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I've always wondered how professors and admission committees in the US think about international applicants for doctoral programs in the US.

Skills:
Why are international applicants selected over (I believe sufficient) domestic applicants at all? Are there some skill differences?

Funding:
Isn't it more expensive and risky to provide >5 years funding to an international student than a domestic one? When do they think an international applicant trustworthy and appropriate for funding their studies?

I am wondering specifically about PhD programs (not Master etc) because some programs offer funding before even knowing the student in person which seems risky because if I were an advisor it would be difficult to evaluate a student's value for my lab before having actually worked with her.

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To answer your specific questions, schools are generally trying to admit the best applicants (who will choose to come), not just a group of people of the right size over a certain threshold. So if an international student appears to be a stronger candidate (evaluated the same way any other applicant would be), the international applicant is likely to be preferred.

Graduate students are generally funded based on packages that don't take into account where the student's from, so it's not generally more expensive. (International students may be less likely to accept because the funding is less likely to enough, but that's no reason not to admit them.)

Finally, why would international applicants be any less trustworthy or appropriate than domestic ones?

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    Regarding your last point, while local students can certainly be untrustworthy, cheating is much more prevalent amongst students from certain countries. I've been to places where the students didn't even know that paying for LOIs and LORs was cheating, because it was the most common way to prepare a US application. I suspect this practice is very rare among local students, because it is their culture, and their rules of social compliance. – Village Sep 8 '14 at 22:50
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    There can be exceptions to your second paragraph. I have heard that at certain public universities, when a student receives funding, the student's tuition is charged to the department's budget, at the rate they would normally pay. Tuition for residents of the state is much lower. For domestic students from other states, they can become state residents after a year, making them cheaper for the department. International students can never become residents, so they are more expensive for the department. – Nate Eldredge Sep 9 '14 at 1:15
  • @Village: It's interesting that of all things that one might cheat in, you list letters of recommendation - an artifact that is indeed not produced by the applicant themselves, and for which the applicant thus depends on someone else's willingness to create. – O. R. Mapper Sep 15 '16 at 21:03
  • @Village Certainly, those problems do exist, but it's far from being ubiquitous among foreign students. – reirab Feb 2 '17 at 16:36

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