Top 10 Study Abroad Destinations for U.S. Students

Where U.S. students study abroad From the romantic allure of Paris to the lush rainforests of Costa Rica, more than…

Where U.S. students study abroad

From the romantic allure of Paris to the lush rainforests of Costa Rica, more than 347,000 American students studied abroad in the 2018-19 school year, according to data from the Institute of International Education. While the majority opted for Europe, other popular destinations included Asia and Latin America, per IIE data. Various study abroad options exist, including partnership programs with a student’s home college, host organizations, language schools and international exchanges. Though many college study abroad programs may be stuck in limbo now due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has prompted travel restrictions around the world, here’s a look at the top 10 study abroad destinations for U.S. students and the top college in each country, per the U.S. News Best Global Universities rankings.

Costa Rica

Number of U.S. students in 2018-19: 8,333

U.S. News top-ranked global university: Universidad Costa Rica, 822 (tie)

With abundant rainforests and crystalline beaches, Costa Rica is a tourist paradise. But it isn’t just for visitors; it’s also a top 10 study abroad destination for Americans. Though it remains a popular spot, the number of U.S. students in Costa Rica dropped by 4% in the 2018-19 school year. Universidad Costa Rica, the country’s top-ranked school, has roots back to 1843 and enrolls more than 40,000 students.


Number of U.S. students in 2018-19: 8,928

U.S. News top-ranked global university: University of Tokyo, 73 (tie)

Despite a close trade partnership, the U.S. and Japan do not currently have a robust exchange of students. But the number of U.S. students in Japan is trending up, growing by 5.4% over the prior year. Japan’s top-ranked school, the University of Tokyo, was founded in 1877 and has multiple campuses across the island nation.


Number of U.S. students in 2018-19: 10,665

U.S. News top-ranked global university: University of Melbourne, 25

Australia has been a hot spot for American students in recent years. That popularity persisted in 2018-19, with the number of Americans studying Down Under climbing by 3.2%, according to IIE. The University of Melbourne, Australia’s top college in the U.S. News Best Global Universities rankings, was founded in 1853 and features seven campuses across the nation.


Number of U.S. students in 2018-19: 11,639

U.S. News top-ranked global university: Tsinghua University, 28

Despite trade and diplomatic tensions that threaten to disrupt enrollment growth, China sends more students to the U.S. — 372,532 in 2019-20 — than the entire population of American students studying abroad. The influx of U.S. students to China increased by 0.2% in 2018-19, per IIE data. China’s top-ranked school, Tsinghua University, was founded in 1911.


Number of U.S. students in 2018-19: 11,777

U.S. News top-ranked global university: University College Dublin, 226 (tie)

The Emerald Isle has seen growth in recent years as a study abroad destination for U.S. students, but saw a 1.6% decrease in the 2018-19 school year, per IIE data. Ireland’s leading university, University College Dublin, was established as Catholic University of Ireland before adopting its current name in 1908.


Number of U.S. students in 2018-19: 12,029

U.S. News top-ranked global university: University of Munich, 46

For years, Germany has been a growing destination for American students. However, that growth slipped in 2018-19, dipping by 1.8%, according to IIE. Germany’s top-ranked college, the University of Munich, has roots dating back to 1472.


Number of U.S. students in 2018-19: 18,465

U.S. News top-ranked global university: Sorbonne Universite, 43 (tie)

No stop in France is complete without an Eiffel Tower selfie, and many Americans likely had the chance to snap one as they studied in the fourth most popular destination for U.S. students in 2018-19. France saw a 7.4% increase in Americans studying abroad. The nation’s top college, per U.S. News rankings, is Sorbonne Universite in Paris. According to the school’s website, the university’s roots can be traced back to the 13th century to when The University de Paris was founded.


Number of U.S. students in 2018-19: 33,849

U.S. News top-ranked global university: University of Barcelona, 90 (tie)

Spain said “bienvenidos” to more than 33,000 American students in the 2018-19 school year, per IIE data. As the third most popular destination for U.S. students, it hosted 9.8% of American study abroad participants, a 4.4% increase from the 2017-18 academic year. Spain’s top school, the University of Barcelona, was founded in 1450.


Number of U.S. students in 2018-19: 39,043

U.S. News top-ranked global university: University of Bologna, 112

Welcoming more than 39,000 U.S. students, picturesque Italy is the second most popular study abroad destination for Americans. Of all U.S. students studying abroad in 2018-19, 11.2% did so in Italy, which saw a 5.7% increase of American students. Italy’s top college, the University of Bologna, traces its history back nearly a millennium to 1088 and has five campuses across the country, as well as an international location in Argentina.

United Kingdom

Number of U.S. students in 2018-19: 39,358

U.S. News top-ranked global university: University of Oxford, 5

The top study abroad destination for American students is the U.K. With nearly 39,500 American students, the U.K. was host to 11.3% of U.S. study abroad participants in 2018-19, per IIE, which is a slight dip of 0.1% compared with the prior year. The U.K.’s top-ranked school, the University of Oxford, dates back to at least 1096.

