Press Releases

Press Release

Americans Study Abroad In Increasing Numbers

View current Open Doors data

Overseas study by U.S. students is up 8.5% and has increased four-fold over the past 20 years. American students increasingly heading to less traditional places: Strong rise in China, India, Japan, South Africa, Argentina as destinations

November 16, 2009—A record number of U.S. students are choosing to study abroad, reflecting a strong commitment to the value of an international academic experience to prepare them to live and work in a more global society. Open Doors 2009 reports the number of Americans studying abroad increased by 8.5% to 262,416 in the 2007/08 academic year. This latest increase builds on decades of steady growth, with four times as many U.S. students participating in study abroad in 2007/08 than in 1987/88. Open Doors is published annually by the Institute of International Education with funding from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. These findings will be discussed at a briefing today at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the nationwide observance of International Education Week.

Open Doors 2009 reports that the number of students going to nearly all of the top twenty-five destinations increased, with particularly strong rises seen in students going to less traditional destinations for study abroad. Notable increases among leading destinations were in the numbers students going to China, Ireland, Austria and India (up about 20%), as well as Costa Rica, Japan, Argentina and South Africa (up nearly15% each). While this data reflects academic year 2007/08, prior to the economic downturn, it is likely that trends toward less expensive destinations and shorter stays will continue, reflecting the effects of the economy. Anecdotally, student interest in study abroad has remained high in the past year despite financial challenges that might keep some from participating, and campus leaders have expressed an interest in trying to make sure that international opportunities remain available. Many are placing an emphasis on sustaining financial assistance for study abroad.

"Today more than ever before, study abroad can help our students to understand our interconnected world and to participate productively in the global economy," said Judith A. McHale, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. "The State Department strongly supports study abroad through such programs as the Fulbright Program, which is sending its largest number ever of U.S. students abroad this year, and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program -- which in two years has doubled the number of U.S. undergraduates with financial need whom we support for study abroad. I congratulate all the U.S. students who are taking advantage of these and other opportunities to study abroad."

Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education, noted that the experiences afforded through study abroad provide American students with the skills needed to live in today's increasingly inter-connected world. "More students are eager to study in newly popular study abroad destinations such as China, India, and the Middle East. The language and cultural skills they acquire along with their academic experience will have a profound effect on their lives and careers." According to Dr. Goodman, it is important for colleges and universities to make it possible for students from diverse backgrounds and in diverse fields to take advantage of study abroad opportunities.

While the four countries that are perennial leaders in hosting U.S. students—United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and France -- are in Western Europe, Open Doors reports that fifteen of the top 25 destinations are outside of Western Europe and nineteen are countries where English is not the primary language. In 2007/08, students electing to study in Africa increased by 18%, those going to Asia increased by 17%, and those going to Latin America increased by 11%. This growth is fueled in part by new program opportunities, strategic partnerships between higher education institutions in the United States and abroad, and a range of fields and program durations that have expanded to accommodate the needs of an increasingly diverse study abroad population.

About 40% of students studying abroad do so through mid-length programs, while 56% of U.S. students choose short-term programs (including summer, January term and any program of 2 to 8 weeks during the academic year). Short-term programs serve the largest number of Americans studying abroad, including community college students and others whose financial or academic needs preclude a longer stay; 68% of students at Associates Degree granting institutions who studied abroad did so for 8 weeks or less. Mid-length programs (one semester, one quarter or two quarters) allow for deeper immersion into host cultures and increased opportunity for language acquisition. A little more than 4% of study abroad students spend a full academic or calendar year abroad.

Europe continued to host the largest share of U.S. students (56%), while Latin America hosted 15% of all Americans studying abroad, Asia hosted 11%, Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific Islands) hosted 5%, and Africa hosted 5%. The number of American students studying in the Middle East increased by 22%, though the region is host to a little more than 1% of the total number of students studying abroad. The report shows the number of U.S. students rising dramatically in such countries as Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, although the total numbers are still very low. Israel still hosts the largest number of students in the region by far, with a 4% increase over the previous year. About 6% of students study abroad in more than one destination during the same study abroad experience. While numbers headed to Europe rose from 138,871 to 147,676, this represents a smaller proportion of students than in prior years, with the European share of U.S. study abroad students declining over the past decade.

