Higher education is changing in America, just as it is in the rest of the world. While the US is still leading the charge in world university rankings, a lot has shifted in recent years—the pandemic being only one of the reasons why. Although international enrollment among new students is up two-thirds from the 2020–2021 academic year, the hard truth is that it’s nowhere near where it was pre-pandemic.
International enrollment increased by only 4% in fall 2021 (to 950,658) after a 15% drop last year (from 914,095), according to the figures from the Institute of International Education (IIE). Now, international students are making unprecedented decisions and forging their own paths forward in ways that are shaking up the status quo. Many international students are diverting to study outside of the US, though many still seek the benefits of a US education. Here’s a look at four of the best locations for international higher education and why students are choosing countries beyond the United States.
Canada may seem like an offshoot of the US to students across the globe, but the country offers enticing opportunities that go beyond just a reasonable cost. Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination guidelines have varied by province since the pandemic started, though you may find it easier to sift through 10 provinces than America’s 50 states to learn where you stand. International students can take advantage of affordable health care and access to medical services that would cost an arm and a leg in the US. Canada also boasts a friendly immigration policy for international students—three years of visa extension post-graduation.
2. The United Kingdom
When it comes to the UK, there is no vaccine mandate, but free vaccination for international students is offered upon arrival. They also receive free health care as well as access to medical services—quite an incentive. Similar to Canada, the UK grants two years of visa extension post-graduation. It’s worth noting that the US doesn’t automatically provide postgraduate work visas or clear pathways to permanent residential status, imposing roadblocks upon international graduates. It makes sense that the UK has officially climbed the totem pole to become the most preferred destination for Chinese international students in 2021—even barring the topic of global conflict.
China is emerging as a hotbed for international university students, with rapidly increasing demand from those in Pakistan, Vietnam, Portugal, Poland, Brazil, and Turkey, according to a report by Studyportals and Unibuddy. Students from the West benefit from immersing themselves in a brand-new culture, broadening their horizons, and globalizing the perspectives they’re exposed to. China is also one of the fastest-growing economies in the world—in need of qualified professionals with degrees—meaning the job market is exploding.
4. The United States
American institutions have been the widely uncontested global leaders of higher education for most of the 20th and 21st century—for good reason. And the international student experience is improving in many ways. For one, the Biden administration has shown dedication to redirecting international students to the US through the Early Career STEM Research Initiative and an additional 36-month academic training for STEM students on the Exchange Visitor (J-1) visa.
Jessica Sandberg, chair for International Enrollment Management at NAFSA: Association of International Educators, said it best: “International students are attracted to US universities’ comprehensive and immersive nature, which provides a learning experience and an opportunity for deep personal growth, acculturation, and social development.” She emphasized that a student’s relationship with a US university isn’t fleeting but lifelong. They tend to stay involved with sporting events, alumni activities, fundraisers, career networking, and more. These benefits all extend long past graduation. Increasing your marketability tenfold with a US degree is a massive win, but a relationship with your school that never fades away can be just as invaluable.
Every student has their own priorities with a set of criteria that’s unique from their peers. And as an international student today, you have the power to choose the journey that leads you to success, wherever in the world that may be. Whether you follow in the footsteps of many and attend college in the US or branch out to another country, make the best choice for you and be confident in your decision.
If you’re considering university in the US as an international student, check out our featured global college lists to learn about schools looking for students like you!