7 Best Cities for International Students in the USA (2023 List)
The USA remains one of the most popular destinations for international students, with its vibrant cities, excellent quality of life, and world-leading education institutions.
No matter what your tastes and priorities as an international student, there will be endless options to choose from in America. Here, we look at seven of the best US cities for international students, and the top universities in and around them.
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Also known as the '“Athens of America”, Boston is home to a host of world-class universities, including top ranked MIT and Harvard University. As such, it is regarded as one of the world’s best academic hubs and an extremely popular study destination. Boston was the highest ranked (11th) of any US city in QS’s most recent Best Student Cities rankings.
Boston itself is one of America’s most historic cities, with the famous Freedom Trail taking in many of its most significant landmarks and renowned green spaces. It offers a vibrant arts and entertainment scene that you would expect of any bustling city, but isn’t as vast or sprawling as others. It is also easy to navigate, with an excellent (and economical) subway system that connects different parts of the city, and great transport links to other East Coast hubs and attractions.
Top ranking universities in Boston
Below are five of the top ranked universities in Boston.
- Harvard University
- Boston College
- Boston University
- Northeastern University
2. New York
From finance to architecture and arts, New York City is a world leader across a number of fields – including higher education. Ranked 18th in the world in the QS Best Student Cities 2023, it offers students a large selection of prestigious universities, including Ivy League Columbia University and top ranked New York University.
Known as ‘the city that never sleeps’, there’s always something exciting to see and do in NYC. From the iconic skyscrapers and tourist attractions of Manhattan (Central Park and the Empire State Building to name a couple) to the hip cultural offerings of Brooklyn, the five New York boroughs are distinct in character, and all offer a variety of options for entertainment and pursuits as an international student.
Top ranking universities in New York City
Below are five of the top ranked universities in New York City.
- Columbia University
- New York University
- Yeshiva University
- Stevens Institute of Technology
- Fordham University
3. Los Angeles
Home to the Hollywood film industry and endless galleries, museums, theaters and performance venues, LA is often called the ‘Creative Capital of the World’. In addition to its large state universities, the city also has many private universities and colleges, many specializing in fields relating to the creative arts.
Los Angeles based University of Southern California and UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) are both currently ranked in the top 25 American universities within the US News and World Report’s National Universities category.
The southern Californian climate is an added benefit to international students who choose LA, with sunshine pretty much guaranteed all year-round, and beautiful beaches, forests and mountains all within easy reach.
Los Angeles is also one of the most diverse cities in the United States, and is often referred to as real salad bowl of cultures. No matter which of the many neighborhoods you are in, you'll hear people speaking different languages and experience a wide range of cultures, which arguably makes it an especially welcoming place for international students.
Top ranking universities in Los Angeles
Below are five of the top ranked universities in greater Los Angeles.
- Loyola Marymount University
- Cal State University, Long Beach
- Occidental College
4. San Francisco
From steep streets and cable cars to the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is undeniably one of the most iconic cities in the United States of America. It is also widely recognized as being one of the most progressive.
Located in the north of the sunshine state (California), San Francisco is close to two of the world’s most prestigious universities (Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley) and home to many more.
Whilst San Francisco was made famous in the 1960s as the home of the “flower power” movement, today the city’s bohemian vibe is juxtaposed with a reputation for innovation and business, forged largely through the nearby tech and innovation hub of Silicon Valley.
One of the world’s leading 10 financial centres, the San Francisco Bay Area is home to hundreds of innovative companies, particularly in the technology sector, including big names such as Apple, Facebook and IBM, which undoubtedly adds to its attraction for ambitious students.
Whilst it has become increasingly known for its links to the tech industry, San Fransisco is also known for its arts and culture scene, and is home to key institutions like SFMOMA, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Art Institute.
With a population of almost a million packed into a relatively small area, San Francisco feels like a much bigger city. It’s also one of the most culturally diverse places to live in the whole of the USA.
Top ranking universities in San Francisco
Below are five of the top ranked universities in the San Francisco area.
- Stanford University
- UC Berkeley
- Santa Clara Univerrsity
- University of San Francisco
- San Francisco State University
Located on the shores of Lake Michigan in the state of Illinois, Chicago, or 'The Windy City', as it’s also known is a fast-paced, high-rise economic hub.
America’s third largest city, it is home to two of the best US universities, the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, ranked 13th and 26th respectively in the THE World University rankings 2023.
