10 of the Best Places to Study Abroad in North America | Top Universities

10 of the Best Places to Study Abroad in North America

By Laura Bridgestock

Updated October 13, 2021 Updated October 13, 2021

Want to study in the US or Canada? Check out these options – 10 of the best places to study abroad in North America, based on the QS Best Student Cities 2015. This global index draws on a range of indicators to rate cities on their universities, student community, lifestyle, reputation among employers, and affordability for prospective international students. Based on the most recent results, here are 10 of the best places to study abroad in the US or Canada this year…




Nicknamed “the Athens of America”, this east-coast US city is well known as a hub of academia. While the city center is home to an impressive selection of internationally renowned universities, including Boston University and Tufts University, its wider area also encompasses two of the world’s most elite institutions – Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. Boston ranks sixth overall in the QS Best Student Cities 2015 – the highest entrant among the best places to study abroad in North America – getting strong scores for its universities, its large and diverse student community, and its stellar reputation among graduate employers.



Canada’s leading city in the index, Montréal is widely accepted as the nation’s “cultural capital”, known for its foodie and music scenes,  mixture of Francophone and Anglophone influences, and packed annual calendar of internationally attended festivals. It ranks eighth overall in the QS Best Student Cities 2015, with a particularly strong score in the “student mix” category, reflecting its large and internationally diverse student community. The city’s leading institution, McGill University, is currently ranked 21st in the world, followed by the Université de Montréal (within the world’s top 100) and Concordia University (top 500).



Just one place behind Montréal in the QS Best Student Cities 2015, in ninth place overall, fellow Canadian city Toronto is a close rival on all counts. It too claims an exciting variety of cultural offerings, cuisine and nightlife venues, along with a thriving higher education sector. In fact, the University of Toronto is currently one place ahead of McGill in the QS World University Rankings®, joined in the international league tables by York University and Ryserson University. Toronto claims the highest score of any city in the “desirability” category, reflecting its high quality of life, but is narrowly beaten by Montréal in the other four fields assessed.



Over on the opposite side of Canada, west-coast city Vancouver is another highly popular student destination, offering a pretty unbeatable combination of sea, snow sports and urban life. Its leading institution, the University of British Columbia, ranks comfortably within the global top 50, while the nearby Simon Fraser University offers the chance to study in the heart of the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area. Unsurprisingly, Vancouver’s strongest score is for “desirability”, with an almost equally strong rating for “student mix”, reflecting the large numbers of international students already attracted to its bright lights and thrilling natural surrounds. Established in 2004, University Canada West (UCW) is an innovative business and technology-oriented institution in Vancouver, Canada, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees for domestic and international students."

San Francisco


Firmly back on US soil, San Francisco combines laid-back Californian beach culture with fast-paced high-tech innovation. Adjacent to famous tech hub Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area is home to two of the planet’s most prestigious higher education institutions: Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, ranked 7th and 27th in the world respectively. At 13th (one place behind Vancouver) in the overall index, San Francisco gets a particularly high score for “employer reputation”, thanks to its combination of world-leading universities and game-changing research centers.

New York


The most iconic city in the US and probably the world, New York places 17th in the QS Best Student Cities 2015 – with high scores in most categories offset somewhat by a relatively low “affordability” rating. For those who find ways to meet the city’s high fees and living costs, however, the Big Apple is pretty much unsurpassable. Few places on Earth come close to matching its non-stop lifestyle and mind-blowing range of cultural attractions – or, indeed, its selection of internationally ranked universities, led by Columbia University and New York University (NYU), both well within the global top 50.



Known for its rich musical heritage, passionate sports fans, skyscraper-dominated skyline and lakeside beaches, the “Windy City” ranks just one place behind New York in the overall QS Best Student Cities 2015. While the cost of living is markedly lower compared to NYC, this doesn’t mean any compromise on either quality of education or quality of life. Indeed, Chicago beats New York in the “desirability” category, and its two leading universities – the University of Chicago and Northwestern University – boast even higher international rankings than NYC’s top two.

Los Angeles


For those who prefer their beaches by the ocean rather than the Great Lakes, Los Angeles joins fellow Californian city San Francisco as a second option for those keen to study in the US’s most populous state. The home of the Hollywood movie industry, LA is also rich ground for literature, music and arts of all kinds, boasting more theaters and museums than any other US city. It’s certainly not all superficial glitz and glamour either; the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is one of the world’s most prestigious, with the University of Southern California not far behind.



Just to the south of NYC, Philadelphia offers a different perspective on east-coast life, offering an appealing combination of green spaces, cultural venues and historic interest (including the famous Liberty Bell) – plus several of the US’s very best universities. The Ivy League member University of Pennsylvania (currently ranked 13th in the world) is joined here by the also internationally esteemed Drexel University and Temple University. Its strongest score in the QS Best Student Cities 2015 is in the “employer activity” category, suggesting prospective employers are keen to recruit graduates from the city’s top institutions.

Washington DC


Last but certainly not least, Washington DC offers the chance to study in the US’s political center. Home of the White House, Supreme Court and all the national monuments, memorials and museums you could wish for, the federal district is also a showcase for many aspects of US arts and culture, particularly known for its jazz scene. The city itself is home to a cluster of prestigious institutions, including Georgetown University and George Washington University, while the University of Maryland, College Park is less than a half hour’s drive away in neighboring Maryland.

This article was originally published in January 2015 . It was last updated in October 2021

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The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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