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:
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:
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 Name||Final Ranking||Total Weighted Index Score||Payback 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-Champaign||1||72.54||79||54||30||49||82||50||82||100|
|Michigan Technological University||2||70.6||90||80||30||93||9||36||87||70|
|University of California-Irvine||3||70.18||85||82||30||60||48||41||60||100|
|Texas Tech University||4||69.64||98||89||30||56||22||18||75||40|
|North Dakota State University||5||68.62||90||99||60||67||6||12||84||70|
|The University of Texas at Dallas||6||68.04||71||79||60||65||44||48||85||100|
|Texas A & M University-College Station||7||68.02||86||78||30||48||39||17||72||100|
|Illinois Institute of Technology||9||66.56||71||75||60||100||24||100||55||70|
|SUNY at Binghamton||10||66.46||77||100||100||64||19||33||76||70|
|University of California-Davis||11||66.22||76||83||60||63||46||37||47||100|
|San Diego State University||12||65.2||91||67||30||44||20||17||59||100|
|University of California-San Diego||13||65.04||64||80||30||52||83||52||70||70|
|University of California-Berkeley||14||64.68||80||77||60||48||50||35||42||70|
|University of South Florida-Main Campus||15||64.62||73||83||30||79||35||24||82||70|
|The University of Texas at Austin||16||64.48||77||80||30||43||38||22||81||100|
|University of California-Los Angeles||17||62.79||76||76||30||56||51||34||48||70|
|North Carolina State University at Raleigh||19||61.07||68||76||30||50||35||31||99||70|
|New York University||20||60.24||41||46||60||45||100||58||93||100|
|University of Florida||22||59.77||61||82||30||91||44||25||77||40|
|Georgia Institute of Technology||23||59.39||58||59||100||67||48||49||69||40|
|University of Utah||24||59.37||69||81||100||77||17||16||62||40|
|Oklahoma State University||26||58.71||71||92||30||78||13||16||80||40|
|University of Southern California||27||58.02||48||56||60||58||83||54||75||40|
|University of Michigan-Ann Arbor||28||55.52||47||74||100||53||51||33||61||100|
|Johns Hopkins University||29||52.86||45||79||100||52||35||42||61||100|
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.
|The University of Alabama||AL|
|Santa Clara University||CA|
|University of California-Riverside||CA|
|University of Colorado Boulder||CO|
|University of Connecticut||CT|
|George Washington University||DC|
|University of Delaware||DE|
|University of Central Florida||FL|
|University of Georgia||GA|
|University of Hawaii at Manoa||HI|
|Iowa State University||IA|
|University of Iowa||IA|
|University of Chicago||IL|
|University of Illinois at Chicago||IL|
|Purdue University-Main Campus||IN|
|University of Notre Dame||IN|
|Kansas State University||KS|
|Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College||LA|
|Tulane University of Louisiana||LA|
|Hult International Business School||MA|
|University of Massachusetts-Amherst||MA|
|Worcester Polytechnic Institute||MA|
|University of Maryland-College Park||MD|
|Central Michigan University||MI|
|University of Minnesota-Twin Cities||MN|
|Missouri University of Science and Technology||MO|
|Washington University in St Louis||MO|
|University of Nebraska-Lincoln||NE|
|New Jersey Institute of Technology||NJ|
|Stevens Institute of Technology||NJ|
|CUNY Bernard M Baruch College||NY|
|Rochester Institute of Technology||NY|
|Stony Brook University||NY|
|University at Buffalo||NY|
|University of Rochester||NY|
|Case Western Reserve University||OH|
|Ohio State University-Main Campus||OH|
|University of Dayton||OH|
|University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus||OK|
|Oregon State University||OR|
|Carnegie Mellon University||PA|
|University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus||PA|
|University of South Carolina-Columbia||SC|
|The University of Tennessee-Knoxville||TN|
|Brigham Young University-Provo||UT|
|University of Virginia-Main Campus||VA|
|Virginia Commonwealth University||VA|
|Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University||VA|
|University of Washington-Seattle Campus||WA|