The Growing Trends & Economic Impact of International & Study Abroad Students

Each year an annual report shows how many international students study in the U.S., as well as U.S. students studying abroad. Take a look at the positive impact students make around the world!

The Institute of International Education released it’s annual Open Doors report.  This is a report that gives a comprehensive picture about the number of international students in the U.S., their countries of origin, their distribution throughout the U.S., the degrees and academic levels of pursuit, and the impact they have on the U.S. economy in the Federal, State and local level.   The report also provides data about the numbers of U.S. students studying abroad and lists their study destinations.

This year’s report for 2012-2013 showed the number of international students in the U.S. increased to the highest number in U.S. history.

Total number of international students in the U.S.


This is an increase of 7.2 percent from last year.

Where do international students come from?

Below is the list of the top 10 places of origin for international students in U.S.

Rank Place of Origin 2011/12 2012/13 2012/13 % of Total % Change
WORLD TOTAL 764,495 819,644 100 7.2
1 China 194,029 235,597 28.7 21.4
2 India 100,270 96,754 11.8 -3.5
3 South Korea 72,295 70,627 8.6 -2.3
4 Saudi Arabia 34,139 44,566 5.4 30.5
5 Canada 26,821 27,357 3.3 2
6 Taiwan 23,250 21,867 2.7 -5.9
7 Japan 19,966 19,568 2.4 -2
8 Vietnam 15,572 16,098 2 3.4
9 Mexico 13,893 14,199 1.7 2.2
10 Turkey 11,973 11,278 1.4 -5.8

*Table provided by Open Doors.

To see the top 25 countries, click here.

Students from China make up almost 29 percent of the international student population. When you include India and South Korea, these three countries contribute to 49 percent of the total international student population.

Despite some countries experiencing a decrease of students, the top ten ranking remained the same as last year.

What are international students studying?

The report also showed that the majority of international students in the U.S. are studying at the undergraduate level (41 percent).  The international students studying at the graduate level make up 38 percent of the international student population. Also, the report shows that  9 percent of the international students are non-degree students. This report also included students on OPT (Optional Practical Training) which make up 12 percent (94,919) of the international student population in the U.S.

international student voice magazine major fields of study

Where do international students study in the United States?

The top three states host 32 percent of international students.

international student voice magazine top 3 states

Other top states include:

international student voice magazine other top states

Economic impact of international students

Another major fact is that the international student population in the U.S. makes up 4 percent of the student population at U.S. colleges and universities.  Not only do they contribute to diversity in these campuses by they also make a great impact in the U.S. economy.

According to the Department of Commerce, this year international students brought $24 billion in the U.S. economy. This makes higher education one of the major export services industries in the U.S.

According to the NAFSA International Educator Association,  international students had a major impact in the U.S. economy by directly or indirectly creating/supporting  a total of 312,975 jobs in the United States. The jobs created are in different sections such as higher education, accommodation, dining, retail, telecommunication, transportation and health insurance. Out of all the direct jobs, 53 percent are in the higher education sector.

international student voice magazine economic impact*Graph provided by NAFSA

U.S. students studying abroad

The number of U.S. students studying abroad this year reached 283,332. That is an increase of 3.4 percent from previous years.

Rank Destination 2010/11 2011/12 % of Total % Change
WORLD TOTAL 273,996 283,332 100 3.4
1 United Kingdom 33,182 34,660 12.2 4.5
2 Italy 30,361 29,645 10.5 -2.4
3 Spain 25,965 26,480 9.3 2
4 France 17,019 17,168 6.1 0.9
5 China 14,596 14,887 5.3 2
6 Germany 9,018 9,370 3.3 3.9
7 Australia 9,736 9,324 3.3 -4.2
8 Costa Rica 7,230 7,900 2.8 9.3
9 Ireland 7,007 7,640 2.7 9
10 Japan 4,134 5,283 1.9 27.8

*Graph provided by Open Doors.

More than 53 percent of U.S. students studying abroad picked Europe as their destination.

Most U.S. students (59 percent) study abroad short term, meaning a summer or eight weeks.

About 38 percent are in mid-length programs, which are one or two quarters or one semester.

Only 3 percent are enrolled in long-term programs, which last one academic or calendar year.

From looking at this data one can assume that U.S. students prefer short to mid length programs. The report did not give any indication of U.S. students studying in degree seeking programs abroad longer than one academic year.

My conclusion

Obviously when looking at the data, the number of international students studying in the U.S. is greater than that of U.S. students studying abroad. One of the major distinctions between international students in the U.S. and U.S. students studying abroad would be that international students in the U.S. are pursuing a degree in a foreign country and they are in the U.S. for much longer period of time, anywhere from two to four years depending on the degree level they are pursuing.  On the other hand, U.S. students studying abroad are more interested in short term study abroad programs in a foreign country while still receiving their degree from their home country institutions.


international student voice Eron MemajArticle written by Eron Memaj

Managing Editor

International Student Voice Magazine





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