Attending university in the United States - statistics & facts

For many in the United States, attending university is about more than just getting an education. It is a cultural rite of passage. Over 22.8 million people enrolled in undergraduate studies in U.S. colleges and universities in the school year 2015/16. This is a considerable number but represents a decline from a peak of 25.2 million in the 2010/2011 school year.


Part of the reason for this decline may be the rising costs of studying in the United States and therefore the increasing amount of debt many students will have to accrue in order to complete a degree. For those not lucky enough to have their education funded by other means, the average amount of debt accrued over a four-year bachelor degree at a public university was 26,800 U.S. dollars in 2014/15.

Attending university in the United States isn’t just the goal of many Americans, but the dream of aspiring academics the world over. In the school year 2015/16 there were over 328,000 international students from China studying in the United States, the most of any nationality. The strong reputation of universities in the United States is a strong pull factor, alongside the cultural influence the United States holds around the world.

For those American students wishing to emulate this experience in some way, international exchange programs are a popular option. They represent a chance to travel, expand ones cultural horizons and possibly study in a foreign language. The most popular destination for U.S. students studying abroad is the United Kingdom. Although the quality of the climate is seemingly not a factor for those students, it may well be the case for the second and third most popular destinations on the list – Italy and Spain.

Those who graduate from university often believe that the hard work is behind them and that a coveted position in the job of their choice is theirs for the taking. Unfortunately this is far from the reality. 42 percent of graduates felt that their first job had little to no value in their chosen career path, meaning jobs were taken out of necessity rather than choice. Be it a reevaluation of expectations or people’s apparent ability to find their niche, the picture for those aged 30 to 45 is more positive. 89 percent of degree holders in that age bracket cited satisfaction in their current job.

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Attending university in the U.S.: employment prospects and earning potential - Important statistics

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