How to emulate the success of the world's top study abroad location: The USA

  • 5 min read
How to emulate the success of the world's top study abroad location: The USA

For decades, the USA has reigned supreme as the world’s most popular study abroad destination. Its higher-education system is widely viewed as the gold standard, attracting over one million international students each year.

Although the international education sector has become increasingly competitive in recent years, with more countries, cities, and institutions vying for the attention of prospective pupils, no one has managed to knock the USA off its throne yet.

While this dominance can be frustrating for competitor nations and universities, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from its success.

In April 2021, Studee President Jihna Gavilanes and Craig Riggs, editor of ICEF Monitor, hosted a webinar titled ‘how to emulate the success of the world’s top study abroad location: The USA’.

They discussed the factors influencing students’ decisions to study in the USA, before outlining the actions your university could take to mirror its accomplishments.

Is US growth slowing down?

During the webinar, Craig shared some interesting observations about the US’s changing market position.

He stated that although “the US is still unquestionably the leading destination in the world, that leading position is being challenged much more significantly than it has been in the past”.

In the 2019/2020 academic year, US foreign enrollments fell by 2%1. This was the first decline for almost 20 years. This presented a fantastic opportunity for the rest of the pack to catch up slightly, and that’s exactly what they did.

The likes of Canada, Australia, China, Japan, Russia, Germany, and France have begun to close the gap on the US, making for an incredibly dynamic and fierce international education landscape.

That said, the US remains miles ahead in the international student recruitment race. Although its lead may be eroding, it won’t be knocked off its podium just yet.

If you want to give the US colleges a run for their money, you won't find a better partner than Studee. We match students with their perfect universities and universities with their perfect students.

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Presidential influence Between 2016-2020, international enrollments in the US started to slow down, plateau, and even decline. This was totally at odds with the decades of sustained growth that had come before, and perfectly coincided with Trump’s rise to power.

The Trump administration sent lots of hostile market signals to international students. These included a so-called Muslim travel ban, restrictions on Chinese scholars, and threats of visa withdrawals and deportation. So, it’s not surprising foreign admissions took a hit.

By contrast, President Biden has deliberately sent messages of openness and inclusivity when it comes to immigration policy. This means international students and agents should have fewer questions and concerns about post-study work rights and settlement options.

So, although the USA’s popularity as a study abroad destination has been questioned in recent years, there’s room for fresh optimism.

Secrets of the USA's success

Academic excellence

US universities dominate the global rankings, so they’re almost guaranteed to attract ambitious Gen Z students. However, competition for places at these universities is fierce, leaving many students searching for alternatives.

Even if your university doesn’t make the global league tables, national and local rankings are still sure to impress and attract prospective pupils. They’ll serve as a marker of quality and prove that you’ve got students’ best interests and ambitions at heart.

You could also ask current students to write reviews, blogs, or social media posts about their experiences at your university. Choosing where to study is one of the biggest decisions a student will have to make, but research shows student ambassadors have the biggest influence on application decisions2.

If your ambassadors can vouch for the excellence of your courses and services, you’ll be onto a winner.

Part-time work opportunities

Studying abroad can be a huge financial commitment, and many students will be forced to work alongside their studies to make ends meet. As a result, the availability of part-time employment can play a significant role in students’ decision-making.

US colleges are typically very good at helping students source on-campus jobs, as well as off-campus roles. There’s also no limit on the number of hours international students can work either, adding to the country’s appeal.

If you want to stand out to money-smart students, prioritize their financial education and promote any on-campus part-time vacancies on your website. Be sure to provide the contact details of career counselors and a list of places students might find work in your pre-departure pack too.

Students want STEM

The popularity of STEM programs has surged over the past decade, and the demand for these courses is only predicted to grow further. According to the IIE, 51.6% of international students in the US were pursuing STEM programs in 2019/203, highlighting the huge appetite for the field.

Effectively marketing your university’s STEM programs could send your international admissions sky high. We recommend creating a dedicated STEM section on your website with information specifically for international students.

To take your marketing to yet another level, why not partner with Studee? Thousands of students visit every day in search of their perfect university and program, so you'll have access to loads of new markets and leads.

Since you're only charged once a student enrolls, you're also guaranteed value for money.


  1. ICEF Monitor, 2021

  2. Unibuddy, 2019

  3. IIE, 2020