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Top U.S. Cities for International Students: Ranking Cities by Global Student Community, Support, Cost & Leisure

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Hosting more than 1 million international college students during the 2022-2023 academic year, the U.S. remains the top choice for higher education abroad. Renowned for its world-class universities and with a decades-long history of cutting-edge technological innovation, the country consistently attracts the best and brightest global minds. Additionally, this global cohort of scholars contributes significantly to the U.S. economy, generating around $40 billion annually.

However, the experiences of these international students can vary greatly depending on the city they choose to study in. So, to identify the best cities for international students in America, we focused on cities with at least one top-250 university globally. Furthermore, recognizing the challenge of comparing mega-cities like New York City with smaller, close-knit student communities, we divided the ranking into cities exceeding 500,000 residents and cities below that mark.

Our goal was to determine which cities offer the best combination of a strong international student community, readily available support services, affordability and recreational opportunities. Simply put, we aimed to find where students can enjoy the best international experience while also considering living costs.

Our analysis included:

  • Community & Support: We awarded points to cities with high concentrations of international students, which fosters a supportive social environment. We also evaluated the availability of student support centers relative to the number of undergraduates.
  • Affordability & Commuting: We assessed the cost of living, including food and rent prices, as well as public transit fares, which are essential for financial stability. We also considered the prevalence of eco-friendly transportation methods like metro, bus, walking, or biking.
  • Fun & Recreation: We examined the availability of social and cultural venues, such as spots for fun and conversation; live music; theater; culture; and sports. A vibrant student life is a significant part of the experience in a new country; therefore, we considered factors contributing to a lively and culturally rich environment.

Keep reading to find out which large cities made it into the top 10. Or, jump to the small to mid-sized top 10 ranking

Top 10 Large U.S. Cities for International Students: East Coast Dominates, West Coast Competes, & a Lone Star Surprise

For international students seeking the big American city experience, the U.S. offers a rich selection from coast to coast. From the historic educational hubs on the East Coast to the STEM-rich environment of the West Coast — as well as the more affordable, yet equally stimulating options in between — all boast prestigious universities and cultural diversity. Moreover, the governmental initiative dubbed Optional Practical Training offers young people the opportunity to work in the U.S. for up to three years after graduation, whereas the competitive business environment of the country’s largest cities present great prospects for fresh graduates.

1 – Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. clinched the top spot with a comfortable lead when all scores were tallied. Specifically, the nation’s capital truly shined in the community and support category, boasting an impressive 272 student support service establishments relative to its undergraduate population — far surpassing any other large city. This stellar support network is complemented by a vibrant international student community with 7.1% of its undergraduates hailing from abroad. Prestigious universities like George Washington University and Georgetown University contribute to this global appeal, enriching the city’s academic diversity and reputation.

The city also excels in non-car commuting options and recreational venues, ranking third in both categories among the top 10 large cities. This simplifies navigation and offers students plenty of opportunities for entertainment and relaxation. Of course, Washington, D.C.’s status as the national capital provides a unique backdrop filled with history and cultural experiences, thereby making it an ideal place for students to live, learn and explore.

2 – Boston

Up in the Northeast, Boston claimed the runner-up spot as this year’s best overall large city for international students. The city stood out with the highest percentage of international students among all of its undergraduates — an impressive 13.4%. This translates to roughly 12,600 undergraduates from around the world attending top institutions like Northeastern University and Boston University, further solidifying Boston’s reputation as a global higher education hub.

What’s more, the city enjoys a large share of green commutes with 38.3% of Bostonians using public transit, walking or biking to move around — the second-highest rate among large cities. Plus, Boston’s public transit is relatively affordable, ranking third-lowest in cost among the top 10 cities.

3 – Houston

In the south, Houston holds the status as most affordable among the top 10 large cities by ticking the key boxes for international students when it comes to the basics, such as eating, living and getting around town. More precisely, the Texas city ranked first among the top 10 large cities for the lowest food costs, rent prices and public transportation fares. On average, rent in Houston is about $500 less per month than it is in other leading cities, and food prices are right at the national average. Public transportation is budget-friendly ,too, with an average fare of $1.60. That said, many students enjoy free or discounted travel, which further reduces living costs.

Although Houston may not have as high a share of international students as other top 10 cities, it nevertheless boasts an impressive density of recreational establishments with 321.7 venues per 100,000 residents. At the same time, the city’s affordability means students can save on necessities and splurge on enjoying Houston’s vibrant cultural and social scene off-campus.

