Best US Universities for International Students

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By Selene Angier
Last updated on September 8, 2023

Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale are all top rated, but rankings are just one part of your US university research process. Explore prestigious colleges with reputations for strong programs, research and innovation, diversity, and support systems, and that are welcoming to international students.

A female international student holds notebooks and a cup of coffee in front of a university hall on campus in the USA

Harvard University, Yale, Princeton — as an international student, you have likely heard of these top Ivy League schools. These prestigious colleges are among the top universities in the USA and consistently sit at the top of ranking lists like U.S. News & World Report, Shanghai Ranking, and QS World Rankings for a reason: They are among the best in the world. 

One challenge: They are also really difficult to get into. According to IvyWise, Harvard University had an acceptance rate of only 3.43% in 2021. That makes Harvard one of the hardest schools to get into, second only to Stanford University, a non-Ivy school with an acceptance rate of 4.7%, according to the experts at Ivy League Prep. Among Ivy League schools, acceptance rates range from Harvard’s 3.43% low to Cornell University’s 8.5%. That means 92% to 95% of students who apply to Ivy League schools get rejected. 

So, how do you find the best universities in the USA for international students? Dig deeper and explore other prestigious college options. The United States is a top destination for international students for many reasons. First and foremost, choice: The US is home to more than 5,000 colleges and universities — compare that to 875 in India and 2,663 universities in China — and many offer excellent academics and campus life.

As you start to research the best American colleges for international students, here are a few questions you should ask:

Program Ranking Over School Ranking

U.S. News & World Report is a leading ranking system for American colleges — it is extensive, detailed, and free to research online. 

  • The National Universities list consists of 392 colleges and universities

  • The Top 250 schools on the National Universities list are generally referred to as “Tier 1.”

  • U.S. News ranks everything from most popular majors — like engineering and business — to niche courses of study like ceramics and midwifery.

  • They detail other helpful learning and campus categories like best first-year experience, most international students, and undergraduate research projects.

When you begin your research to find the best universities in the USA for international students, look beyond the top 20 and explore individual programs, using sources such as U.S. News & World Report’s international business ranking list.

What Are the Best Universities for International Students?

The best universities in the USA for international students have programs tailored specifically to meet the challenges and needs of students coming to the US to study. For example, the international student programs available at Shorelight universities are structured to support students like you throughout the entire educational journey, from researching colleges all the way to your graduation. Support services include helping you evaluate colleges for international students, understanding the cost of college, and more.

Additionally, the Signature Student Experience at Shorelight universities support you with adjusting to college life in US cities and succeeding in your degree program. 

Remember, the best universities for international students may not necessarily be the most famous schools. When you begin your research of top universities in the USA, go beyond the top 20 and explore individual programs, too. 

Let’s look at a few Tier 1 universities with strong academic programs and diverse cultural experiences. 

UC Berkeley Engineering

Founded in 1868, the University of California — Berkeley is ranked fourth among the best universities in the world.* The campus is located in the San Francisco Bay area, offering close proximity to Silicon Valley’s major tech headquarters including Apple, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and more.

UC Berkeley’s Engineering Master’s Prep program, a five-week digital learning course, offers instruction with top-ranked professors from the eighth-best engineering program in the world (Shanghai World Rankings, 2016). The program teaches core engineering concepts and how to prepare for your master’s degree in engineering. Through the Shorelight Live Technology digital classroom experience, collaborate with your classmates and UC Berkeley professors in real time – and get more engagement compared to a traditional classroom. 

UMass Boston

UMass Boston is among Tier 1 National Universities* and is ranked #28 among the most diverse colleges in America by In collaboration with Shorelight, UMass Boston offers students 65 undergraduate and six graduate degrees in a wide variety of fields including liberal arts, education, science and mathematics, environmental science, and more. 

With its location in the biggest city in New England – the country’s most prestigious higher education region – opportunities abound for international students. For example, the university’s groundbreaking research partnerships include initiatives with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, enabling both students to conduct cancer research in underserved communities. With the on-campus Network Information Systems Laboratory — a cutting-edge research facility —students can pursue research in modern and emerging fields related to computer networking, distributed systems, and information systems.

Auburn University

At Auburn University, you can study at one of the top 100 universities in the US* and choose from more than 150 undergraduate degrees and 25 graduate degrees in disciplines such as engineering, supply-chain management, journalism, architecture, and more. 

