Each year, nearly one million international students enroll in US undergraduate and graduate programs. There are so many colleges and universities in the US, though, that it can be tough to know where to start, especially if you're applying from out of the country.
In this post, I'll lay out some of the best universities for international students. Whether you're looking for generous financial aid, large international populations, or special international programs, we've got you covered.
Finally, I'll lay out the five most important steps you need to take if you want to go to school in the US, straight from the State Department.
Let's get started!
What Makes a School Good for International Students?
Applying to college is stressful for students all over the world. If you're looking to attend an international school, particularly one that's located in the US, there are a few additional, unique obstacles to worry about:
- Funding your education. US schools are notoriously expensive, and international students aren't eligible for many forms of American financial aid.
- Finding an environment of your peers. Although some students may not be concerned with finding a group of international peers at a US school, many may feel more comfortable with a student body composed of a healthy mix of domestic and international students. You may also find more resources, student groups, and activities geared towards students from outside the US at these schools.
- Achieving comfort and success in a very new environment. As an international student, you may be looking for specialized social, academic, professional, and language support. Moving to a new country is stressful—it's a good idea to think about what support systems would help you transition.
Although international students may have other concerns when applying to US schools, I think the above points are the most universal.
The rest of this post will list the types of schools that address these problems, i.e. the best colleges for international students. I'll list the schools that give generous financial aid to foreign nationals, boast large percentages of international students, and offer special support to non-US citizens. Your own priorities will dictate which type of school might serve you best.
Let's get to the good stuff—which schools should you actually start checking out?
Cheapest Colleges for International Students
International students aren't eligible for federal financial aid, a big source of funding for students here in the US. Unless a school's total Cost of Attendance isn't an issue for you, you may want to consider institutions that allocate large amounts of their own financial aid money to international students. A school's generosity may help cover the deficit left by a lack of access to federal aid.
A little background information before we get started: attending college in the US is expensive. In fact, the US one of the most expensive places in the world to get a college education. And just because a school offers financial aid doesn't mean you won't end up paying quite a bit in the long run—it's common for students in the US to be saddled with significant student loan debt. If cost is a concern for you, the following list of cheapest colleges for international students should be a great place to start your school search. They all awarded financial aid to at least 50 students from abroad for the 2018-2019 school year.
If you're worried about spending a lot of cash on your degree, you will want to look for schools that try to attract international students with financial incentives.
A final disclaimer: the schools below are all pretty high-ranked institutions. Schools like this tend to have larger endowments and more money to give to students via financial aid. You'd have to be a very competitive applicant to gain admission to many of these schools (perhaps even more competitive than a similar domestic applicant). Click the name of the school to get more information about admissions statistics.
Columbia University, New York, NY
- Number of international students who received aid: 254
- Average aid amount awarded: $68,718
Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY
- Number of international students who received aid: 86
- Average aid amount awarded: $67,085
Duke University, Durham, NC
- Number of international students who received aid: 213
- Average aid amount awarded: $66,754
Amherst College, Amherst, MA
- Number of international students who received aid: 135
- Average aid amount awarded: $66,093
Williams College, Williamstown, MA
- Number of international students who received aid: 94
- Average aid amount awarded: $66,066
Pomona College, Claremont, CA
- Number of international students who received aid: 78
- Average aid amount awarded: $64,723
Trinity College, Hartford, CT
- Number of international students who received aid: 164
- Average aid amount awarded: $64,705
Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
- Number of international students who received aid: 254
- Average aid amount awarded: $64,516
Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA
- Number of international students who received aid: 89
- Average aid amount awarded: $64,514
Stanford University, Stanford, CA
- Number of international students who received aid: 77
- Average aid amount awarded: $61,052
Colleges With the Largest International Student Presence
If you're applying to schools in the US, financial aid is likely not your only concern. You might also be wondering which colleges and universities have large international populations.
Large numbers of international students at a particular school indicate a more diverse student body. If this criterion is important to you, you'll definitely want to check out the following list of schools. Keep in mind that this list is based on the percentage of international students, and not necessarily raw numbers of international students — many large, metropolitan schools attract a significant number of students from outside the US.
You might notice that there's no overlap between the following schools and schools that provide the most financial aid to international students. If you're interested primarily in schools with a large international student presence, keep in mind they may be significantly more expensive than the institutions listed above.
You'll find more international clubs, activities, and social networks at schools that tend to attract high percentages of students from other countries.
The following institutions—all national universities—reported the largest percentages of international students for 2018-2019.
