Number of International High School Students on the Rise

Courtesy of the Institute of International Education
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According to a new report the number of international high school students have tripled since 2004. We’re taking a look at the numbers and some reasons for the increase.

Most of us while attending high school have heard the term “exchange student”.  For those of us who watched “That 70’s Show”, Fez was an exchanged student. Exactly from which country was never really said, however, some speculate he’s from the Falkland Islands.

Fez from "That 70s Show" was a high school exchange student.
Fez from “That 70s Show” was a high school exchange student.

Usually a high school exchange student is a foreign national who attends a U.S. high school for one semester or a whole year, goes back to their home country to complete the rest of high school and graduate. These kinds of students arrive in the U.S. with J-1 visa status.

However, according to the latest report from the Institute of International Education, this trend has changed.

Now international students not only attend a U.S. high school, they want to graduate from with a U.S. high school.  According to this report the number of international students enrolled directly in U.S. secondary education tripled from 2004 to 2013, while the number of exchange students only increased by 15%. These kinds of students arrive in the U.S. with an F-1 visa status.


[typography font=”News Cycle” size=”20″ size_format=”px”]International high school students in the U.S. during 2013[/typography]

[typography font=”News Cycle” size=”18″ size_format=”px”]Total: 73,019[/typography]

[typography font=”News Cycle” size=”18″ size_format=”px”]F-1 visa: 67%[/typography]

[typography font=”News Cycle” size=”18″ size_format=”px”]J-1 visa: 33.4%[/typography]

Student Origin

There seems to be a correlation from the geographical regions the students come from and the secondary education they prefer to pursue.  Mainly students from Asia, especially those from China and South Korea make up majority of 48,632 seeking high school diplomas in the U.S.

On the other hand most of the international exchange students tend to come from Europe and with Germany making up 66% of the 24,000 exchange high school students.  Though the majority of the exchange high school students come from Europe, it also needs to be noted that another 9% of them come from South America.  This data indicates that students from Europe and South America are mainly interested in cultural exchanges.

Courtesy of the Institute of International Education
Courtesy of the Institute of International Education

Where in the U.S. are these students studying?


[typography font=”News Cycle” size=”20″ size_format=”px”] Where international high school students in the U.S. studied in 2013[/typography]

[typography font=”News Cycle” size=”18″ size_format=”px”]F-1 visa: majority attended private schools on the East and West Coasts[/typography]

[typography font=”News Cycle” size=”18″ size_format=”px”]J-1 visa: majority attended public schools in the Midwest[/typography]


The contrast between F-1 students attending private schools and J-1 students attending public schools is because [highlight]U.S visa policy prohibits F-1 students to enroll in a public school for more than one year.[/highlight] That means an F-1 student seeking a high school diploma in the U.S. cannot enroll for multiple years in a public high school.  The reason? Public high schools are funded by U.S. taxpayer money and it would not make sense for the U.S. taxpayer to pay for the education of someone who has not contributed nor paid any taxes.  As a result, most F-1 students attend private high schools.

Since J-1 students attend public high schools for cultural exchange they are allowed to attend the public high school for no more than one year.  It’s important to understand it’s the same for U.S. students who attend a high school abroad; they can only attend for one year as well.

Excuse me, I have a question

[typography font=”News Cycle” size=”16″ size_format=”px”]Why is there such an increase of students from Asia seeking high school diplomas in the U.S.?[/typography]

One explanation is this could be an optimal pathway to U.S. higher education.  By graduating from a U.S. school these students would probably meet all the required standards to get admitted to a U.S. university.  They would already be familiar with U.S. culture, which would definitely help them with their transition to U.S. university life. Their English skills would have improved and they could probably wave their TOEFL requirement for admission. However, it could be disadvantageous if there are students from the same country attending the same high school because then they may be more likely to hang out with friends from their own country, which could hinder their integration in U.S secondary education.

Another benefit of students seeking high school diplomas from the U.S is that fact that this could definitely make things easier for a U.S. admission counselor who would not have to worry about the authenticity of transcripts.  This has been an ongoing concern for U.S. admissions counselors as they continue to find discrepancies and falsification of documents from certain countries.

This was the first report assessing the enrollment of international students in U.S secondary education and there is still much to see how it evolves.

Did you graduate from a U.S. high school and stayed in the country to attend a university/college? Or did you return home? Share with us on Facebook, Tweet at us on Twitter, join the discussion in our LinkedIn group, or comment below.

Eron MemajEron Memaj

Managing Editor





One thought on “Number of International High School Students on the Rise

  1. Interesting article, Eron. Some of my first cross-cultural experiences were with foreign exchange students at my high school in Indianapolis, IN (Lawrence North High School to be exact). In fact, I have already visited with two of them at their hometowns in Germany and Switzerland a few years after they left and have made time to spend with them when they returned to the States for a visit. To be honest, I am glad to hear that there is an increase of exchange students in US high schools, because I think that helps to set the tone for diversity and inclusion at a younger age and helps local students aid in the integration of foreign students at the collegiate level. Perhaps, it will even foster curiosity to help increase the number of US students that study abroad, too. Either way, I think hosting foreign students and being an international student are great experiences for all involved!

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