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William & Mary again earns top spot in study abroad among public universities

  • Classroom With a View
    Classroom with a View (2017)  W&M Professor Vassiliki Panoussi delivers a lecture on the Areopagus in Athens in summer 2017.  Photo by Madison Miller ’20.
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William & Mary has the highest percentage of undergraduates participating in study-abroad programs compared to any other public university in the United States, according to the 2020 Open Doors report released Nov. 16 by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This is the ninth time in the last 12 years that the university has held that distinction.

The 2020 Open Doors report provides a critical baseline on the state of international educational exchange prior to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the 2018/2019 academic year, by IIE criteria, 857 William & Mary undergraduate students studied abroad for academic credit. IIE calculates this to be a participation rate by time of graduation of 55%.

The university is a leader among global education even when compared with private universities, ranking 18th in the report’s list of top 40 doctorate-granting institutions, both public and private. William & Mary is the only doctorate-granting institution in the top 40 from the commonwealth. William & Mary also ranks seventh nationally for long-term study abroad participants among all doctoral-granting universities.

“At this challenging time for the internationalization of higher education, it’s really inspiring to hear the great news that William & Mary is once again the leader for study abroad participation among U.S. public universities,” said Stephen E. Hanson, vice provost for international affairs and director of the Reves Center for International Studies. “This is a clear indication that W&M’s students, faculty and staff remain steadfast in our collective commitment to global education.”

Study abroad at William & Mary

William & Mary’s Reves Center for International Studies offers students a diverse selection of study-abroad opportunities through the Global Education Office (GEO), including more than $650,000 annually for study-abroad scholarships as one of many efforts to reduce financial barriers. Students receive support, information, resources and guidance on various study-abroad programs and international university exchanges through GEO, which also provides workshops, peer advising and re-entry assistance for students returning from their study-abroad experience.

“The continued high study-abroad student participation at W&M is a reflection of the university’s deep commitment to study abroad, the vision of students who recognize the importance of global education for their futures and the dedicated work of faculty, staff and partners around the world to make these opportunities a reality,” said Sylvia Mitterndorfer, director of global education for the Reves Center. “As we look to a future in which travel and study abroad will once again be more widely possible, I am certain the deep support for study abroad, the integration of global education in the general COLL Curriculum, as well as a long tradition of significant participation by our students will serve as a strong foundation. Amidst the many challenges of this year, we have further strengthened our commitment to making high impact study abroad opportunities as accessible to as many students as possible and creating innovative solutions to the challenges we face today.”

Americans studying abroad

During the 2018/2019 academic year, 347,099 U.S. students studied abroad for academic credit, a 1.6% increase over the previous year.

“We’re proud to see Americans studying abroad in greater numbers than ever before. American students are powerful ambassadors for our nation and study abroad often provides the foundation for future careers as successful diplomats, innovators, educators, and entrepreneurs,” said Marie Royce, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.

International students in the U.S.

For the fifth consecutive year, the United States hosted more than one million international students (1,075,496) during the 2019/2020 academic year. Despite a slight decline (1.8%) in the number of international students in the United States during the 2019/2020 academic year, this group still represents 5.5% of all students in U.S. higher education. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contributed $44 billion to the U.S. economy in 2019.

“We are encouraged to see a fifth year of more than one million international students in the United States before the pandemic,” said Royce. “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.”

International students at William & Mary

The International Students, Scholars & Programs (ISSP)  office at the Reves Center interacts with approximately 1,100 students, scholars, alumni and dependents annually. William & Mary currently has more than 700 international students enrolled, evenly divided between graduate and undergraduate students, across multiple disciplines and professional schools. They represent more than 60 countries.

According to data from NAFSA: Association of International Educators, international students and scholars in the Williamsburg area in 2018-2019 had more than a $37.2 million impact on the 2nd U.S. Congressional District’s economy, supporting 534 jobs.

Eva Wong, director of International Students, Scholars and Programs (ISSP) at the Reves Center, notes that the significance of an international academic community lies at the core of the mission of a university.

“International students, scholars, faculty, staff and their families are a valuable asset to W&M,” she said. “They make our university a truly global one by bringing diverse perspectives and talents to our classrooms, offices and lecture halls. They also provide important international linkages and networks that allow us to create partnerships, global research opportunities, and cutting-edge programs. Therefore, it is essential that we continue to be a welcoming community, first as an institution and then at the national level.”

About Open Doors
Open Doors is a comprehensive information resource on international students studying at higher education institutions in the United States, and U.S. students studying abroad for academic credit at their home colleges or universities. Open Doors also reports on the number of international scholars at U.S. universities and international students enrolled in pre-academic Intensive English Programs. Further details on the 2020 Open Doors findings are on the Open Doors website.

About the Institute of International Education
Established in 1919, IIE is a global not-for-profit that creates and implements international education programs, conducts research, and provides life-changing opportunities for students and scholars worldwide. IIE collaborates with a range of corporate, government and foundation partners across the globe to design and manage scholarship, study abroad, workforce training and leadership development programs. IIE has a network of 18 offices and affiliates worldwide and over 1,300 member institutions. Visit

About the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) builds relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, professional and private exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships and mentoring programs. ECA sponsors the flagship Fulbright Program, the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarships for U.S. undergraduates with financial need, the Critical Language Scholarship Program in support of U.S. foreign language study abroad, and the EducationUSA network of over 400 advising centers worldwide, which provides information to students around the globe who wish to study in the United States. Visit

The Reves Center for International Studies is the home of the office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs, the Global Education Office, and the Office of International Students, Scholars, and Programs at William & Mary. Established in 1989 with a gift from Wendy Reves in memory of her husband Emery, the Reves Center supports and promotes the internationalization of learning, teaching, research and community involvement at the university.