4 – Los Angeles

In California, the iconic West Coast city of Los Angeles excelled with consistent performances across various metrics. In particular, the city’s standout features include an abundance of recreational spots, as well as cultural and leisure options, which is hardly surprising given its mega-city status. LA also offers a rich mix of general sightseeing, outdoor activities and educational opportunities.

Though often perceived as expensive (particularly for food prices), getting around the city is surprisingly affordable. For instance, public transit options, such as the metro, average just $1.70 per ride, making it the second-best price among the top 10 cities. LA also claims a significant share of international students and robust support services, both of which ranked fifth among the top 10 cities. And, with international students comprising 7.2% of its student population, Los Angeles is a diverse destination for global scholars with institutions like USC and UCLA being among the nation’s top destinations.

5 – Philadelphia

Historically rich in academia and renowned for its top-notch universities, Philadelphia was another city that stood out for its affordability, especially compared to other large, East Coast contenders. That’s because food prices ranked third-lowest in the top 10, and monthly rent averages of roughly $1,650 were at least half the cost of cities like Washington, D.C.; Boston; and New York City.

Although Philadelphia’s share of international students is slightly lower among the top 10 cities, the city is actively working to boost these numbers through a collaborative strategy among its top universities, city government and international organizations. Moreover, the “Think Philly” marketing campaign (created by Temple University students) aims to draw more international students, which benefits the city’s economy and cultural diversity.

6 – Seattle

Seattle’s ranking among the top large cities for international students is well-earned: The Emerald City boasts the highest density of recreational venues within the top 10 — around 545 per 100,000 residents. Whether it be cinemas, sports events, performing arts, museums, or just exploring a variety of restaurants and bars, Seattle has it all. These big-city attractions blend seamlessly with the city’s natural and outdoor appeal, offering something for everyone.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s vibrant scene is matched by its strong collegiate atmosphere. The city has a high international student density with 9.3% of undergraduates coming from abroad — the second-highest share among the top 10 cities. A significant contributor to this, of course, is the University of Washington, where international “Huskies” bring a diverse student population and increase the opportunity for social connection among international peers.

7 – New York City

It’s no surprise that New York City ranked among the top cities for international students. Beyond the rich cultural diversity, the city’s infrastructure promotes a lifestyle where walking, biking or using public transportation is the norm, making it incredibly convenient for students. This urban ease — combined with the city’s bustling, international atmosphere — makes New York particularly appealing.

The Big Apple also excels in educational support, boasting the third-highest density of support establishments with 118 for every 100,000 students. Additionally, 8.7% of undergraduates in the city come from abroad, providing significant social-emotional support through a large, diverse community of international peers. New York City is also home to New York University — the most popular university for international students in the nation.

8 – Charlotte, N.C.

Charlotte offers a compelling mix of affordability and impressive density of student services. For example, the city boasts some of the best affordability for students with average monthly rent and food prices being the second-lowest among the top 10 large international student-friendly cities.

The North Carolina city is also dedicated to student well-being with 103 educational support services for every 100,000 undergraduates — a higher ratio than LA, Seattle, Philadelphia and Boston. Although international students make up only about 2.9% of the undergraduate population, institutions like the University of North Carolina at Charlotte support them with programs such as “global greeters,” in which international students are paired with student mentors to ease their transition to U.S. campus life.

9 – San Francisco

San Francisco excels in the density of student support services with the second-highest ratio of educational services per 100,000 undergraduates. Equally, it has a wealth of cultural and outright fun experiences available to international students with the second-highest score within the top 10 for its concentration of 541 venues for recreation per 100,000 residents.

The share of international students here is also strong, making up 8.5% of all undergraduates. And, San Francisco scored third-highest in the overall community and support category by combining both the share of international students and support services. Overall, San Francisco’s advantages are clear, but they also come with the caveat of the highest cost of food, as well as the third-highest rent.

10 – Baltimore

Rounding out the top 10 large cities ideal for international students, Baltimore scored consistently well across most categories. With average rents around $1,870 and grocery prices at 104.5 on the food index, the city ranked fourth-best in both of these affordability metrics among the top 10. Additionally, international students make up 6.3% of the city’s undergraduate population, highlighting Baltimore’s appeal to scholars from abroad.

Here, Johns Hopkins University — one of the most popular destinations for international students studying in the U.S. — exemplifies the benefits of the American university experience. Alongside its renowned programs in medicine, engineering and international relations, the University’s established connections with top local companies provide international students with invaluable internship experiences, serving as a foundation for future professional opportunities in the U.S.

