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International Students in U.S. and American Students Abroad at All-Time High

November 14, 2013

A record high 819,644 international students studied in the United States during the 2012-13 academic year, according to the 2013 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. The number of U.S. students studying abroad also reached a new high, topping 283,000.

International Students in the United States. The 2013 numbers indicate a seven-year expansion in the number of international students at American colleges and universities—a total increase of 40 percent compared to a decade ago. International students are defined as non-immigrant individuals in the United States on temporary visas to study at the postsecondary level. They represent slightly under four percent of total U.S. enrollment at the graduate and undergraduate levels combined, contributing an estimated $24 billion to the U.S. economy annually. Most international students—81 percent of whom are undergraduates—pay for college from family or personal funds.

China and India lead the way in places of origin of international students, with 235,597 and 96,754 students at U.S. higher education institutions, respectively. South Korea, in third place, has more than 70,600 students in the United States.

The growth in international student enrollment has come from Brazil, China, Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, with each country increasing its outbound student numbers by more than 20 percent. Notably, Saudi Arabia had a more than 30 percent jump in students coming to the United States this year at 44,566, up from last year's 34,139. Colleges and universities in California, Massachusetts, and New York host 32 percent of all international students.

Forty-two percent of international students in the United States are pursuing studies in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math), and 22 percent are earning business and management degrees.

U.S. Students Abroad. The number of U.S. students who studied abroad moved up by three percent from the 2011-12 academic year. The United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, and China lead the list of destinations, hosting 32 percent of U.S. students studying internationally. The number of students studying in Japan last year increased 28 percent, and more headed to Latin American destinations as well, with Costa Rica, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru entering the list of top 25 destination countries.

Students abroad most likely study in the fields of social science, STEM, and business, with a 10 percent increase in STEM students going overseas last year. The vast majority of American students study abroad for one semester or less, with fewer than 20,000 students staying for the entire 2012-13 academic or calendar year.

The Institute of International Education publishes the Open Doors report annually, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Further information and details related to the Open Doors report.


Mary Bachinger
Director, Tax Policy