Set in a charming small college town, Auburn offers a world-class educational experience, with many degree programs ranked in the top 10, including supply-chain management, industrial design, public relations, and interior design. Auburn University also works with top employers in the Southeast to connect students and alumni with job opportunities at companies such as Amazon, Coca-Cola, UPS, Mercedes, Hyundai, and more. 

Gonzaga University

Gonzaga University, ranked #79 among the top universities in the US,* collaborates with Shorelight to offer international students, 49 majors, with more than 50 different concentrations, such as arts and science, nursing and human psychology, business, and engineering. Gonzaga University’s undergraduate business program is among the US’s top 100 business programs, and its graduate accounting program is ranked #26 in the country!*

Located in beautiful Spokane, Washington, the university has a strong focus on research-driven education, encouraging student research from an undergraduate level with its Venture Lab and Integrated Science & Engineering facility. With Gonzaga’s Career Trek program, students can connect with top companies across the country, including Microsoft, Nike, New York Stock Exchange, and Wells Fargo.

Louisiana State University

Louisiana State University (LSU) is ranked #72 among the best public universities in the US* and is in the elite 1% of national universities with land-, sea-, and space-grant designations. Through LSU Global, international students pursuing an undergraduate degree can choose from more than 70 majors across 330 fields of study with a focus on hands-on learning supported by expert faculty. LSU also gives students the chance to study highly specialized disciplines such as petroleum engineering, ranked 10th best in the US!*

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s state capital, LSU is also a designated Carnegie Research University, conducting more than 1,000 research projects in a year where students collaborate with peers and faculty. Baton Rouge is a multicultural city that celebrates people from all walks of life through festivals such as Jazz Fest, Blues Fest, and the world-famous Mardi Gras celebration! You can also build your career by connecting with top organizations such as IBM, KPMG, Exxon Mobil, and many more.

University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida (UCF) is the second largest university in the country, with more than 66,000 students, and offers a wide range of unique English language programs for students aiming to study in the US. UCF’s nearly 100 undergraduate programs span art, linguistics, international studies, accountancy, engineering, and more, with the UCF College of Engineering ranked among the top 100 engineering schools in the US!*  

UCF’s campus is located in Orlando, Florida, known for its many theme parks and family vacation attractions. The university gives hospitality students a wide variety of opportunities to gain experience in the industry along with a world-class degree. The UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management is ranked #5 among the top hospitality schools in the world by CEOWorld magazine. 

Students can also pursue top-tier research at UCF, as the university is ranked for very high research activity and received $192 million in competitive external research funding between 2018 - 2019.

Cleveland State University

Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio, gives students access to Fortune 500 companies such as Dell, Marriott International, Sherwin Williams, and more, all close by. The university is ranked first in the US for increases in research expenditures by the National Science Foundation. Students can choose from more than 175 undergraduate degrees and 10 graduate degrees in diverse fields such as computer science, engineering, health sciences, and public affairs. The university’s Master’s in Public Affairs program is ranked #58 among the best public affairs programs in the US!

To date, Cleveland State Global has connected students with more than 3,000 internships and real-world learning experiences. The university also supports innovation and creativity through its MakerSpace facility, which enables students to develop their own projects and prototypes using modern industrial techniques and equipment. Students can also engage in cutting-edge research by interning at the NASA Glenn Research Center. 

University of South Carolina

At the University of South Carolina (UofSC), students can choose from more than 350 undergraduate and 10+ graduate degree programs across a wide range of subjects, including computer engineering, economics, hospitality management, business, and many more. 

UofSC is in Columbia, South Carolina’s capital city, a great place to begin your higher education journey. The university’s undergraduate international business degree has been ranked #1 in the US for 22 consecutive years* and is ranked #3 for first-year student experiences among US universities.* With the UofSC International Accelerator program, students can grow with a global perspective through internship opportunities with international companies such as Bosch, CNN, Disney, and Ernst & Young.

Florida International University

Florida International University (FIU)’s FIU Global First Year program gives undergraduate international students a choice of more than 110 degree options from a top-100 US university.* With its location in Miami, Florida — one of the most popular tourist destinations in the US — FIU is ranked #35 among top hospitality schools in the US by QS World University Rankings. FIU also has 44 programs ranked in the top 50 among public universities in the US,* including business, science, engineering, and hospitality. 

The university is also a Tier 1 Research Institution, awarded a R1 Carnegie Research Classification and more than USD $100 million in research award grants. Students can engage in highly specialized and unique learning activities through the FIU Aquarius Reef Base — the world’s only permanent underwater research laboratory. 

