What Are the Top Universities in the USA for International Students?

A New Ranking Based on What Matters to YOU!

Choosing which of the best universities in the USA to attend can seem overwhelming. There are so many rankings to choose from—all based on what’s important to U.S. students, and sometimes using data only from U.S. citizens. 

Fortunately, MPOWER Financing, which was founded by former international students and has been recognized as a top lender for international students by U.S. News and NerdWallet, used its big data expertise to create a ranking of the best universities in the USA exclusively for international students. This university ranking is based on the three factors that matter most to international students and their families: value, safety, and a welcoming atmosphere for international students. The ranking also builds on MPOWER’s Financing prior research to identify schools that provide great outcomes for international students, since the company lends money to students who attend universities in the USA based on the each student’s future earning potential.

The rankings are based on data, not opinion-based surveys, and were created without influence or input from universities. MPOWER ranked all U.S. schools with more than 500 international students enrolled on campus according to these 3 factors:

  1. Value (65%): This is by far the most important factor for international students, who continually ask, “But is a U.S. degree worth the cost?”—and that’s why it has the greatest weight in the ranking. This was broken down into several different drivers of value:
  1. Payback period (45%): While some rankings use return on investment (ROI), for international students, payback period is a better metric. Why? Because ROI calculations are often calculated over a period of at least 10 years—or sometimes an entire career! International students often consider a shorter time horizon, given that they may face uncertainty about whether or how long they will be able to stay and work in the U.S. The payback metric is simple and intuitive: the number of months it would take to pay back each school’s total sticker(listed) price, based on that school’s average post-graduation salary.
  2. Cost of living (5%): Tuition and fees aren’t the only driver of cost; the cost of rent and other living expenses varies widely around the U.S., so this has been factored in as well.
  3. Availability of financial aid resources for international students on school websites (5%): This was used as a proxy for a school’s willingness to provide international students with scholarships and other forms of financial aid. As a provider of no-cosigner loans and scholarships for international students, MPOWER knows that access to funding is a major barrier to studying abroad.
  4. Percentage of students receiving financial assistance (10%): One of the worst-kept secrets in U.S. higher education is that the actual price that students pay is often quite different from the listed price shown on their website or admissions materials. While the payback period analysis focuses on the sticker price, this metric highlights the percentage of students who pay less than the sticker price. It’s a good proxy for whether talented international students are likely to get a discount. 

2.   Welcoming atmosphere for international students (25%): International students often wonder “Will I fit in on campus?” While data can’t definitively answer that question, three proxies were used to determine how welcoming a campus will be to international students:

  1. The total number of international students (15%): There’s strength in numbers! The number of international students enrolled gives a sense of a university’s openness to international students. In addition, universities with larger numbers of international students are more likely to have well-staffed International Student Services (ISS) offices and student clubs for students from your country.
  2. The percentage of international students (5%): Although similar to the metric above, this metric adjusts for the total size of the student body to reflect the proportion that is comprised of international students.
  3. Availability of ethnic food near campus (5%): One of the best ways to beat homesickness is to eat your mom’s cooking—or the next best thing! Google Maps data was used to determine the availability of restaurants serving non-American food within one mile of campus.

3.   Campus safety (10%): Safety is a top concern of international students, especially women. The best data to assess safety are the official Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics on crime on college campuses. To ensure a fair comparison across campuses, which vary greatly in size, the data was converted into ‘crimes per thousand students’ and then converted it into a relative safety score.

The Top 30 U.S. Schools for International Students

Using these factors, all U.S. schools with more than 500 international students were evaluated. For each factor, the raw score (e.g., the payback period in months, or the cost of living in dollars) was converted into an index score. The higher the index, the better the school scored on that metric. 

Based on this analysis, these are the top 30 U.S. schools for international students!

School NameFinal RankingTotal Weighted Index ScorePayback Period Index (High Score = Short Payback, Low Score = Long Payback)
Cost of Living Index (High Score = Most Expensive, Low Score = Least Expensive)
Funding Information Availability Index (High Score = Most Available, Low Score = Least)
Percentage of Students Receiving Financial Aid Index (High Score = Highest %, Low Score = Least)
Number of International Students Index (High Score = Most Intnl Students, Low Score = Least)
Percentage of International Students (High Score = Largest %, Low Score = Least)
Campus Safety Index (High Score = Safest, Low Score = Least Safe)
Ethnic Food Availability Index (High Score = Most Available, Low Score = Least)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign172.5479543049825082100
Michigan Technological University270.6908030939368770
University of California-Irvine370.1885823060484160100
Texas Tech University469.649889305622187540
North Dakota State University568.62909960676128470
The University of Texas at Dallas668.0471796065444885100
Texas A & M University-College Station768.0286783048391772100
Clemson University866.628388609311138140
Illinois Institute of Technology966.56717560100241005570
SUNY at Binghamton1066.46771001006419337670
University of California-Davis1166.2276836063463747100
San Diego State University1265.291673044201759100
University of California-San Diego1365.046480305283527070
University of California-Berkeley1464.688077604850354270
University of South Florida-Main Campus1564.627383307935248270
The University of Texas at Austin1664.4877803043382281100
University of California-Los Angeles1762.797676305651344870
Northeastern University1861.246754307051716740
North Carolina State University at Raleigh1961.076876305035319970
New York University2060.24414660451005893100
Harvard University2160.026748605648465970
University of Florida2259.776182309144257740
Georgia Institute of Technology2359.3958591006748496940
University of Utah2459.3769811007717166240
Columbia University2559.27384810052807888100
Oklahoma State University2658.717192307813168040
University of Southern California2758.024856605883547540
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor2855.52477410053513361100
Johns Hopkins University2952.86457910052354261100
Boston University3048.9636546048585260100

But Wait…the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is #1 and Harvard is #21! How Can That Be?

