Penn’s Strong Global Community Attracts Growing Number of International Students

During the past five years, the number of international students at the University of Pennsylvania has seen record growth at the undergraduate and the graduate level.

Penn is among the top destinations for international students from around the world seeking to study in the United States. Currently, the University hosts 5,751 international students from 137 different countries, including China, Japan, Thailand, Canada, Taiwan and Singapore.  

“Having more international students adds to the diversity and enrichment of Penn’s campus,” says Ezekiel J. Emanuel, the vice provost for global initiatives.

He credits Penn’s strong undergraduate schools and the quality of the University’s programs that encourage interdisciplinary studies. These factors present a unique undergraduate experience that’s advantageous for international students, he says.

Emanuel also attributes the strong level of interest to Penn’s long-standing tradition of openness with international students and its concerted effort to help them make a successful transition to campus life.

“Frequently, when international students come to a university, they feel like they are not a part of the community but not here at Penn,” Emanuel says. “That’s part of our strategic plan –- to find new ways to create a welcoming, inviting atmosphere and to help students adjust.”

Eric Furda, the dean of undergraduate admissions, says Penn has actively recruited internationally for 35 years.

“The diversity and size of our undergraduate international student body, the University’s commitment to being a global institution, as well as its extensive global alumni network, are other key reasons that students choose Penn,” says Furda.

These long-term strategic international outreach initiatives have led to a 55 percent increase in the number of international applications to the undergraduate programs at Penn during the last five years.

Senior Nikita Patel, who is majoring in economics and minoring in French, says hearing that Penn had a lot more international students than its Ivy League peers was important. She is Indian but was born and raised in Dubai.

“I fell in love with the campus when I had the opportunity to visit,” Patel explains. “There is such a variety of cultural groups which provide a solid platform for cross-cultural dialogue regarding campus-related as well as international issues at Penn.”

As the president of the Assembly of International Students, Patel helps other international students make the transition to Penn, encouraging them to take advantage of networking opportunities.

The growth seen in the international student population at Penn easily outpaces the national increase in undergraduate and graduate students coming from across the globe to study in the U.S.

There are now 40 percent more international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities than 10 years ago, according to the 2013 Open Doors Report on International Exchange. The report, published annually by the Institute of International Education in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, says that in the 2012-13 academic year the number of international students at colleges and universities in the U.S. grew by seven percent.

Penn is the only Ivy League institution to be recognized in the Open Doors report’s list of the top 20 institutions both in attracting international students studying in the U.S. and in students who are studying abroad.

For example, the School of Social Policy & Practice at Penn has seen the number of international students applicants triple in the last five years. And in the last 10 years, the School has seen a five-fold increase in the number of international students.

“We have made a concentrated effort to recruit international students,” says Mary Mazzola, the associate dean of enrollment management and global outreach at the School.

She says another aspect of Penn’s appeal to international students is its location.

Philadelphia has all that international students are looking for –- culture, history, affordability, convenient transportation, proximity to other major cities and many different neighborhoods,” says Mazzola.

Mazzola has studied the internationalization of graduate and professional programs at Penn.

“I truly believe that we have an obligation to prepare students to work in a global society and address global social problems.,” Mazzola says. “Having students from around the world study at Penn helps both domestic and international students gain a global perspective.”

Penn’s Wharton School, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Graduate School of Education also enroll large numbers of international students.

At Wharton, 19 percent of the undergraduates and 38 percent of the graduate and professional students come from outside of the U.S.  In Engineering, 18 percent of the undergraduate student body and 64 percent of the graduate students are international. And GSE has seen international applicants more than double in the last five years.

To better serve the growing international student population, GSE is working with staff from across the University on intercultural initiatives designed to ease the transition of its international students to life in the U.S. The programs range from “Communicating Across Cultures” and “The Art of Small Talk” to “Cooking Pasta 101” and “A Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner.”

Alisa Melekhina, a third-year Law School student, is also helping her peers to assimilate. She founded the Eastern European Law Students Association to serve as a support system for other Eastern European law students. The group has 50 members.

Born in Simferopol, Ukraine, Melekhina immigrated to the U.S. after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She has lived in Philadelphia for most of her life and appreciates Penn’s commitment to diversity.

“International students are a valued resource for learning about social and professional culture abroad,” says Melekhina. “They bring a unique sense of culture to the student body.”

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