University of Illinois Chicago

The University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) is ranked #36 among the top universities in the US by QS World University Rankings and ranks #8 among the list of best value schools by Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education. UIC Global offers international students 80+ undergraduate and more than 100 graduate degree programs in disciplines including engineering, education, public health, architecture, health science, and social science.

In the heart of Chicago, UIC has unparalleled possibilities for students who want real-world professional experience. The UIC Engineering program offers students guaranteed paid internships and the UIC College of Engineering is among the top 100 undergraduate engineering schools in the US.* More than 30 Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Chicago, giving students the chance to connect with world-renowned organizations such as Google, Deloitte, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. 

Beyond Program Rankings

When you look beyond rankings for the best universities in the USA for international students, a non-Ivy university may be a top school for international students and a better fit for your goals. For instance, Cornell University is an Ivy League school — but if you want to major in hospitality and do not like cold weather, then Ithaca, New York (average -9 degrees Celsius in January) may not be your top pick. FIU or UCF, on the other hand, may provide a much more rewarding experience that can set you up for success.

Research and Innovation

If your career plans involve engineering, medicine, sciences, entrepreneurship, or a computer science degree, be sure to research a prospective university’s commitment to innovation and research opportunities. This reveals how a university approaches — and advances — its investments in technology, pursuit of grants, strategic partnerships, and resource/facilities improvements. 

The University of Central Florida — a Shorelight university ranked #15 on U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 Most Innovative Schools list — is ranked higher than Ivy League schools such as Yale (tied for #19) and Cornell (tied for #21). American University (tied for #46) and the University of Kansas (tied for #57) also get innovation nods. 

The Association of American Universities is a consortium of 65 leading research universities in the US and Canada. In 2018, AAU members — among them, all eight Ivy League universities, plus Shorelight universities the University of Kansas, and the University of Utah — received $25.6 billion in research funding from the US government. That’s 61% of all federal R&D expenditures going to just 65 elite research colleges. 

Student Support Services 

When researching top schools for international students in the USA, imagine your entire journey — from day one at orientation to the final day of graduation. Ask yourself: Is the university welcoming and supportive? Do they have special services for international students like me? Will I have access to free English tutoring? Will this school help me get an internship or job? 

When it comes to Shorelight universities, the answer is a resounding yes. We only work with top-ranked schools for international students. We can arrange for pickup at the airport when you first arrive, settle you in at your dorm, and give you a campus tour. You have access to English language and grammar classes, course tutors, and personal advisors. You might not get personal attention like that at Yale or Penn, where competition can overwhelm students. 

Applying to university in the US and traveling thousands of miles from home to a new country can be daunting. That is why we created Signature Student Experience, an award-winning set of support services designed specifically to help international students acclimate and succeed at our partner universities. 

Internships and Job Placements

A key component of Shorelight’s Signature Student Experience is the Career Accelerator, a professional preparation program focused on internship placements, resume building, interview skills, and more. 

Indian student and finance major Adit chose the University of Illinois Chicago over Harvard University because of UIC’s strong rankings, diverse student body, and the Career Accelerator’s commitment to successful outcomes. 

“Traveling 12,000 miles to the United States for college was one of the biggest decisions I have ever made,” says Adit. “I think of UIC as a superior academic institution that supports the development of all its diverse students. I came to the UIC finance department to develop skills for a career in investment banking.” 

With the help of the Career Accelerator, Adit worked at three internships and built a standout resume that featured positions at American Express, Ernst & Young, and Citigroup. 

“My [Career Accelerator] advisor and mentor has been my go-to resource at UIC,” says Adit. “Whenever I need advice about professional opportunities, [he] would always share valuable insights and help me along the way. He carefully reviewed my resume and applications to make sure I secured the positions I was interested in.”

A Personal Approach

While Ivy League schools may be considered the “best” of the US higher education system, there are many other excellent options on the list of Tier 1 universities. These US universities are worth a closer look, even if you may not have heard of them before. Take into consideration career services, faculty, campus location, research funding, student diversity, and personalized support services to help you find the best universities in the USA for international students.

“Be open to all the different choices and definitely do your research,” says Nimeesha, a computer science and mathematics major at UIC. She recommends contacting staff and students to get a better sense of whether a school is right for you. “By reaching out to people on campus — UIC Global staff, anybody that can give you a sense of [what] the school is like, [what] the culture is like — you’ll be able to make your decision.”

Build your future with a US university degree. Shorelight can help > 

*U.S. News & World Report, 2021