Interested in more details about the top 10 best large cities for international students and more? Use the buttons above the chart to see which large cities had the best showings in individual metrics.

Top 10 U.S. Small to Mid-Sized Cities for International Students: Champaign, Durham, & Syracuse Lead the Way

While big cities attract international students with their vibrant and diverse environments, small to mid-sized cities offer a unique and enriching American college experience that’s hard to beat. These cities often revolve around their universities, creating dynamic communities where student life truly thrives.

Take Champaign, Ill., for example. With a population just under 90,000 and a student body of roughly 40,000, it epitomizes the quintessential college town by providing a close-knit and immersive experience. Meanwhile, mid-sized cities like Miami (with a population nearing 450,000) offer a more urban vibe, while still maintaining a strong student presence. Despite these differences, one thing is certain: These small to mid-sized cities are stepping up and offering international students the best of both worlds.

Looking at the map of the top 10 small to mid-sized cities for international students, a different landscape emerges compared to their larger counterparts: Coastal cities are notably absent with Champaign leading a cluster of four Midwest entries. The rest of the top 10 stretches from Syracuse, N.Y., in the northeast to Durham, N.C., and as far south as Miami.

1 – Champaign, Ill.

Champaign grabbed the top spot in part due to the University of Illinois (UIC), a magnet for international students. With 12.3% of its student body coming from abroad, Champaign boasted the highest ratio of international students to undergraduates among small to mid-sized cities. Despite being a smaller city, it’s a major hub for international students with the University of Illinois ranking alongside major universities in cities like Boston, New York and Los Angeles in terms of popularity among global scholars.

Champaign is also budget-friendly: The city boasted the third-lowest food prices and the second-lowest public transit fares. Plus, it’s also the only city in the top 10 with an average monthly rent below $1,000 at $947. This combination of affordability and diversity makes Champaign an attractive destination for international students seeking a welcoming and cost-effective place to study.

2 – Durham, N.C.

Durham claimed the runner-up spot among the best small to mid-sized cities for international students, distinguishing itself with its robust support network. With 140 student support establishments, Durham also had the highest ratio relative to its undergraduate population in cities with fewer than 500,000 residents. These resources — including English language courses and academic support — can be instrumental in helping international students integrate and succeed.

Granted, Duke University plays a significant role in this supportive environment. For starters, the university requires students to live on campus for their first three years, fostering a tight-knit community. Additionally, cultural groups like the Duke International Association, which represents students from more than 89 countries, create an environment that helps ease the typical anxieties of international students.

3 – Syracuse, N.Y.

The upstate city of Syracuse, home to Syracuse University, ranked third on our list of the best small to mid-sized places for international students. It has a strong global student community spirit, boasting the second-highest share of international students in the top 10 with 7.4% of its total undergraduate population coming from abroad.

Getting around Syracuse is also convenient with 19.4% of residents using public transportation, walking or biking. To that end, one of the advantages of living in a smaller city like Syracuse is the ease of mobility. Students can easily walk or bike from anywhere on campus to Marshall Street, a popular social hub just off University Avenue. Additionally, students have access to the ‘Cuse Trolley campus shuttle service and the city’s local bus services. Moreover, Syracuse also offers more than 80 miles of bike lanes that separate cyclists from motorized traffic.

4 – Buffalo, N.Y.

Another New York state gem, Buffalo ranked fourth among the top small to mid-sized cities. With a 7.2% share of international students, it’s a popular destination for global scholars. Here again, the University at Buffalo (UB) is well-regarded for its diversity and strong academic programs. In fact, UB’s reputation for providing excellent value for the money makes it particularly attractive, especially because international students pay tuition similar to out-of-state U.S. citizens.

In terms of living costs, Buffalo has some of the lowest cost of food among the top 10 in this population category, as well as the third-lowest rent and some of the more affordable public transit fares. Overall, Buffalo does well to address the ongoing affordability concerns for students travelling to study in the U.S.

5 – Atlanta

Famous for its vibrant culture and diversity, Atlanta had the third-highest density of entertainment and leisure locations, which is no surprise given its lively atmosphere. However, Atlanta offers more than just fun and inspiration. It also excels in student support services, ranking third in density among the top 10 cities. With at least three major universities (mostly centrally located), Atlanta provides 65 support service establishments compared to its number of undergraduates.

Although Atlanta’s international student population of 5.4% might not seem high, it nevertheless places the city in the top half of this metric among the top 10 cities. Home to the likes of Emory, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State University, Atlanta has extensive experience in accommodating international students, which makes it a welcoming and supportive environment for those coming from abroad.

