America's reputation around the world may wax and wane as its foreign policies and leaders change, but its colleges seem only to grow in global luster and appeal. Foreign students contributed $24 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2012-2013 school year, 12% more than the previous year, according to trade group NAFSA, the Association of International Educators.

By Erika Fry
February 7, 2014

1. University of Southern California

Photo: Padsquad19/Wikimedia Commons

Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
Number of international students: 9,840

Proximity to Hollywood and the California sunshine certainly don’t hurt. USC, where 72% of its foreign population is graduate students (most in the engineering school), has led this list for 12 straight years. As a state, California attracts more international students than any other.


2. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Photo: Aries Lang/Wikimedia Commons

Location: Urbana Champaign, Ill.
Number of international students: 9,804

The most-highly ranked public university on the list, U of I may not score points for its brutal winters, but it wins international students nonetheless, in part because of its well-regarded computer science and engineering programs.


3. Purdue University

Photo: Huw Williams/Wikimedia Commons

Location: West Lafayette, Ind.
Number of international students: 9,509

Twenty-four percent of Boilermakers hailed from overseas last year, including 4,974 undergraduates (the largest international undergraduate population in the U.S.). The university, best known for producing top-notch engineers, hosts students from 126 countries.


4. New York University

Photo: Cincin12/Wikimedia Commons

Location: New York, N.Y.
Number of international students: 9,362

NYU, which has campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai (and 11 other academic centers around the world), brands itself as a global university. Big city appeal, strong academic reputation, and celebrity alums have all helped lure students from 133 countries to its Manhattan campus.


5. Columbia University

Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Location: New York, N.Y.
Number of international students: 8,797

The only Ivy on the list, international students flock to this brand-named Big Apple university. Famous and powerful foreign alums have included the former leaders of Poland, Italy, Iraq, Jordan, Brazil, Belgium, and China, just to name a few.


6. University of California, Los Angeles

Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
Number of international students: 8,424

Last year, UCLA had more undergraduate applications — 99,559 — than any other U.S. school ever. A popular and reputable destination for U.S. and foreign students alike, the university’s international population grew by 1,700 students last year.


7. Northeastern University

Location: Boston, Mass.
Number of international students: 7,705

Fourteen percent of Northeastern’s student body is international. Billing itself as “a university where teaching and research are grounded in global engagement,” Northeastern sends students to learn and work with 2,900 partner organizations in 93 countries around the world.


8. University of Michigan

Location: Ann Arbor, Mich.
Number of international students: 6,827

Michigan’s first two international students — one from Mexico, one from Wales — enrolled in 1847. Now the prestigious Big Ten university hosts the 8th-largest population in the country, 78% of whom come from Asia.


9. Michigan State University

Photo: Jeff Shannon/Wikimedia Commons

Location: East Lansing, Mich.
Number of international students: 6,759

The fourth Big Ten school on this list, MSU’s foreign student population increased 12% in 2012. Nearly a third of them study at MSU’s college of business. According to NAFSA, the population pumps $213 million into the East Lansing economy.


10. Penn State University

Location: State College, Penn.
Number of international students: 6,693

Ranked 49th in the 2013 World University rankings, international students are drawn to Penn State’s Happy Valley for solid credentials and a number of top-ranked graduate programs. In 2010, Penn State ranked as the school most favored by job recruiters.

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