Attitudes and Perceptions of Prospective International Students from Vietnam


Vietnam is currently the fastest-growing market of international students coming to U.S. colleges and universities to study. Over the past decade, the number of Vietnamese students in U.S. higher education has increased more than sixfold, from just over 1,200 students in 1997/98 to almost 13,000 in 2008/09 (fig. 1).  A large part of this increase has occurred in the past three years, with fall 2008 showing an increase of 45 percent, following increases of 45 percent and 31 percent the previous two years. These continuous, large increases have placed Vietnam among the top ten places of origin of international students in the U.S., moving from 20th place in 2006/07 to 13th place in 2007/08 to 9th place in 2008/09. At community colleges, Vietnam is now the third most popular place of origin, after South Korea and Japan, and ahead of China and Mexico. (from the introduction)

Correction: Shortly after this briefing paper came out in February 2010, IIE released updated information showing that Vietnam now ranks 2nd, surpassing Japan and closing in on S. Korea, as I noted in this recent blog post.  The briefing paper reveals what most of those of us who are familiar with Vietnam know – that the U.S. is the first choice destination for overseas study.  Below is a summary of the positives and negatives from the survey.

Some Positive Impressions of the US

  • scientifically and technologically advanced country
  • wide range of schools and programs 
  • excellent higher education system 
  • fun place to study 
  • welcomes international students
  • offers many scholarships

Some Negative Impressions of the US

  • high cost (tuition/cost of living)
  • difficult or complicated visa procedures
  • dangerous or violent society
  •  long or complicated school application process
  • too many cultural differences

Keep in mind that this is not a scientifically valid survey but rather an impressionistic one.  It was conducted using SurveyMonkey and mass e-mails to members of IIE-Vietnam’s student databases in its Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi offices. Here are two examples of results that are skewed by this unrepresentative sampling:

1) 75% of the respondents were interested in pursuing graduate study and/or professional studies. Reason? Most of the respondents were already enrolled in a university. In reality, 72% of all Vietnamese students in the U.S. are undergraduates, the majority of those beginning their studies at a community college. This means that high school students, who comprise most U.S.-bound Vietnamese students, are underrepresented in the survey. 

2) About half of respondents indicated that the EducationUSA advising center or embassies/consulates and higher education fairs/info session were among their top three sources (51% and 48%, respectively).  Reason?  The students asked to complete the online survey were already among those using IIE-Vietnam’s EducationUSA advising services and attending higher education fairs, etc. In reality, most students and parents are getting their information from sources other than EducationUSA and the U.S. Mission.

You can download the Briefing Paper 4 here.

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