International Student Enrollment Statistics

International student enrollment rose for decades before a sharp decline caused by COVID-19. Now, enrollment is on the rebound.
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Updated on December 18, 2023
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Data Summary

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    Around 858,400 international students were enrolled in higher education in the U.S. in 2022-2023.[1]
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    Another roughly 200,000 were gaining work experience closely related to their degree for a limited period after graduating.Note Reference [1]
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    The number of international students in the U.S. has been climbing for decades.Note Reference [1]
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    The pandemic caused the steepest decline in international student enrollment ever seen — 15%.Note Reference [1]
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    International student enrollment is on the rebound from its pandemic drop.
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    The countries with the most students studying in the U.S. are China and India — these countries are also the world's most populous.

The U.S. has long topped the list for many international students looking to pursue a degree outside their home country. The U.S. hosts almost twice as many visiting college students as the next-leading destination for international students, according to 2020 data from the Institute of International Education (IIE).[2]

While the number of international students in the U.S. has steadily climbed for decades, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted dramatic declines in enrollment. This report will provide insights into international student enrollment trends and enrollment figures by country of origin, degree level, and field of study.

Number of International College Students in the U.S.

During the 2022-2023 school year:

  • 858,395 international students were enrolled in higher education in the U.S.Note Reference [1]
  • Another 198,793 were working in fields related to their studies for a limited period of time after finishing their degree program in the U.S. (This work experience period is also known as "optional practical training" or OPT, which international students can participate in for 1-2 years.)Note Reference [1]
  • The total number of international students (including those enrolled in a program and those working after school in OPT) represents about 5.6% of the nearly 19 million college students in the U.S. in 2022-2023.Note Reference [1]
  • The number of international students increased by around 11.5% compared to the previous academic year.1

In 2021-2022, nearly 70% of international students were from Asia, with almost 31% from China and 21% from India.[3] China and India are the two largest countries by population, each with around 1.4 billion residents. (The U.S. has about 340 million.)[4]

International Student Enrollment Trends

Prior to the pandemic, international student enrollment reached an all-time high.Note Reference [1]

  • During the five years before COVID-19 hit, the number of international students in the U.S. reached over 1 million.
  • The total number of international students hit its peak in 2018, with just over 1,095,000 students. This included roughly 872,000 enrolled students and 223,000 completing optional practical training.
  • The number of enrolled international students (excluding those on OPT) hit its high point in 2016, with just over 903,000 students.
  • The number of international students has steadily climbed since the earliest data from 1950, with brief dips in the early '70s, mid-2000s, and 2020.

The Impact of COVID-19 on International College Student Enrollment

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on international students studying in the U.S. Countrywide travel bans and confusing, rapidly-shifting ICE rules made for a fraught spring semester for this group of students.

As was anticipated, in the fall of 2020 international student enrollment saw dramatic declines:

  • Overall international student enrollment dropped 15% from the year prior — the largest dip ever recorded (the second-largest decline was a mere 3.2% in 1971).Note Reference [1]
  • The number of enrolled international students (excluding those on OPT) dropped nearly 17%.Note Reference [1]
  • New student enrollment among international students fell a whopping 46%.[5]

However, there were signs of a rebound just a year later. Fall 2021 brought:Note Reference [5]

  • A 4% increase in total international students in the U.S.
  • An 8% increase in enrolled international students.
  • A 43% increase in international student applications.
  • A 68% increase in new international students.

And the rebound seems to be gaining strength. International student totals grew another 8% in 2023-2024.[6]

International Student Enrollment by Country

For the past forty years, the region with the highest number of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities is Asia. However, the share of Asian international students has increased dramatically, from about 30% of all international students in 1980 to around 70% of all international students in 2021.Note Reference [3]

This increase brings the number of Asian students studying in the U.S. more in line with world population figures — about 60% of the world's total population lives in Asia.[7]

Two Asian countries stand out in particular: China and India. In the decade between 2005 and 2015, the number of Chinese students studying at U.S. colleges increased by more than five times.

India's international student enrollment has now surpassed a level proportional to their share of the world population — around 18%. China's international student enrollment has reached to 30%, though China is also home to about 18% of the world's population.[8]

Did You Know...

Many factors contribute to how many students visit the U.S. from different regions.

These include age demographics and college choice in international students' home countries, recruitment practices from U.S. institutions, financial aid availability, and economic conditions in students' countries of origin.

Some experts believe that we will see an increase in international students from Africa in coming years.

During the 2021-2022 school year:Note Reference [3]

  • About 39% of international students were from East Asia (about 372,000 students).
  • Approximately 30% of international students (over 286,000 students) were from South, Southeast, and Central Asia.
  • About 9% of international students were from Europe, 8% were from Central and South America, 6% were from the Middle East and North Africa, and another 5% were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

International Student Enrollment by Degree Type

In the 2022-2023 school year, there were about 120,000 more international students enrolled in graduate programs than undergraduate programs.[9]

Until recently, there has been a roughly equal number of undergraduate and graduate international students for at least the past ten years, with the share of graduate international students lagging behind undergraduates by just a few percentage points.Note Reference [9]

International Student Enrollment by Field of Study

Not all majors are equally popular with international students. Among international students in the U.S. during the 2022-2023 academic year, the five most common fields of study were:[10]

  1. Math and computer science (23%)
  2. Engineering (18%)
  3. Business and management (15%)
  4. "Other fields" including multi/interdisciplinary studies, liberal arts, and general studies (8%)
  5. Social sciences (8%)
View BestColleges resources for international students in the US.

Frequently Asked Questions About International Students in the U.S.

What percentage of college students are international?

As of 2023, a record 5.6% of college students were international students.

How many international college students are in the U.S.?

As of the 2022-23 school year, there are nearly 858,400 international students enrolled in academic programs in the U.S. and an additional roughly 198,790 students who are completing optional practical training (gaining work experience related to their degree for a limited period of time after graduating). Together, this amounts to nearly 1,057,190 students.Note Reference [1]

How many international students come to the U.S. each year?

For the past five years, about 1.1 million international students were enrolled in U.S. colleges or universities or were completing optional practical training (work experience related to their degree immediately after graduating) each year.