6 – Minneapolis

Coming in sixth among the best places for international students to study and live, Minneapolis’ standout feature was the impressive array of student support services: It claimed the second-highest number of educational support establishments among our top 10 cities in this size bracket. What’s more, with 69 services relative to its undergraduate population, students have plenty of resources to help them succeed.

But, it’s not just about the support services. Minneapolis is also affordable and offers a great quality of life. Namely, the city’s low food index score — ranking fourth-lowest among the top 10 — means grocery shopping won’t break the bank. Plus, Minneapolis’ commitment to green commuting is fantastic. Many residents use public transportation, walk or bike here, making it easy for students to get around without needing a car.

7 – Madison, Wis.

Madison distinguishes itself with a vibrant atmosphere, exceptional quality of life, and academic excellence, making it an appealing destination for international students. Home to the University of Wisconsin – Madison, the city boasts the third-highest share of international undergraduates among the top 10, with 7.2% of the student population coming from abroad.

One of Madison's standout features is its dedication to green commuting, which enhances its reputation as an environmentally conscious place to live and study. With 16.3% of residents opting for non-car methods of transportation, the city actively promotes the use of buses, walking, and especially biking, particularly during the milder months. To that end, the extensive network of bike lanes not only facilitates easy navigation but also contributes to a healthier and more stress-free lifestyle for students.

8 – St. Louis 

St. Louis shone in the affordability category by scoring well on cost-of-living metrics, like food prices and rent. Even better, it had the lowest prices for public transportation fares among our top 10 cities, which is great news for international students who rely on public transit to get around town.

Speaking of getting around town, there’s plenty to do and see in St. Louis. Accordingly, the city had the second-highest ratio of recreational establishments, right behind Miami. St. Louis is also famous for its blues music and sports teams, all of which international students can enjoy live. Plus, it’s home to top universities like Saint Louis University and Washington University School of Medicine — one of the top medical schools in the country.

9 – Pittsburgh 

Pittsburgh secured its place among the best small to mid-sized locations for international students with a balanced performance across various rankings. While it may not have the highest share of international students, the city excels in public transportation and walkability. Notably, Pittsburgh topped every other top-10 locale under the 500,000-residents mark with its stellar public transportation and walk and bike score, which allows students to avoid the hassle and cost of owning a car. In fact, 21.5% of Pittsburgh residents get around without a car.

From a recreational standpoint, Pittsburgh offers 760 establishments and venues. International students also benefit from these leisure and entertainment options, making fun and cultural experiences easily accessible.

10 – Miami

Miami snagged the final spot in our top 10 best small to mid-sized cities for international students. With an incredible ratio of roughly 1,078 recreational establishments per 100,000 residents, Miami lives up to its lively and energetic reputation. Plus, the endless sunshine and warm nights mean plenty of opportunities for off-campus fun. Whether you’re into nightlife, performing arts, or exploring the eclectic art scenes in neighborhoods like Wynwood, Allapattah and the Miami Art Deco District, Miami has it all.

But, it’s not just about fun. Miami’s diversity is a big draw with international students making up 6.2% of undergraduates and a solid network of student support services. However, the vibrant lifestyle comes with a cost: With a food index score of 104 and rent prices approaching $3,000 per month, living in Miami is pricier compared to other cities with this population category. So, while the cultural experiences and dynamic atmosphere are major pulls, it’s essential to weigh these against the higher living expenses.

Interested in more details about the top 10 best small to mid-sized cities for international students and more? Use the buttons above the chart to see which small to mid-sized cities had the best showings in individual metrics.


We began with U.S. cities that have at least one top 250 ranked university according to EduRank (2024). We then divided these cities using a filter for those over (large) and under (small to mid-sized) 500,000 residents. Our analysis focused on these top cities across three key categories and seven metrics. All metrics were measured at the city level, except for the Average Public Transit Fare, which we measured at the metro level.

International Student Community & Support

  • Share of enrolled international students per total undergraduate students in Fall 2022: 30 points (IPEDS 2021-22)
  • Number of educational support services per number of undergraduate students: 20 points (Census 2021)

Affordability & Green Commuting

  • Food index: 15 points (The Council for Community and Economic Research 2023)
  • Average monthly rent: 15 points (The Council for Community and Economic Research 2023)
  • Average Public Transit Fare: 5 points (American Public Transportation Database 2022)
  • Green Commuting - the percentage of workers commuting by public transport, walking and bike: 5 points (Census 2022)

Fun & Recreation

  • Number of recreational establishments per 100,000 residents: 10 points (County Business Patterns 2021)

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