This ranking is based on the three factors that matter most to international students—value (mostly based on payback period), safety, and hospitality to international students—which means the results are somewhat different from rankings based on other factors!

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for example, ranks highly because it has a relatively low sticker price (which means a shorter payback period), lots of international students, and a safe campus near lots of international food options.

Despite its greater prestige and name recognition, Harvard (although still one of our top recommended schools!) does not rate quite as highly. Why? Because it has a higher sticker price, resulting in a longer payback period than, say, University of Illinois; a smaller number of international students (perhaps not surprising given its smaller student body); and an urban campus which, like most urban campuses, tends to be not as safe as a campus in a rural area or small town.

Of course, Harvard could still be a great choice if you’re looking for top-notch academics and a prestigious degree and you’re comfortable with a slightly longer payback period, fewer international students, and an urban campus.

So How Should I Use This List?

No one should decide which school to attend solely based on this list. The most important factor, of course, is whether the degree program you are seeking is offered by the school—and whether this degree program has the right reputation, areas of concentration, opportunities for research or consulting, and career placement track record for YOU.

But once you know which schools offer the right degree program for you, this list can be helpful in narrowing down your list—or even bringing new schools to your attention! If you’re interested in pursuing a STEM degree and value campus safety and an affordable degree (but don’t mind the cold or being in a rural area!), for example, you might consider Michigan Technological University.

Once you’ve used this list and other resources to narrow down your list to the top 5 or 10 schools, we suggest talking to the following:

✔ The Financial Aid Office, the Recruitment Office, and the school/department you would be in, to discuss what financial aid/scholarships they might be able to offer you.

✔ The Career Services Office of the university (or better yet, your program) to find out about job placement rates and starting salaries for students with the degree you are seeking, with international students broken out separately if possible. This, combined with information on your financial aid package, will allow you to calculate your actual payback period and ROI!

✔ The International Student Services Office, to discuss what support services are available for international students.

✔ Members of the international student association or—better yet—an association of students from your country (e.g. the Chinese Student Association or the Indian Student Association), to find out how welcoming the campus is to international students, and what opportunities you will have to connect with other international students.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to make a great, data-driven decision about the best school for YOU!

The Best of the Rest: Honorable Mentions

In addition to the 30 schools that were ranked in the previous table, MPOWER also identified a further 70 schools that provide great value for international students. We encourage you to review this list (arranged by state and then alphabetically) to uncover other “hidden gems” among U.S. schools.

Auburn UniversityAL
The University of AlabamaAL
Pepperdine UniversityCA
Santa Clara UniversityCA
Stanford UniversityCA
University of California-RiversideCA
University of Colorado BoulderCO
University of ConnecticutCT
Yale UniversityCT
American UniversityDC
George Washington UniversityDC
Georgetown UniversityDC
University of DelawareDE
University of Central FloridaFL
Emory UniversityGA
University of GeorgiaGA
University of Hawaii at ManoaHI
Iowa State UniversityIA
University of IowaIA
DePaul UniversityIL
Northwestern UniversityIL
University of ChicagoIL
University of Illinois at ChicagoIL
Purdue University-Main CampusIN
University of Notre DameIN
Kansas State UniversityKS
Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical CollegeLA
Tulane University of LouisianaLA
Bentley UniversityMA
Boston CollegeMA
Hult International Business SchoolMA
University of Massachusetts-AmherstMA
Worcester Polytechnic InstituteMA
University of Maryland-College ParkMD
Central Michigan UniversityMI
University of Minnesota-Twin CitiesMN
Missouri University of Science and TechnologyMO
Washington University in St LouisMO
Duke UniversityNC
University of Nebraska-LincolnNE
Dartmouth CollegeNH
New Jersey Institute of TechnologyNJ
Rutgers University-NewarkNJ
Stevens Institute of TechnologyNJ
Cornell UniversityNY
CUNY Bernard M Baruch CollegeNY
Fordham UniversityNY
Rochester Institute of TechnologyNY
Stony Brook UniversityNY
Syracuse UniversityNY
University at BuffaloNY
University of RochesterNY
Case Western Reserve UniversityOH
Ohio State University-Main CampusOH
University of DaytonOH
University of Oklahoma-Norman CampusOK
Oregon State UniversityOR
Carnegie Mellon UniversityPA
Temple UniversityPA
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh CampusPA
Brown UniversityRI
University of South Carolina-ColumbiaSC
The University of Tennessee-KnoxvilleTN
Vanderbilt UniversityTN
Rice UniversityTX
Brigham Young University-ProvoUT
University of Virginia-Main CampusVA
Virginia Commonwealth UniversityVA
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityVA
University of Washington-Seattle CampusWA