Find the best school for you.

Explore our Best Global Universities rankings for more information on the top institutions in the world. Follow U.S. News Education on Facebook and Twitter for more higher education news.

Top countries where U.S. students study abroad

— United Kingdom

— Italy

— Spain

— France

— Germany

— Ireland

— China

— Australia

— Japan

— Costa Rica

More from U.S. News

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How to Use Student Experiences to Find a Global University

4 Popular European MBA Programs for Americans

Top 10 Study Abroad Destinations for U.S. Students originally appeared on

Update 12/22/20: This slideshow has been updated with new information and to reflect ranks from the 2021 U.S. News Best Global Universities rankings.

Thinking about study abroad? Here’s what you need to know.

Guest Authors: Bailey West and Gustav Anderson

Studying abroad is a big decision. Spending an entire semester, or even more, in a foreign country takes careful planning and willful commitment, and it may even seem too complex and daunting of a process in the beginning. You may be worried about higher tuition costs, falling behind on classes or simply fear the unknown. While these are all understandable concerns that even us study abroad advisors thought about early on, there is truly no need to overthink them. Going abroad is an incredible experience no matter what country and program you decide on, and it is totally feasible for any student with early enough planning. There are abundant resources both on and off campus to support you in your journey to make studying abroad happen. 

So where do you even begin? First and foremost, take a breath — start exploring and planning early, and know that you can submit your study abroad application to the Office of International Programs up to a year in advance, so take advantage of getting ahead on things (looking at you, first-years). Narrow down your options to countries you really want to live in, not just visit. Once you have a solid idea of where you want to go, next you should decide on how you want to get there. 

For this, it is easiest to understand the study abroad process as two different paths. The first path is through what is called direct exchange. Direct exchanges are programs run by the University of Maine and a sister university abroad. Students from UMaine are directly swapped with international students and the whole application process is within the University of Maine System. The second path is through recommended programs. Recommended programs are third-party study abroad organizations that offer programs in many different countries that university students can apply for. 

As they are separate institutions from UMaine, the application processes for these recommended programs are completed outside of the University of Maine System. However, the university has partnerships and works very closely with several of these recommended programs, so the applications are very streamlined. Whether you choose a direct exchange or a recommended program, it all depends on what works best for you academically, financially and logistically, and both provide the exact same amazing experiences!  

UMaine Resources

Once you have thought about where you might want to go and what your goals are for studying abroad, a good first step is to check-in with your academic advisor and get a sense of your curriculum. Your advisor will help you find out what courses you need to take and when you need to take them, and this will help determine what semester makes the most sense academically to study abroad.

Next, the UMaine Abroad Office site is the go-to place for all things study abroad. This site has all of the information about direct exchange programs, recommended programs, scholarships and more. You will want to make an account on the Abroad Office website since that is where all the study-abroad information and paperwork is located. 

Once you are planning to study abroad, your next stop should be a meeting with a peer advisor. The peer advising hours for next semester will be announced via Instagram and the study abroad email list, and they will also be posted on the Abroad Office website. Peer advisors have extensive knowledge of the various study abroad programs available and will be able to help you determine what plan makes the most sense for your particular situation. They will advise you on the location, coursework, application timelines, funding and other essential considerations. Once you have met with a peer advisor, you can then meet with Study Abroad Advisor Erika Clement who will further guide you on the details of your choices and the process.

A common concern about study abroad is funding. There are many scholarships available for study abroad through UMaine, including scholarships for direct exchanges, recommended programs and specific countries. The full list of scholarships and information can be found here. Again, it really helps to start planning early so you can make the most of these funding resources!

Also, we as Study Abroad Ambassadors are here to support you through this process. We went through it ourselves recently, and we are happy to answer any of your questions or tell you about our experiences with the process. Please do not hesitate to reach out!

Off-Campus Resources

While most of the resources you will ever need are found on campus, there are still some off-campus resources to be aware of. If the recommended program path feels like the best fit for you, exploring the websites of different providers is always a good idea to get an idea of their costs, program offerings and application processes. UMaine works closely with five recommended program organizations: the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), the Center for International Studies (CIS), Academic Programs International (API), the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and the School for International Training (SIT). 

Beyond simply researching various third-party program providers, it is also a good idea to look into scholarship opportunities outside of UMaine. There are a tremendous number of scholarships available specifically for college students studying abroad, so do your best to hunt down these opportunities. Most recommended program institutions also offer scholarships, so once accepted into one of them, be sure to research what kind of potential extra funding is available to you. 

Finally, YouTube videos are a great resource. Watching former abroad students talk about their experiences is extremely helpful to get an understanding of the small things you may have never thought about, especially in regards to culture, fashion, living conditions, etiquette and travel tips.

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