The United States is the Number 1 destination in the world for international students to study, thanks to its diverse education sector.

For the fifth year in a row, the United States hosted over 1 million international students during the 2019–2020 academic year, says the latest Open Doors report produced by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The Open Doors report kicked off the 21st annual International Education Week (IEW), a joint initiative of the U.S. departments of State and Education to highlight the mutual benefits of international education and exchange among countries around the world.

“We are encouraged to see a fifth year of more than 1 million international students in the United States before the pandemic,” said Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.

“International student mobility is as important today as ever, and we believe the United States is the best destination for students to study and earn their degrees. Education is a pathway to a greater future and international educational exchange has the power to transform students’ trajectories.” — Assistant Secretary of State Marie Royce

During the 2019–2020 academic year, the most international students came to the United States from China, India and South Korea. Students from Bangladesh increased by 7%, and students from Nigeria increased by 2.5% from the previous year.

The most popular study destinations for international students were California and New York, according to the report. Texas and Massachusetts were the third and fourth top choices for international students because of the number of top universities in those states.

More than half of international students majored in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field, with business and management and social sciences the next leading fields of study.

The United States isn’t only a destination for students to study STEM, though. This year also saw a 2.2% increase in international students studying fine and applied arts.

Meanwhile, students from the United States continue to pursue undergraduate study abroad programs at high rates. Over 347,000 American students studied abroad during the 2018–2019 academic year, a 1.6% increase from the year before.

The United Kingdom and Italy were the top choices for American students, followed by Spain and France.

But the number of American students who studied in South Korea increased by 16% from the previous year, suggesting that American students are increasingly interested in studying abroad in countries beyond Europe.

The Open Doors 2019–2020 report was compiled before the COVID-19 pandemic affected education around the world.

But there is reason to believe the pandemic won’t negatively affect global education in the long run, said Allan Goodman, president and chief executive of IIE.

COVID-19 is the 12th pandemic in IIE’s 101-year history. During the others, IIE was able to track trends in international education and found that, after a pandemic, international exchange quickly bounced back.

“While pandemics cause tremendous hardship and disruption, there are also strong reasons for optimism,” he said. “After each, international education exchange rapidly resumes and the number of student involved also grows substantially.”

Banner image: Royce Hall on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). UCLA is Number 7 of the most popular U.S. schools hosting international students. (© Ken Wolter/Alamy)