The United States has cemented its position as the top host of international students globally, while at the same time sending more students to study abroad, according to the 2018 Open Doors Report that tracks the latest study abroad trends.

The report, released by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), highlights the latest trends for international students enrolled at higher education institutions in the United States in 2017/18 and for US students who studied abroad in 2016/17.

International students in the US

The number of international students in the United States increased by 1.5% to reach a new high of 1,094,792, breaking through the one-million barrier for the third straight year. Of these, 443,000 are undergraduate students, nearly 383,000 are graduate students, and about 203,500 are participants in the Optional Practical Training programme. International students contributed USD 42.4 billion to the US economy through tuition, room and board, and other expenses in 2017, according to the US Department of Commerce.

Read: How to Choose a Destination for Your Masters Studies

But while the US is still the most preferred destination for international students, the number of those enrolling for the first time at American colleges in autumn 2017 declined nearly 7% year-on-year. New foreign student enrolment in the US dropped by 3% during the 2016-17 school year. According to the report, the decline is caused not so much by the latest political developments as it is by stiffening competition from universities in other countries and the rising cost of college education in the US.

Top places of origin

China is again by far and away the country that sends the most students to the United States. Chinese students make up 33% of all international students in the country, followed by India, which accounts for 18% of the total. More than half of international students in the US come from China and India. South Korea is a distant third with a 5% share, followed by Saudi Arabia at 4.1%, and Canada at 2.4%. The list of the top places of origin witnessed some notable movements in 2017/18 such as a 15.5% annual decrease in the number of Saudi Arabian students and a 14% increase in the number of Nepali students. It is notable that European countries are nowhere near the top of this list. The European countries that send most students to the US over the period are the UK with 11,460 or 1% of the total, followed by Turkey with 10,500, and Germany with a little more than 10,000.

Top US institutions hosting international students

It is worth mentioning that one out of three international students in the US studies in California, New York, and Texas. Massachusetts has also proved a popular destination lately, with the number of international students in the state rising more than 8% year-on-year in 2017-18. The most popular institutions among international students are the New York University, the University of Southern California, the Northeastern University – Boston, and Columbia University. 

Primary source of funding

Another interesting aspect of the profile of the international students in the United States is what sources of funding they use. According to the report, about 65% rely on international funding sources and 35% on US funding sources. Nearly 60% say they are using personal or family funds, while the rest are either working to cover their educational expenses or receiving financial assistance from US colleges and universities. 

Top fields of study

Engineering, Business and Management, and Math and Computer Science remain top draws for international students in the US when it comes to preferred fields of study. Math and Computer Science courses are especially popular – a total of 186,000 students were enrolled in such programmes in 2017/18, up 11.3% year-on-year.. Legal Studies and Law Enforcement, another field gaining in popularity, witnessed a 10% increase in the number of enrolled international students.  

Read: Making the Decision to Study Abroad

US students studying abroad

The number of US students studying abroad for academic credit at their home institutions increased by 2.3% year-on-year to about 333,000 in 2016/17, attesting to the growing interest in international education among Americans. An additional 37,000 US students participated in non-credit work, internships, volunteering, and research abroad.

The majority of those who ventured abroad (65%) spent up to eight weeks or less in their host country, with only 2% staying long term for the academic or calendar year. About 33% spent up to two quarters abroad.

Top destinations

Europe remains the most favoured destination, hosting more than half of the US students studying abroad. With nearly 40,000 US students, or 12% of the total, the UK tops the list, followed by Italy with about 35,000 and Spain with 31,200. Elsewhere, Cuba saw the biggest increase in interest from US students, whose numbers in the country grew 21.8% to about 4,600. Greece, India, Mexico, and Australia were also among the countries most appealing to US students. In contrast, Argentina suffered the biggest decline (11%), followed by Costa Rica, France, and Denmark.

Top fields of study

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) courses remain the most popular among US students abroad, followed by Business, and Social Sciences. Foreign Language and International Studies programmes are also quite sought-after, attracting 7% of all US students abroad. Fine or Applied Arts courses are also popular, although they booked a 6% decline in enrolled students.

Allan E. Goodman, president and CEO of IIE says: “International students have more choices than ever before on where to pursue higher education.” The data corroborate his statement. The number of students who want to study abroad keeps growing and there is no reason to believe it will stop doing so in the foreseeable future.