Jump to navigation
Sign Up to ReceiveQS e-Guides!Sign up for free
As the home of nearly one in every five universities in the QS World University Rankings, the US remains the world's leading destination for international students.
In 2009, 660,581 non-US students – around 18% of the total number of students studying abroad – studied in the United States.
Of course, it’s not just educational quality that draws students in. Whether you’re drawn to the bright lights and fast pace of the big city or miles and miles of unspoiled wilderness; sun-kissed beaches or lush forests; the rustic and traditional or the sleek and modern, this huge and massively diverse country will be able to deliver.
The sheer volume and variety of educational establishments also means that you can be pretty confident of finding a suitable institution in your preferred surroundings. And if you don’t get it right the first time, moving between universities is not uncommon in the US.
American undergraduate degrees last four years. You will spend the first two studying a wide range of subjects – you can choose which ones, but you will be required to cover certain subject areas set by your university – after which you choose the subject on which you want to focus.
Studying at master’s or PhD level? Read our graduate-level guide to the US >
Learn more about studying in the US by reading our state-by-state guides, listed below.
Find out more about some of the US's major student cities...
As well as the Big Apple and the City That Never Sleeps, New York is sometimes called the ‘Capital of the World’.
Few other cities conjure up as many instant associations, be it the skyscrapers that serve as towering monuments to the city’s financial power, the legendary music and fashion scenes, the bright lights and glitz of Broadway or something else altogether; everyone has their own sense of the city, be it from experience or otherwise.
There is no shortage of quality universities either, the best known of which are Columbia (ranked 10 in the QS World University Rankings) and New York University (44).
Boston is famous for its universities, which include (we’re cheating a bit and counting Cambridge, MA as part of Boston) Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – ranked second and third in the world in 2011.
If you enjoy being surrounded by the best and the brightest, then you can’t really do much better. Fittingly, it can also offer plenty by way of arts and culture too, particular when it comes to contemporary classical music. It’s not all serious academia and highbrow culture though: Boston is renowned for its pubs and bars, and its fondness for sports.
In terms of wealth, population, and cultural impact, Chicago only lags behind the behemoths that are New York and Los Angeles. From a distance, it appears to be a sterile mass of imposing skyscrapers, but underneath all that glass, metal and concrete is a living breathing city, known for its lively mixture of cultures, its vibrant live music scene and nightlife, and its thriving intellectual life.
The University of Chicago finished 8th in the 2011 QS World University Rankings, with Northwestern (just outside the city) at 24th, not a long way behind – and there are plenty more quality institutions too…
In UC Berkeley and Stanford (ranked 21st and 11th respectively) , the San Francisco Bay Area is home to two of the world’s most prestigious and best known universities. The intellectual might of this pair has massively contributed to this area’s wealth, which is largely founded on the technology hub that is Silicon Valley.
San Francisco itself, and the branch of the University of California which shares its name, is also known for its groundbreaking biomedical research. Add mild weather, a liberal outlook to life and a solid party culture, and you can see the appeal for yourself… (Read an international student's guide to the Bay Area here.)
Los Angeles will forever be primarily defined by the creative industries on which its wealth is founded: music, television, and – most of all – film. Other things that might leap to mind when you think of the city are the bright Californian sun, beaches, and the perpetual pursuit of the body beautiful – after all, this is the home of ‘Muscle Beach’.
But if you’d rather be exercising your mind than your body, there are plenty of prestigious universities, including UCLA – 34th in the 2011 QS World University Rankings. Worth a look if you’re into star-spotting too!
In terms of fees, universities in the US do not tend to differentiate between domestic and international students (domestic students studying at public universities in the state in which they live do pay less though).
Fees do, however, vary significantly from university to university. One thing is certain though – it won’t be cheap.
However, there’s a good chance you will not have to pay the full figure. Universities in the US are known to offer substantial discounts, grants and scholarships.
If you want to get an idea of what financial aid you’re eligible for, use the ‘net price calculator’ on the website of the university in which you’re interested (all institutions are required to offer this service).
You will need to apply directly to the institution(s). If you are accepted you’ll be entered into an international student database, and sent a copy of the information stored on this, which you will need to check for accuracy.
It’s also important to ensure that you pay the fee (the SEVIS I-901 fee) for this database service, which will be US$200.
You will then be ready to apply for your F-1 non-immigrant visa. In order to obtain this you will need to arrange an interview at your local US embassy, following the process below.
© QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited 1994-2013. All rights reserved.
Find your perfect study destination.
Universities in the USUniversities in the UKUniversities in AsiaUniversities in EuropeUniversities in Latin America
The top universities worldwide, ranked by subject.
The world’s top universities – overall, by subject and by region
Meet university admissions directors from around the world, at a QS event near you
QS Stars is an in-depth rating system for universities
Admissions, finance and careers, lifestyle and news.
Find the university that best fits your interests and career plans