International student enrollment is on the rise at U.S. colleges.
In total, 764,495 international students were enrolled at colleges and universities across the United States during the 2011-2012 school year, up 5.7 percent from the previous year, according to a November 2012 report from the Institute of International Education.
The U.S. News Best Colleges rankings can help prospective American and international students refine their list of target schools in the United States, but some of the world’s best universities can be found outside the U.S. as well.
China, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and France all attract more than 100,000 international students each year, according to IIE data.
Latin America, the Middle East and other parts of Asia have also seen an uptick in international student enrollment over the past decade, according to a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
One explanation for the trend toward international education: an “exploding demand for higher education worldwide,” the OECD notes.
Studying in a foreign country – whether for a semester, a year or for an entire degree – also helps prepare students to enter a high-tech and highly global economy, says Allan Goodman, president of IIE.
Executives at multinational corporations might work in nine or 10 different countries throughout their career. Those who stay closer to home will likely still work with people from other cultures on a regular basis, says Goodman, who co-authored “A Student Guide to Study Abroad.”
“If you’re the top student, but you’ve never sat next to a Chinese or Brazilian, or had an argument with an Indian or a discussion with a Frenchman, you’re not going to be prepared to be a worker in the global marketplace,” he says.
Sorting out where to study and why can be a multipronged equation.
For some, language is a primary factor. Students either want to learn in their native language or become fluent in another. Others want to gain business expertise abroad in order to get a leg up in an increasingly competitive workforce.
Many international students also choose where to study based on where they hope to start their careers, says Daniel Obst, IIE’s deputy vice president of international partnerships in higher education.
“There’s a great opportunity in another country to do academic work, but also then connect it to your first job,” he says.
Obst has personal experience as an international student. Born and raised in Germany, Obst earned his bachelor’s degree in the United States and his master’s in England. His academic interests motivated him to study outside of Germany, he says.
“I wanted to do international relations, and back then they didn’t have that as a degree program in Germany. They had political science,” he says.
Whatever the motive to study overseas, each major region has something to offer students bent on studying overseas.
International students accounted for 18.6 percent of total higher ed enrollment in the U.K. in 2010-2011, according to IIE.
Students can venture outside of the U.K. and still get a great education in Europe.
Schools such as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Ecole Normale Superieure de Paris, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Ruprecht-Karls-Universitat Heidelberg in Germany also have strong global reputations.
Students from China, India and South Korea account for 52 percent of the 4.1 million international students worldwide, according to the OECD. But the region has also emerged as a top destination for foreign students.