"International students are seen very favorably as whole, as a way to diversify and really become a global institution," said Rachel Rubin, a lecturer at Boston's Emmanuel College and a specialist in higher education admissions policy.
"Also economically -- it's very advantageous for elite schools to admit international students because the bulk of them can pay full tuition," she added. As such, there is "a lot of favoritism" toward such students, as financial aid budgets have been cut over the last decade, she said.
Limits to international enrollment at U.S. universities
But while mainland Chinese students dominate international enrollment, they comprise a small fraction of the overall student body. This is even more the case when it comes to undergraduates, as most international students are graduates.
Harvard has "no quotas or limits for international students," according to Harvard spokesperson Kevin Galvin. "All students are considered in the same pool for all places in the incoming class, regardless of citizenship or the school they attend."
Rubin said she has not come across evidence of undergraduate quotas for international students but found it was standard practice for top-ranked schools to assess them as a separate pool rather than with the entire pool of applicants.
Some U.S. colleges and universities aim to recruit an undergraduate cohort with around 10% international students, according to Susan Joan Mauriello, founder of the Hong-Kong-based ApplyIvy consultancy, adding that the percentage depends on the strength of the applicant pool.
Bringing U.S. education to China
As U.S. campuses cannot fully support the demand from China, Lin sees an opportunity in bringing international education to China, beginning at the secondary level.
The trend can already been seen in U.S. universities establishing local degree-granting branches. Next September, New York University will welcome its first undergraduate cohort at its new Shanghai campus.
"Instead of sending Chinese students to secondary schools in America or other foreign countries, we want to bring international curriculum into China so they don't need to travel outside the country," Lin said. He helps local high schools incorporate international systems, such as the International Baccalaureate and A-Levels, alongside Chinese curriculum.
Students at these "Chinese versions of international schools" are typically Chinese nationals, who are restricted by government policy from attending full-fledged international schools, which cater to expatriates.
"My dream is to see international schools in China accessible to Chinese citizens and other nationalities together in the same school," Lin said. "That's the future."