In the globalized world, the benefits of international experience are apparent. Multinational companies with branches in the US and American companies with global clientele equally value graduates who have a broader understanding of the world. Plus, studying abroad signals that you aren't afraid to go outside your comfort zone. Even a few weeks can enrich your student experience, give you valuable skills, and add points in your favor in the eyes of future employers.
Although the USA is the most popular country for studying abroad, the reverse doesn't seem to be true. The United States hosts over a million international students who make up 5.5% of the US student body. Meanwhile, about 350,000 domestic students (only 1,77%) participate in the study abroad programs and student exchange partnerships between schools. This number is slightly higher if we consider 38,401 US students who travel abroad for non-credit activities, such as volunteering, unpaid internships, and research. Yet it's still below 2%.
It is also essential to add that American students stay in their host countries for a short term. Most of them spend a few weeks to a semester abroad earning academic credits towards their domestic degrees. Students who decide to earn bachelor's degree outside of the US are extremely rare. That is despite tuition costs in other countries often being only a fraction of the US price and the federal financial aid available for Americans enrolled in overseas colleges. Why? The reasons include the lack of information on overseas studying opportunities, the hassle of foreign degree evaluation, doubts about international degree's perceived value and popularity with employers, etc.
However, this should change in the nearest future thanks to The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act introduced back in 2019. Its goal is to make studying abroad both appealing and accessible for all American students, including low-income, Indigenous, and students with disabilities. NAFSA Executive Director Esther Brimmer said that the bill will "open opportunities for college students to learn about the world and gain insights that will help them thrive in the future."
Hopefully, that will help to transform study abroad from a luxury that only privileged students could afford to an essential educational experience open to students from diverse backgrounds.
Interestingly, female students participating in study-abroad programs account for about two-thirds of the total number. This ratio stands year after year. It started long before women outnumbered men in the enrollment figures. It stays the same even now when the most popular majors for going overseas are STEM and Business that traditionally enjoy high popularity among male students.
Samantha Brandauer, the executive director of Center for Global Study and Engagement in Dickinson College, suggested in her interview to The Atlantic, "Part of this is a messaging problem, because the way we talk about study abroad as a transformative experience just doesn't resonate with college-age men. They don't want to be transformed."
Moreover, the percentage of students participating in study-abroad programs varies wildly from school to school. For example, some colleges require their students to "study away" to complete their program. Others are just more encouraging than the rest, while some don't even offer any student mobility programs.
Despite current travel restrictions preventing many students from their planned college trips abroad, things are going to return to normal one day. Until then, you have time to consider your destination. Here is the list of the most popular countries that US students chose to study in, based on the 2018-2019 school year data.
1. The United Kingdom
The UK consistently tops the list of popular destinations among US students, welcoming 39,500 of them. However, it also is the second most popular country for student mobility globally, which is not surprising. With some of the world's best universities, high quality of courses, strong employability rates, incredibly rich history, and diversity, the United Kingdom is also a home of the most widely spoken language in the world – English. So if you want to hone the skills of an eloquent paper writer, take another look at the UK and the University of Oxford in particular – the second oldest in the world. However, let not Oxford's great literary legacy cloud your judgment. Remember that Sir Stephen Hawking is also among the alumni.
Italy is growingly popular among the US students – about 39,000 Americans study here and for a reason. Situated in Italy is the University of Bologna. It is the oldest university in the world (est. 1088.) Among its alumni, there are executives, politicians, and… three popes. It also gave its name to the European student mobility program that keeps transforming higher education. Italy is a popular destination for American students pursuing degrees in Art, Architecture, Humanities, Fashion Design, Interior Design, Graphic Design, and many more. Apart from that, Italy is fascinating, picturesque, sunny, and welcoming – an absolute win-win.
Home to some of the oldest European universities, such as the University of Salamanca (est. 1134) and the University of Barcelona (est. 1450), Spain boasts a well-organized and straightforward education system. It also appeals to 33,000 American students because of the low living costs compared to other European countries. Let's not forget that the US is the largest Spanish-speaking country globally, ahead of Spain itself, so the language barrier is less of a problem. Year-round fantastic weather and beautiful beaches must have contributed to Spain's place in this rating, too – just a wild guess.
