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Fact Sheet

November 20, 2017

Facts on Foreign Students in the U.S.

    (dolgachov/iStock.com)

    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 --
    2014 303,000
    2015 353,000
    2016 364,000

    Pew Research Center

    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.

    • All Higher Education
    • Associate
    • Bachelor's
    • Master's
    • Doctorate

    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

    Pew Research Center

    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

    Pew Research Center

    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

    Pew Research Center

    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

     

    Pew Research Center

    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.