Source: US News & World Report
New School, New York, NY
- Percentage of international students: 31%
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 7,444
Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, FL
- Percentage of international students: 28%
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 3,680
University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
- Percentage of international students: 27%
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 6,535
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
- Percentage of international students: 22%
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 6,947
Boston University, Boston, MA
- Percentage of international students: 21%
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 18,515
Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
- Percentage of international students: 20%
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 3,639
New York University, New York, NY
- Percentage of international students: 20%
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 26,773
University of California—San Diego, La Jolla, CA
- Percentage of international students: 19%
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 30,285
Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI
- Percentage of international students: 18%
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 1,702
Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL
- Percentage of international students: 18%
- Total undergraduate enrollment: 3,026
The majority of college applicants are high school seniors, and most of the college application advice out there is aimed at them. But what do you do if you don't fall into this narrow category? Our eBook on how to prepare for and apply to college as a nontraditional student will walk you through everything you need to know, from the coursework you should have under your belt to how to get letters of recommendation when you're not a high school senior.
Colleges With Special Services for International Students
Some of the best colleges for international students offer specialized programs that make studying in the US a bit easier for foreign nationals. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but it'll give you a place to start if you're looking for schools that offer unique, helpful services to international students.
Some of these schools have dedicated centers for international students. They provide assistance in a variety of areas, including ESL instruction and student visa guidance. Other schools foster an easier transition for international students with mentorship programs or regular faculty check-ins. You may even find specialty scholarship programs meant for students coming from other countries.
Many other schools offer resources to students both domestic and international, but the following programs are particularly notable for students coming from abroad. If you think you may need one special program in particular—ESL assistance, for example—I'd encourage you to contact the admissions office at any school of interest for more information.
A little bit of help from a friend, peer, or professional can make all the difference.
University of Arizona, Tuscon, AZ
U of A hosts the Center for English as a Second Language, which helps students adjust to using English in professional and academic spaces. For more general assistance, students can go to the school's dedicated International Services Center.
Finally, U of A offers an international student scholarship program. Students can receive between $4,000 and $35,000 per year.
Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
Roughly 8,000 international students attend Purdue each year. The school publishes a quarterly newsletter for international students. Additionally, Purdue fosters an International Friendship Program where domestic students serve as mentors to ease any difficulty in transitioning to a US school.
Clemson University, Clemson, SC
About 1,500 international students enroll at Clemson each year. The school requires regular meetings between international students and staff to make sure students are happy and successful.
University of Wisconsin—Madison, Madison, WI
About 4,000 students from 130 different countries attend the University of Wisconsin. The school hosts a couple of notable programs.
First, the BRIDGE (Building Relationships in Diverse Global Environments) program connects international students with US students during their first year in the US.
Second, the Assembly of International Students connects the many international groups on campus to promote cultural awareness and understanding within the student body.
Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Temple offers some alternative options to students who may not be ready for a fully English-immersive experience in the US. Their Intensive English Language Program is an educational program that preps students to enroll at a US school or to get a job that requires English proficiency. It is NOT a BA program, but a pre-program of sorts to prepare students for further study.
Temple also offers "provisional/conditional admission" to competitive applicants who score below admissions threshold on the TOEFL.
What Do You Have to Do to Attend a US School?
As an international student, you'll have to take a few extra steps if you plan on studying in the US. You'll want to do your own research on any further steps or restrictions for students coming from your particular country, but I'll give you a basic rundown here, so you know where to start, and you can check out our complete guide to the process for more details.
There are more steps to take for international students to attend a US school, but not to worry—they're all laid out below.
According to the US State Department, here are the five steps you need to take to study in the US:
Step 1: Research Your Options
If you're reading this page, you've already begun this step! You'll want to start this process 12-18 months before the start of the academic year you hope to start studying in the US. It's especially important to gather information about application criteria and deadlines.
If you need some extra help getting started, you should check out our guide on how to research colleges.
Step 2: Finance Your Studies
Again, you've already started gathering info on financing your studies if you've checked out the schools at the top of the page. Like I mentioned, schools can be pretty expensive in the US, so you'll want to have a plan in place for funding your education.
Step 3: Complete Your College Applications
Each college app is unique, although there's generally a lot of overlap. It's important to start these applications well before the deadlines (which are often December-January). You might want to read more about the typical college application timeline.
As an international applicant, you'll want to be especially careful about arranging for the SAT, ACT, and/or TOEFL. You may not have to submit your TOEFL scores to some colleges if you meet a certain score threshold on SAT/ACT sections.
Step 4: Apply for Your Student Visa
It's important to allocate plenty of time to complete and submit your visa application, in case any complications come up. Visit the State Department's website for more information on applying for your visa.
Step 5: Prepare for Your Departure
This is where you square everything away and make sure all your travel arrangements and documents are ready to go and in compliance. Your new school may also have information available for things like student health insurance, climate, local transportation options, and housing.
Motivated to start working on your college applications? Great! But before you do, you should definitely figure out which standardized test—the SAT or the ACT—is better for you (did you know that it doesn't usually help to take both)?
You might need to do ACT/SAT prep a little differently than the typical US student. For an introduction, read our complete guide to the ACT & SAT for international students.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.