Of the top 25 leading destinations for U.S. study abroad only five did not experience an increase in the number of American students. The United Kingdom was once again the most popular destination, with a total of 33,333 students (an increase of 2%). Italy is second, with a strong 10% increase to 30,670 students; followed by #3 Spain (25,212 up 5%), #4 France (17,336, up 0.6%), and #5 China (13,165, up 19%). Other destinations in the top 25 were: #6 Australia (11,042, up 3%), #7 Mexico (9,928, up 5%), #8 Germany (8,253, up 12%), #9 Ireland (6,881, up 19%), #10 Costa Rica (6,096, up 13 %), #11 Japan (5,710, up 14%), #12 Argentina (4,109 up 14%), #13 Greece (3,847, up 13%), #14 South Africa (3,700, up 15%), #15 Czech Republic (3,417, up 9%), #16 Austria (3,356, up 19%), #17 India (3,146 up 20%), #18 Ecuador (2,814, no change) #19, Chile (2,739 down 3%), #20 Brazil (2,723 up 8%), #21 New Zealand (2,629, down 3%), #22 Israel (2,322 up 4%), #23

Netherlands (2,038, down 5%), #24 Switzerland (1,942, up 10%), and #25 Russia (1,857, up 8%). New York University remained the leading sending institution, reporting that it gave academic credit for study abroad to 3,395 of its students, followed by Michigan State University (2,969), University of Minnesota – Twin Cities (2,521), University of Texas – Austin (2,342), University of California – Los Angeles (2,330), University of Wisconsin – Madison (2,216), University of Washington (2,124), Penn State – University Park (2,101), University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign (2,086), and University of Georgia (2,058). Open Doors 2009 reports that 53 U.S. campuses, primarily large research institutions, awarded academic credit for study abroad last year to more than 1,000 of their students.

While large institutions dominate in terms of absolute numbers of their students going abroad, many smaller institutions send a higher proportion of their students abroad. Open Doors 2009 data on study abroad participation rates show 23 institutions that reported sending more than 80% of their students abroad at some point during their undergraduate careers. These institutions are (in alphabetical order): Antioch College, Arcadia University, Austin College, Berea College, Carleton College, Centre College, DePauw University, Earlham College, Elon University, Goucher College, Hamline University, Hartwick College, Kalamazoo College, Lee University, Lewis and Clark College, Oberlin College, Pepperdine University, Saint Olaf College, Taylor University, Transylvania University, University of Dallas, Warren Wilson College, and Wofford College.

According to Open Doors 2009, the leading fields of study of Americans studying abroad are the social sciences (21.5% of those studying abroad), business and management (20%), humanities (13%), fine or applied arts (8%), physical/life sciences (7%), foreign languages (6%), health sciences (4.5%), education (4%), engineering (3%), math/computer science (2%) and agriculture (1%).

The study abroad data in Open Doors 2009 reflect study conducted abroad in academic year 2007/08 (including summer 2008). Campus administrators responding to the Open Doors 2009 survey provide data on the number of study abroad students to whom they have awarded credit after completion of study abroad, so the data provided in academic year 2008/09 relates to study abroad in 2007/08 and is the most recent available.

IIE provides a web-based resource for Study Abroad Funding to help students find scholarships and grants to help support their overseas studies. An interactive website, IIE Passport, helps students find the study abroad program that best fits their academic needs. IIE Passport contains more than 9,000 study abroad and learning travel opportunities worldwide for participants of all ages, searchable by country, field of study, language, academic level, world area, city, organization, duration, and type of program. The program listings are also published in IIE's annual IIEPassport Study Abroad Directories. In addition, the IIENetwork offers resources and an online community for international educators, with a "Best Practices" section featuring Study Abroad and other internationalization programs that have won IIE's Andrew Heiskell Awards for Innovation in International Education.

About Open Doors

The Open Doors report is published by the Institute of International Education, the leading not-for-profit educational and cultural exchange organization in the United States. IIE has conducted an annual statistical survey of the international students in the United States since 1919, and with support from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs since the early 1970s. The census is based on a survey of approximately 3,000 accredited U.S. institutions. Open Doors also reports on surveys on international scholars at U.S. universities; international students enrolled in pre-academic Intensive English Programs; and on U.S. students studying abroad (since 1985).

About The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State manages a wide range of academic, professional, and cultural exchanges that include approximately 40,000 participants annually, with the goal of increasing mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. ECA manages the EducationUSA network of advising offices for students around the world who wish to study in the United States.


IIE Experts

IIE experts on international education are available for interviews or speaking engagements.

Dr. Allan E. Goodman
President and CEO

Peggy Blumenthal 
Senior Counselor to the President

Media Contact

Sharon Witherell
Director, Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5380

Shana Childs
Public Affairs
Tel: +1 212.984.5360