Last year some 1 million students came from foreign countries to study in the U.S., making it the global powerhouse in higher education. It’s not hard to see why. American colleges and universities have minted scores of billionaires, Nobel Prize winners, game-changing entrepreneurs and celebrated leaders in politics, the arts, science, business and more. The global brand value of institutions such as Stanford, Harvard and MIT rivals that of Apple, Google and Microsoft.
With the numbers of international students at U.S. colleges and universities skyrocketing – last year saw the highest rate of growth in 35 years, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE) – we decided to look at what schools are best for this exploding demographic. This the heart of this inaugural FORBES college ranking, especially created for foreign students and their families, the only one of its kind.
We rate four-year private and public schools based on the metrics that matter most to a global audience: Is the school a top college in the U.S.? How many international students are on campus, is that number going up and are they graduating on time? Finally, does the school offer a best-in-class education in the most popular majors for international students, specifically STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) as well as business and entrepreneurship.
The Top 10
Known as the original incubator of entrepreneurial studies, Babson College is the No. 1 Best U.S. College for International Students, followed by Bryn Mawr College and Claremont McKenna College. The first Ivy League school is Columbia University (No. 4), followed by Princeton University (No. 8) and University of Pennsylvania (No. 10). All-women’s schools make a strong showing on the list overall, with Mount Holyoke College landing at No. 6. Rounding out the top 10 are Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 5), Georgetown University (No. 7) and Brandeis University (No. 9).
All but one of the top 10 are clustered in the Northeast. But from there they sharply divide between tiny student-centric liberal arts colleges focused on intellectual exploration and intense research powerhouses concerned with innovation and hands-on experimentation. That’s the good news: there’s a top school for every kind of international student.
Methodology of Best U.S. Colleges For International Students
Our sights are set directly on one question: What are international students looking for in an American school? To answer this question, FORBES gathered data from a variety of sources. The formula, five general categories and weights are noted below:
Quality (50%) + total percentage of international students (20%) + percentage increase of international students (5%) + graduation rate for international students (10%) + majors/programs of interest to international students (15%).
Total percentage of international students (20%): This is reported by the schools to the Department of Education and is available for public viewing on College Scorecard (use the student body tab and see non-resident alien numbers). Devoted entirely to business, Babson has the highest percentage of what the federal government tracks as “non-resident alien” students on this list – 27%. It’s a record shared by University of Tulsa (No. 12), the small private Midwestern gem with a strong STEM focus based on the Oklahoma energy sector. Northwestern University (No. 49) and Tufts University (No. 40), on the other hand, have among the lowest on this list: 7% and 8%, respectively.
Percentage increase of international students (5%): This is also reported by the schools to the Department of Education and can be searched on the IPEDS Data Center. We include this metric because it points to increasing interest by students and, in parallel, increasing engagement with this demographic by the schools. Harvey Mudd College (No. 15) reveals a 5.7% increase from 2012 to 2016 while Franklin & Marshall (No. 38) shows a 4.6% boost. Yale University (No. 25) and Wesleyan University (No. 44) reveals less than 1% increase.
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Graduation success for international students (10%): We also look to IPEDS data for the average expected number of years it takes to graduate — of those who do graduate within six years. For example, Williams College (No. 26) has a 100% graduation rate for international students, while Georgia Institute of Technology (No. 37) offers a still-high-but-not-as-high 82%.
Majors/Programs of interest to international students (15%): We turn to the IIE for this data. There’s a synergy between international students and STEM and business. Two-thirds gravitate towards these fields of study: including 20% to engineering, 20% in the sciences and 20% to business/management.
Full List Of Best U.S. Colleges For International Students
- Babson College
- Bryn Mawr College
- Claremont McKenna College
- Columbia University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Mount Holyoke College
- Georgetown University
- Princeton University
- Brandeis University
- University of Pennsylvania
- Brown University
- University of Tulsa
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Smith College
- Harvey Mudd College
- California Institute of Technology
- Boston University
- University of California, Berkeley
- Dartmouth College
- Swarthmore College
- University of Rochester
- University of Chicago
- Harvard University
- Stanford University
- Yale University
- Williams College
- Rice University
- Bentley University
- University of Southern California
- Emory University
- Wellesley College
- Grinnell College
- Middlebury College
- Macalester College
- Duke University
- Amherst College
- George Institute of Technology
- Franklin & Marshall College
- University of California, Los Angeles
- Tuft University
- Cornell University
- Rhode Island School of Design
- Cooper Union
- Wesleyan University
- University of Washington
- Carleton College
- Washington University in St. Louis
- University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
- Northwestern University
- John Hopkins University
Reported by: Sebastian Ayanian, Michelle Cheng, Carter Coudriet, Lara Fishbane, Tim Levin