Every year, the amount of students who choose to study abroad increases. Since the 1980s, the number of students who take courses outside of their home country has quintupled, and many institutions, particularly those with a liberal arts focus, now require or actively prompt students to study abroad.
With hundreds of destinations to choose from, especially for niche or highly specialized programs, which countries attract the most American students year after year? According to the Institute of International Education's most recent Open Doors survey of international exchange activity, these are the leaders.
United Kingdom (12% of all students studying abroad)
It’s not surprising that the majority of U.S. students who study abroad do so just across the pond. It’s an easy choice. We speak English. They speak English. Hurdle #1 cleared. The universities here also have enough historical self-awareness to make the American Ivies blush. Oxford is three times older than our entire country. Who wouldn’t want to visit (and run through the halls pretending to be at Hogwarts)? There are an embarrassment of programs to choose from, whether it be undergrad or graduate degrees. The city of London itself checks off all the boxes of prospective academic importance: cultural exporter, world’s #2 financial center, and a bustling economy larger than some entire countries.
Pizza. That’s really all you need to know, but we’ll go on. The glorious food is only the tip of the boot. The Roman Empire might have fallen, but Italy is still a cultural powerhouse. It is home to fashion capitals and a collection of art that quite literally started the discipline of art history. Even if you aren’t a history buff, how could you not get lost among the county’s attractions in between classes? If these aren’t the kinds of academic interests that peak your fancy, perhaps the oldest bank in the world will catch your attention. BMPS in Sienna has been in operation since 1472. If they can’t teach you a thing or two about reading the financial market, you might want to change your field of study. Also, gelato. Did we mention the food is good?
The Mediterranean remains popular with U.S. students as Spain is the third most-visited country for those studying abroad. Since Spanish is the most popular foreign language studied in America, it makes sense that students would want to practice and hone their new skill. Besides language immersion, students traveling to Spain will find themselves in the largest financial center of Southern Europe and encounter all the opportunities that come with the third largest metropolitan area in the European Union, Madrid. The Guggenheim in Bilbao and Antoni Gaudi’s pervasive designs in Barcelona cement Spain’s place among cultural scholars. Plus, students can earn extra money from teaching English.
Say bonjour to #4 on the list: France, where romantic expectations abound. What else do you expect when your capital is known as the City of Love, is the fashion center of the universe, and a short train ride away lies sunny beaches frequented by movie stars? For the more grounded, Paris is the second largest economy in the European Union. Being home to the headquarters of numerous worldwide organizations, Paris and the rest of France are a dream for those wanting to focus on international relations. Its centralized location is also a great jumping off point for visiting the rest of Europe.
Germany recently took over the #5 spot from China, making the top 5 an all-European affair. It's no surprise so many U.S. students study abroad here. It's a booming economy and the de facto leader of the European Union (especially considering the UK's recent tries to Brexit). Engineering is a particularly strong focus for international students in this country thanks to an impressive manufacturing industry. Plus, learning German isn't as intensive as, say Chinese, to learn thanks to the large number of words we borrowed from historic German languages. English is a Germanic language, after all! Not a Romance language like Italian, Spanish, or French.