International students are drawn to Chicago for many reasons, including its multicultural community and excellent connections to the rest of the US. It's a large city that is easy to get around, with multiple transport options.
The city also has a rich cultural scene, with many museums, theatres, and art galleries, and is famous for its vibrant nightlife.
Chicago is also a great option for sports fans, with its world-famous Chicago Bulls basketball team, and Chicago Cubs baseball team, amongst others. The latter play at historic Wrigley Field, the second-oldest MLB ballpark in the nation, which in itself is well worth a visit.
Top ranking universities in Chicago
Below are five of the top ranked universities in Chicago.
- University of Chicago
- Northwestern University
- University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)
- Illinois Institute of Technology
- Loyola University Chicago
6. Washington D.C.
Often referred to as the historic heart of the US, as well as its political capital, Washington D.C is is home to many top universities, including Georgetown University and George Washington University.
As a student in DC, as it’s often called, you’ll be learning in one of the most significant cities globally, seeing history in the making close up and living amongst world-famous landmarks such as the White House, Supreme Court and the Lincoln Memorial.
Both the headquarters of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are also in Washington D.C making the city a global political and business hub, which means excellent opportunities for internships and employment.
Alongside its political and financial importance, DC has a hugely significant cultural and arts scene, and is brimming with museums, galleries and other such venues to enjoy. A particular highlight has to be the Smithsonian Institution, a truly world-renowned museum and research complex that consists of 17 museums, galleries and a zoo.
Top ranking universities in Washington D.C.
Below are five of the top ranked universities in Washington D.C.
- Georgetown University
- George Washington University
- American University
- Howard University
- Gallaudet University
Located on America’s East Coast, between New York City and Washington D.C. Philadelphia is home to many world-renowned universities, including Ivy League University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and Temple University, which attract a diverse student population from around the world. A few hours away in Pennsylvania’s second city, Pittsburgh, there is also highly ranked Carnegie Mellon University.
Philadelphia has played a key role throughout US history and politics. It was here that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, and here that the Liberty Bell – a symbol of US independence – is located. This rich history, combined with a good selection of museums, galleries and excelent arts, theater and music scenes, makes Philadelphia a thriving center of student life.
Beyond the tourist trail, the city’s residents are known for their sporting passion - both at professional and university level. In recent years Philadelphia has also become known for its food scene, although the city remains most famous for the simple steak and cheese submarine sandwich (the ‘Philly cheesesteak’).
In terms of affordability, Philadelphia is less expensive than other major cities in the USA, which can be particularly attractive to international students who may be on a budget
Top ranking universities in Philadelphia
Below are five of the top ranked universities in Philadelphia.
- University of Pennsylvania
- Drexel University
- Temple University
- Thomas Jefferson University
- Villanova University
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Which is the best city in the USA for international students?
Which city you consider to be best for international students depends largely on your tastes and requirements. The seven cities referenced above are often considered among the most appealing for international students, based on the education institutes in the area and other factors such as quality of life, and opportunities for free time pursuits.
2. Which is the cheapest city in the USA for international students?
All cities in the US vary in terms of their affordability, but the least expensive of those explored above would be Philadelphia. Other cities not listed here but generally also considered popular with international students, and more affordable than others, would be San Diego, Baltimore, and Atlanta.
3. Which state is best for international students in the USA?
Again, which US state you prefer as an international student will vary according to your tastes, needs and financial means. There can be a huge difference in terms of climate, landscape, standard of living, overall desirability and affordability, and of course some states are far easier to reach from abroad than others, which can be an important factor for many. All of the cities referenced above are in states which are generally popular with international students, and have a good range of high quality colleges and universities.
4. Which state in the USA has the most international students?
In the academic year 2021/22, California was the most popular state for international students, with a total of almost 135,00 international students studying there. Following California were New York, Massachusetts, Texas, and Illinois.
Get One Step Closer to Studying in the USA
We hope that this article has given you an insight into some of the USA’s best cities for international students.
At Kings, our centers in Boston, New York and Los Angeles offer a wide range of English language programs, as well as university preparation and pathway programs for international students. These are also available in the popular locations of Wisconsin and Oregon, and are designed to offer the perfect start to a university education at America’s best universities.
If you would like to receive more detailed information about our programs and locations, please get in touch with us at email@example.com.