Stay in France is a quintessentially European experience for many American students. However, apart from Paris's continental charm, France has many fascinating regions and lots to offer. The highest-ranking French schools, Sorbonne University and the University of Paris, are among the oldest in Europe and the world. Education costs are quite reasonable, too, especially at public universities. Tuition subsidized by the government is the same for domestic and international students alike. Plus, international students can get state help with the rent and are allowed to work while they study. France is home to many international brands. No wonder most popular degrees include International Business and Management, Fashion and Luxury Retail, and other business majors. In demand are also Design, Art, Architecture, Sustainable Innovation, and Computer Science.
Germany enjoys steady popularity, currently hosting over 370,000 international students, 6,800 of whom are Americans. It is the fifth most popular destination for US students due to many highly ranked and reasonably priced (sometimes completely free) universities and strong employability prospects. Among the best schools are the Technical University of Munich, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, University of Heidelberg, Free University of Berlin, University of Freiburg, and many more. From Fine Arts to Quantitative Risk Analysis – you can find anything here. If you are fluent in German, the number of bilingual degrees that combine courses taught in English with the country's native language adds hundreds more to the list.
I won't lie, I have a soft spot for the Emerald Isle, so its growing popularity among US students doesn't surprise me at all. Apart from its rich culture, literary tradition, stunning landscapes, and a motherload of tourist attractions, Ireland is going strong on degrees in Business Analytics, Big Data, Computer Science, Cyber Security, Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Software Engineering, and Digital Marketing. They don't call Ireland the Silicon Valley of Europe for nothing. Pharmaceuticals and Finances are also prominent. The top 3 universities in Ireland are Trinity College Dublin, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, and University College Dublin, alma mater to author James Joyce. Part of Ireland's allure for Americans is English-taught classes and robust support structures for international students.
China's top school is Tsinghua University offers many English-taught programs in Chinese politics, International relations, Engineering, and Global Business Journalism. Most other schools teach solely in English. China also provides plenty of scholarships. As a result, the country's popularity as a study-abroad destination is the fastest growing in the world. Being an economic juggernaut, a vast land of otherworldly beauty, and one of the oldest civilizations in the world with unique culture, China attracts students for reasons as varied as the country itself. However, most students studying in China see their future connected to it and take time to learn the language.
Another Anglophone on this list, Australia is naturally inviting to US students. Low living and tuition costs, scholarships, and work permit that goes with student visa seal the deal. Great beaches, nice weather, and rich party life make it irresistible. Australia's top-ranking school, the University of Melbourne, offers bachelor's degrees in Biomedicine, Oral Health, Science, Environments, Agriculture, Fine arts, Design, and Music. Other popular courses in Australia include Tourism and Hospitality Management, Psychology, Earth Science, Architecture, Accountancy, and Actuarial Science (risk-assessment).
Although the number of US students choosing to study in Japan is relatively small, it's growing. Seen as a global center of tech innovation, Japan is popular with students majoring in Science and Technology and is predicted to top this list in the nearest future. Another Japan's attractive feature is safety: the crime rate is one of the lowest in the world, and health care is very affordable. Japan's top college, the University of Tokyo, has many campuses all over the country. Therefore, students get an opportunity to see diverse landscapes, experience one of the world's most dynamic cultures, and of course, savor unique cuisine.
10. Costa Rica
The number of US students studying in Costa Rica has decreased by 4%. Still, the country managed to keep its position in the top 10. The highest-ranking school, Universidad de Costa Rica, is also the country's oldest and the largest (around 40,000 students across all campuses.) It offers bachelor programs in Arts and Humanities, Business and Social Sciences, Medicine and Health, Science and Technology, and Engineering. You should consider spending time studying in Costa Rica, at least for the sake of your mental health. With stress levels soaring in American students, it would benefit you to learn the concept of "pura vida" Costa Ricans abide by. Tropical rainforests, beautiful beaches, and vibrant nightlife will also help.
If, for some reason, the perspective of going abroad doesn't entice you, there is always a chance of broadening your horizons in the comfort of your home. Read our blog about the rising prestige of online degrees here.