, 21; Canada, 18; Nigeria, 15; Ecuador, 12, and Vietnam, 12.

China also was the chief source of the reduction in applicants last year. In 2013 Pitt received 1,870 applications from Chinese students, admitted 456 and welcomed 81 new students versus 2014, when there were 1,402 applications, 386 admissions and 57 enrollees from China.

The reduction in Chinese applications was not a phenomenon across U.S. universities on average, Panetti says; instead, Chinese applicants to American universities in total have increased 2-3 percent in recent years.

She is looking into the reasons for the decline of Chinese applicants to Pitt and whether any other universities are experiencing a similar drop.

“We’re not going to change our acceptance criteria” to admit more Chinese or other international students, she insisted, “because we put that in place for the students to succeed here.”

In general, test scores for foreign applicants have risen recently. In 2012, the average TOEFL score for applicants was 100 of a possible 120; thus far in 2015, it is 103. SAT math scores averaged 705 of 800 in 2012 and 738 for those accepted by Pitt halfway through the 2015 admissions period. For the SAT critical reading section, scores have risen from 545 to 606 out of 800 in the same period.


Pitt has rolling admissions, sending out responses daily. “In the admissions world, the kids usually go to the first school they hear from,” Panetti noted. But the University still gets most of its applications around the final deadline of April 1.

OAFA staffers have established relationships with high schools in China and elsewhere. Since 2013, OAFA reps have visited countries on the University’s top 10 applicant list as well as targets such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal and Oman.

“It takes about three years of going to those countries to make the connections and see the results we want to see,” she said.

Pitt also arranges personalized campus visits for international students already in the U.S. to attend high schools as part of foreign exchange programs. “We’re really boosting up this program,” she said.

Each fall semester, in addition to the main orientation program, there is a special student orientation for all international students concerning the use of student visas.

The most common majors for international students are engineering and business. “However, the trend has been changing,” Panetti said. “The students are actually now beginning to broaden out to arts and sciences.”

The retention rate for international undergraduates at Pitt was 92 percent during the last school year.

One difficulty for some international students: They pay out-of-state tuition and are not eligible for federal or state financial aid in U.S. public higher education institutions. But international students without family support can take campus jobs or off-campus paid internships. Some, especially those from China, come from upper-class families and are only children, making college more affordable, Panetti noted.

International transfer students — those applying to Pitt from their countries or from another university in the U.S — accounted for 259 international applications, 69 admissions and 40 enrollees in fall 2014. They must meet the same standards as incoming freshmen, Panetti said.

—Marty Levine