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The U.S. has more foreign students enrolled in its colleges and universities than any other country in the world. Explore data about foreign students in the U.S. higher education system below, and read the accompanying blog post, “New foreign student enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities doubled since Great Recession,” for more information.

The rise of foreign students in the U.S., 2004-2016

The most common type of foreign student visa is the F-1 visa, and these are typically given to those pursuing college degrees. The number of newly enrolled foreign students with F-1 visas at U.S. colleges and universities has grown dramatically, increasing from 138,000 in 2004 to 364,000 in 2016. Much of this growth has happened since the start of the Great Recession.

Year Foreign students
2004 138,000
2005 145,000
2006 154,000
2007 166,000
2008 179,000
2009 180,000
2010 188,000
2011 206,000
2012 229,000
2013 N/A
2014 303,000
2015 353,000
2016 364,000

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Public and private higher education enrollment of foreign students in the U.S., 2008 and 2016

Since the Great Recession, new foreign student enrollment has grown faster at public colleges and universities than at private institutions. The number of foreign students pursuing associate and bachelor’s degrees at public universities grew faster than at private schools, while graduate degrees (master’s and doctorate degrees) grew slightly faster at private institutions.

Year Public schools Private schools
2008 101,000 73,000
2016 209,000 145,000

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Year Public schools Private schools
2008 22,000 2,000
2016 44,000 4,000

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Year Public schools Private schools
2008 32,000 26,000
2016 80,000 54,000

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Year Public schools Private schools
2008 32,000 37,000
2016 66,000 77,000

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Year Public schools Private schools
2008 15,000 7,000
2016 20,000 10,000

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Degrees pursued by foreign students in the U.S., 2004-2016

Master’s and bachelor’s degrees are the most common degrees pursued by newly enrolled foreign students in the U.S.

Year Associate Bachelor's Master's Doctorate
2004 19,000 48,000 49,000 22,000
2005 20,000 50,000 53,000 22,000
2006 21,000 51,000 60,000 22,000
2007 23,000 53,000 68,000 22,000
2008 24,000 60,000 72,000 23,000
2009 23,000 64,000 69,000 24,000
2010 23,000 70,000 71,000 24,000
2011 23,000 80,000 78,000 24,000
2012 24,000 94,000 86,000 25,000
2013 -- -- -- --
2014 30,000 118,000 127,000 27,000
2015 41,000 130,000 152,000 29,000
2016 48,000 137,000 149,000 31,000

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Gender of foreign students in the U.S., 2004-2016

Men have accounted for a majority of newly enrolled foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities since 2004.

Year Men Women
2004 76,000 62,000
2005 79,000 66,000
2006 84,000 69,000
2007 92,000 74,000
2008 99,000 80,000
2009 99,000 81,000
2010 104,000 84,000
2011 115,000 91,000
2012 128,000 101,000
2013 -- --
2014 173,000 130,000
2015 204,000 149,000
2016 208,000 156,000

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Top 10 countries of origin of foreign students in the U.S., 2016

Students from China, India and South Korea accounted for more than half (54%) of all newly enrolled foreign students pursuing degrees at U.S. colleges and universities in 2016.

Country of origin Number of students
China 108,000
India 66,000
South Korea 21,000
Saudi Arabia 18,000
Canada 10,000
Vietnam 9,000
Taiwan 7,000
Nepal 6,000
Japan 6,000
Nigeria 6,000

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Top 10 states for foreign students in the U.S., 2016

Ten states accounted for nearly two-thirds (63%) of newly enrolled foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities in 2016.

State Number of students
California 60,000
New York 41,000
Texas 27,000
Massachusetts 20,000
Pennsylvania 18,000
Illinois 17,000
Florida 16,000
Ohio 11,000
Michigan 10,000
Washington 10,000

 

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About this analysis

This fact sheet was compiled by Abby Budiman, intern, Jynnah Radford, research assistant, Antonio Flores, research assistant, and Neil G. Ruiz, associate director of global migration and demography research.


The data in this analysis include only students with F-1 visas newly enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities who appeared in the federal government’s automated foreign student monitoring system, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. These students must be enrolled full-time at U.S. colleges and universities certified by the federal government. Public and private schools are defined by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. This analysis excludes schools not categorized in the Carnegie classification system.

For this analysis we assume students approved for F-1 visas enroll for studies at their sponsoring school.