Moulshri Mohan was an excellent student at one of the top private high schools in New Delhi. When she applied to colleges, she received scholarship offers of $20,000 from Dartmouth and $15,000 from Smith. Her pile of acceptance letters would have made any ambitious teenager smile: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard and the University of Virginia.
But because of her 93.5% cumulative score on her final high school examinations, which are the sole criteria for admission to most colleges here, Ms. Mohan was rejected by the top colleges at Delhi University, her family's first choice and one of India's top schools.
"Daughter now enrolled at Dartmouth!" her mother, Madhavi Chandra, wrote, updating her Facebook page. "Strange swings this admission season has shown us. Can't get into DU, can make it to the Ivies."
Mohan, 18, is now one of a surging number of Indian students attending American colleges and universities, as competition in India has grown formidable, even for the best students. With about half of India's 1.2 billion people under the age of 25, and with the ranks of the middle class swelling, the country's handful of highly selective universities are overwhelmed.
This summer, Delhi University issued cutoff scores at its top colleges that reached a near-impossible 100% in some cases. The Indian Institutes of Technology, which are spread across the country, have an acceptance rate of less than 2% - and that is only from a pool of roughly 500,000 who qualify to take the entrance exam, a feat that requires two years of specialised coaching after school.
"The problem is clear," said Kapil Sibal, the government minister overseeing education in India, who studied law at Harvard. "There is a demand and supply issue. You don't have enough quality institutions, and there are enough quality young people who want to go to only quality institutions."
American universities and colleges have been more than happy to pick up the slack. Faced with shrinking returns from endowment funds, a decline in the number of high school graduates in the United States and growing economic hardship among American families, they have stepped up their efforts to woo Indian students.
Representatives from many of the Ivy League institutions have begun making trips to India to recruit students and explore partnerships with Indian schools. Some have set up offices in India, partly aimed at attracting a wider base of students.
Indians are now the second-largest foreign student population in America, after the Chinese, with almost 105,000 students in the United States in the 2009-10 academic year, the last for which comprehensive figures were available.
While wealthy Indian families have been sending their children to the best American schools for years, the idea is beginning to spread to middle-class families, for whom Delhi University has historically been the best option.