California loses its crown as the USA's best student state

  • 6 min read
California loses its crown as the USA's best student state

In recent years, California has been the undisputed top-choice for international students in the USA. It’s got more top-ranked colleges than any other state, countless attractions, and a Mediterranean climate.

However, according to Studee’s latest research, it’s no longer the best state for students. The Golden State has been pushed into second place by a rival offering low tuition fees, a vibrant millennial population, and low crime rates.

If California wants to reclaim its crown, it can’t rely on its reputation as a higher-education powerhouse. Overseas enrollments are slowing down and even shrinking on some campuses, so universities must take active steps to combat this and engage with more international students.

Why California needs international students

In 2019, 161,693 international students were enrolled at Californian universities, contributing $6.8 billion to the state economy through tuition fees and living expenses like housing, food, and transport1. They also supported over 8,700 local jobs, either directly or indirectly1.

However, these benefits don’t come without risks. California has come to depend on the revenue generated from international students both on and off-campus. So much so, it’s been identified as one of the states that’s most financially vulnerable to a drop in international student recruitment2.

Worse still, a massive 42% of the state’s overseas pupil population hails from China1. Increasing diplomatic tensions between the nations, fueled partly by accusations of racial profiling and xenophobia, only amplify the risk and reinforce the urgent need for Californian universities to diversify their sources of international students.

The uneven spread of international students

Despite being home to over 450 colleges and universities, a huge 35% of California’s international students are claimed by just 5 campuses1. This means most institutions, like yours, are being outpaced in the recruitment race.

That’s where we come in. Thousands of students visit every day to find their ideal institution and program. So, by partnering with us, you’ll gain access to a whole host of new markets and leads.

We’re experts at matching international pupils with your university’s admissions criteria. We support every pupil from application to arrival, securing the best enrollment rates possible. Book a free, non-obligatory meeting now to transform your recruitment success.

To claim your share of the lucrative overseas market, you need to step up your recruitment and conversion game. But, before this can happen, you must understand the reasons international students don’t choose your university.

Problem 1: The visa application process

In a recent survey1, 87% of respondents who didn’t enroll at a US university cited visa application, delay, or denial as the top reason for their decision. Your university could be missing out on hundreds of applications over something so easy to address.

The solution

The stress of navigating sometimes complicated visa processes can take the shine of studying abroad. So, if you want to prevent interested students from dropping off, you need to provide tailored visa application assistance.

This can come in many forms, like online guides, workshops, pre-departure packages, and one-to-one support from members of your international admissions office.

Putting these measures in place can be time-consuming for already-busy international departments. Luckily, Studee can help. Every student that registers through is assigned a personal advisor who provides them with all the up-to-date information they’ll need to obtain a visa.

We support students through every stage of the visa application process, so you only receive pupils who are ready to enroll. Studee is the only website to offer this kind of personalized service.

Learn more about our service

Problem 2: High tuition fees

Over half of the students surveyed said that high tuition fees had deterred them from studying in the US1.

As a state renowned for its prestigious yet pricey colleges, lots of students believe California is out of their budget. So, students will be writing off your institution on purely financial grounds, even though it could be their dream university.

The solution

You must convince international pupils that studying at your university is a worthwhile investment in their future.

Scholarships and financial aid packages are some of the most searched terms amongst prospective students and often sway their enrollment decisions. So, make sure the financial support schemes available are clearly advertised on your website, with contact information should students have any further questions.

Incorporating financial education into your recruitment processes and throughout the student lifecycle is also key. After all, money is the number-one reason students drop out. In February 2021, we hosted a webinar on how to ease international students' financial and budgeting anxieties.

Problem 3: Opportunities after graduation

In a similar vein, students are more likely to choose your university if they believe you’ll prepare them for professional success. It doesn’t make sense for pupils to spend thousands of dollars on a Californian education if it won’t open career doors for them.

In the survey1, half of the students didn’t think they’d be able to secure a job in the US after graduation, so they chose to enroll at an institution in another country. While this is alarming, if you can find a solution for this common worry, there’s potential to double your international admissions.

The solution

Work experience placements are one of the best ways for students to put what they’ve learned into practice, build professional connections, and gain industry insight. So, integrate them into your programs wherever possible.

It’s also wise to shout about any career services you provide; this will prove you’re serious about boosting students’ post-graduation prospects.

Problem 4: The socio-political environment

California is home to some of the world’s most vibrant and diverse cities, but students are still worried about feeling accepted and welcomed in the States.

The outbreak of the global health pandemic, stricter visa policies, and comments made by Trump’s administration have only heightened these concerns, with 58% of respondents citing it as their main worry1.

The solution

It’s more important than ever for you to roll out the welcome mat for international students and stand in solidarity with them. Alongside hosting cultural events, promoting international societies, and organizing a peer mentoring or buddy scheme, you need to be empathetic and responsive to the needs of prospective pupils.

Your university’s website and social media channels are great places to showcase the diversity, inclusivity, and friendliness of your institution to Gen-Z students. To build yet more trust, you can share the experiences of current and former international students too.


  1., 2021

  2. Times Higher Education, 2020