Why do Indian students prefer Physical Sciences over Engineering?

Why do Indian students prefer Physical Sciences over Engineering?

According to the ETS data, the Percentage of students in the United States who were keen to pursue engineering has dropped in the last 10 years from 34 to 17. However, the percentage of students who are keen to pursue physical sciences has risen from 27 to 37.

Among Indian students preparing to pursue graduate studies in the US, physical sciences have replaced engineering as the most popular choice of degree. According to the data released by ETS, the percentage of Indian students who are taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is shrinking for engineering. However, at the same time, the most popular choice of degree is physical sciences, which includes subjects such as physics, chemistry and earth sciences.

It is quite necessary to note that through this data only those test-takers who have specified the graduate major that they are intending to do at the time of the examination are reflected. The Graduate Route Examination (GRE) is an admission exam, mainly in the United States, that forms a gateway for post-graduate programs, also called a graduate in the US. GRE scores are also accepted by higher education institutions in the UK, Australia, Canada, and Ireland. A common criterion is provided to the universities so that applicants from all over the world can be compared.

Change in GRE dynamics

The GRE is conducted by Educational Testing Services (ETS). The ETS is headquartered in the US. It assesses proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics. According to the ETS data, the Percentage of students in the United States who were keen to pursue engineering has dropped in the last 10 years from 34 to 17. However, the percentage of students who are keen to pursue physical sciences has risen from 27 to 37.

Manya – The Princeton Review, which is a study abroad consultancy has analyzed this trend. According to them, this trend can be attributed to the fact that in America, GRE scores are more likely to be required by physical sciences graduate programs as compared to engineering. For Instance, the University of California, Los Angeles, requires GRE for physics and chemistry graduate programs. However, it does not require GRE mandatorily for engineering majors such as computer engineering, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, etc.

The Open Doors Report compiled by the US State Department and the non-profit Institute of International Education has corroborated the decline of engineering against the rise of physical sciences. This shows that the proportion of Indian students who have been pursuing engineering fell from 38.8% to 29.6% from 2009-10 to 2021-22 respectively, in the United States.

Better Jobs for Engineering graduates in India

The Director of IIT Hyderabad stated that in India, BTech graduates are landing good and highly-paid jobs. They are earning an annual package of Rs 50 lakh just after college. It has now become normal. However, two decades ago, this wasn’t the case. Due to such growth in India, it might not be possible to find as many Indians studying engineering in the United States as was the case in the past. In fact, due to job opportunities being not as good in the area of Sciences, the could be a possible increase in Indians pursuing master’s degrees in sciences in the US.

Increase in students choosing Business Studies

Apart from this, more students are choosing to pursue further studies in business. Only 1,697 people took the GRE in 2012-13, intending to pursue a master’s degree in business. However, this number more than quadrupled, in 2021-22, hitting 7,912. The number of those seeking humanities and arts subjects in the GRE was already very minimal. This has declined further from 0.3% in 2012-13 to just 0.1% of test-takers in 2021-22.

A decline in Life Sciences

Moreover, the case is similar for life sciences. These students made up 5% of the test takers in 2012-13. Now, this has reached 2%. The Associate Vice President of Global Higher Education at ETS said that, apart from the broader societal and economic factors, such as the impact of Covid-19, this trend can be due to the fact that GRE is no longer required for some biomedical science programs.

This shift away from the GRE for life sciences can be partially explained through a survey conducted by the University of North Carolina, Charlotte and the University of Vanderbilt in 2017. The survey has found a limited correlation between success in biomedical PhD programs and GRE scores. As a result, as a part of admission processes, medicine, biology, and associated faculties are less likely to consider GRE scores.

Moreover, According to The Open Doors Report, only a fewer students are inclined to pursue life sciences. The number of Indians enrolled in life sciences programs fell from 10% to 6.5% from 2013-14 to 2021-22 respectively. Above all, it has been stressed by the ETS that the data at hand consider only graduate majors that are intended at the time of testing. However, once enrolled, subjects may change.


At United States Universities, Indians make up the second-largest cohort of international students. India sent 199,182 students to America, in 2021-22. This shows an increase of 18.9% from the previous year. Significant growth has been seen in the number of graduate students, in particular. In 2021-22, there was a 48% increase to 1,02,024. This correlates with the increasing popularity of the GRE in India. This past testing year, in India, a record 1,11,476 took the exam. This is more than double that in China.

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