The heated political climate over travel bans and visa and immigration policy since the election of Donald Trump has muddied the welcome mat for foreigners, shaking some international students’ willingness or ability to enroll in U.S. colleges and universities. The future of whether the U.S. will remain the world leader in undergraduate education hangs over this second annual 50 Best U.S. Colleges for International Students ranking.
While the number of foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities surpassed one million for the first time during 2015-2016 (the most recent data available), the surge of foreign students may be coming to a close. Nearly 4 in 10 higher education institutions in the U.S. report a small but striking dip (-2%) in international undergraduate enrollment after a decade of steady growth. By region, students from China and India, making up nearly half of all international students, sank from 25% to 23% and 27% to 23%, respectively. In a separate 2017 survey, the highest declines in undergraduate applications (39%) were from students in the Middle East.
Still, the U.S. remains the No. 1 study overseas study destination by far. Millions of undergrads the world over continue look to American colleges and universities as the gold standard in higher education. For the second year, Forbes has compiled the Best U.S. Colleges For International Students, ranking the top 50 schools based on overall quality, international student population, international student graduation rate and percentage of students who pursue academic fields most popular among international students.
The Top 10
Earning the No. 1 spot for the second year in a row is Babson College, a specialized entrepreneurial school in Wellesley, MA, where every student receives a B.S. in business administration. Babson boasts a formidable international student population (26%) and is one of the few liberal arts colleges that offer need-based financial aid for international students. The school has developed name recognition worldwide. As Amir Reza, Babson’s vice provost for international and multicultural education, told Forbes in 2016: “We have a joke here that we’re better known in New Delhi than Needham, MA.”
Following as No. 2 and No. 3 are two small liberal arts schools in California’s Claremont Colleges consortium — Harvey Mudd College and Claremont McKenna College. Two elite research universities — Carnegie Mellon University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology — come up next, followed by Columbia University. Boston University comes in at No. 7, and New England neighbor Rhode Island School of Design ranks as No. 8. Rounding out the top 10 are two Philadelphia-area schools, University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College.
The methodology for the Best Colleges for International Students (found on the next page) favors schools with STEM or business focuses, but there is a notable academic diversity in the list. While 19 of the 50 also rank on the Forbes Top STEM Colleges 2017, seven schools appear on our Top 25 Liberal Arts Colleges 2017. Babson and the Rhode Island School of Design offer specialized training in business and fine arts, respectively.
As debate continues about the percentage of out-of-staters that state schools should accept, some public universities rank highly. U.C. Berkeley (No. 15) is the highest-ranked of the seven public universities in the top 50, followed by Georgia Tech (No. 26) and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (No. 31). A large proportion of top schools are in states that border one of the coasts. Ten schools come from California, and nine lie in Massachusetts. Eight schools from the Midwest region make the grade while three reside in the South.
The Top 50
- Babson College
- Harvey Mudd College
- Claremont McKenna College
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Columbia University
- Boston University
- Rhode Island School of Design
- University of Pennsylvania
- Bryn Mawr College
- New York University
- Bentley University
- Cooper Union
- Princeton University
- University of California, Berkeley
- Rice University
- Mount Holyoke College
- University of Southern California
- University of Tulsa
- California Institute of Technology
- Brown University
- Georgetown University
- Stanford University
- Harvard University
- Cornell University
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- University of Rochester
- New School
- Emory University
- Brandeis University
- University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
- Illinois Institute of Technology
- Yale University
- University of California, San Diego
- Duke University
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute
- Grinnell College
- Johns Hopkins University
- Swarthmore College
- Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
- Pomona College
- University of Chicago
- University of Washington
- University of Notre Dame
- University of California, Irvine
- University of California, Los Angeles
- Amherst College
- Dartmouth College
- Carleton College
- Lehigh University
Methodology of Best U.S. Colleges for International Students
We focused on two questions when judging how good of a fit schools were for international students: What qualities in a school bolster specifically an international student’s return on investment, and what schools show evidence of a strong commitment to international students? Starting with the 650 excellent colleges and universities in our 2017 Top Colleges, we gathered final release data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the College Scorecard and from the Institute of International Education to compile our 50-school ranking. Using five variables, we used the weightings below:
School Quality (50%) + total percentage of international students (25%) + growth of international student population (5%) + graduation rate for international students (10%) + majors/programs of interest to international students (10%).
School Quality (50%)
Total Percentage of International Students (25%)
Using data from IPEDS, we rewarded schools with higher percentage of international students and thus larger international student communities. Six schools on the list have student populations that are over 25% international students: New School, Illinois Institute of Technology, Mount Holyoke College, Rhode Island School of Design, University of Tulsa and Babson College.
Growth of International Student Population (5%)
Once again using data from IPEDS, we gave schools extra consideration if their international student population grew or shrank over the last four years of reported data. Some schools — U.C. San Diego, U.C. Irvine and New School — have seen the percentage of these students increase over 10%.
Graduation Rate for International Students (10%)
A key indicator of the success of international students at a certain school is their graduation rate. Using IPEDS data, we rewarded the schools with the highest gradation rates for international students. Of the schools in the top 50, Harvey Mudd College is the only one that reports a perfect 100%.
Majors/Programs of Interest to International Students (10%)
According to the IIE, three areas of study dominate the academic pursuits of international students: engineering, business & management, and math & computer science. Each area attracted over 100,000 international students in the 2015-2016 school year, and for math & computer science specifically, the year-to-year growth in the number of students was 25%. Recognizing that international students gravitate toward these fields most often — and that some visa programs, like the Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students, afford international students greater flexibility in terms of staying in the U.S. — we used field of study data from the College Scorecard to reward schools with high student involvement in these fields.