A new report by international higher education analysts QS Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) takes another step towards authoritatively defining the motivations of those seeking to study abroad. QS finds that international applicants from the United States are the world’s most career-focused, and that concerns about the return on investment they can expect dictate their international study choices more than is the case for any other regionally-demarcated group covered by the project.
The report finds that internationally-minded students from the United States are more likely to focus on factors relating to their future career when choosing a foreign study destination than their peers in other parts of the world. Almost two thirds (62%) of US students cite ‘employment rate of graduates’ among their top three factors when comparing universities, significantly more than any other regional group. In fact, they are the only group that does not cite ‘teaching quality’ as the most-important metric when assessing institutions, while also allocating a relatively low priority to ‘university research’.
Even though the highest-ranked English universities are often very expensive, they still take less time to pay back than some of the highest-ranked US universities – Bryant, US applicant
The report thus demonstrates that US students are not primarily seeking to improve their quality of academic life when travelling abroad. Instead, US students are characterised by a uniquely keen perception of higher education as an investment, and of themselves as customers seeking to make a remunerative purchase. Though all groups surveyed by QS express some concern surrounding both cost and return on investment, US students are more likely to prioritise both factors when selecting a university abroad.
Bryant, a US applicant who participated in focus groups run by QS, said: “Even though the highest-ranked English universities are often very expensive, they still take less time to pay back than some of the highest-ranked US universities […] Universities in Europe are generally better value for money and have a better return on investment.”
When not thinking about cost, US applicants are likely to be thinking about connections. No group is as concerned with creating a professional network at university as US students, and those surveyed by QS establish a consensus that higher education is as much, if not more, about establishing who they know as what they know.
Lawrence, another participant in QS’s focus groups, said: “I would go to a university where I could meet great people, not just the programme.” Like many US students, he also expressed the opinion that universities with a stronger reputation would offer the best opportunities for networking, even if the quality of education was not necessarily superior.
The report is part of QS’s six-part series seeking to provide new insight into trends surrounding international study in contemporary times, and the underlying motivations, priorities and beliefs behind these trends. The series is based on 60 focus groups conducted by QS researchers Dasha Karzunina and Laura Bridgestock in locations around the world, 1,800 survey responses collected from these locations, alongside responses to the QS World Grad School Tour Applicant Survey.
The latter was recently highlighted by ICEF for its insight into graduate applicant mentalities. The full report on the motivations of US applicants can be found here, while previous instalments, concerned with India and Latin America, can be found here and here. QS Intelligence Unit are the research division of QS Quacqurelli Symonds, responsible for the QS World University Rankings.