The U.S. MBA Programs With The Most International Students

Business schools in the United States saw a collapse in international enrollment during the Trump presidency, for two main reasons: The U.S. government actively stymied foreign intellectual investment in U.S. universities, and, beginning in March 2020, Covid-19. Together these two causes spelled widespread disaster for the economic well-being of B-schools, which have long relied heavily on the income they derive from full-freight-paying international students.

The good news for U.S. schools — from the elites on down — is written clearly in the data from the MBA classes of 2023. In short, the rebound from the Trump years has been pronounced, almost startlingly so. Every single business school in the top 25 (and many more outside of it) saw its foreign student numbers rise from 2020, and most are up big. All but three schools are up from fall 2019 when the last classes enrolled before the onset of Covid-19.

Columbia Business School — one of the few B-schools to defy the headwinds of 2020 and maintain a normal rate of international MBA enrollment — continued to pace all top B-schools in 2021, with 48% of its current class hailing from outside the U.S. or holding dual citizenship. That’s up from 44% last year and eclipses the previous school record of 47% in 2019. Columbia was followed by Stanford Graduate School of Business (47%) and Duke Fuqua School of Business. In all, nine schools out of 27, and five in the top 10, are at 40% or more foreign student enrollment, compared to just one school — Columbia — in 2020. Twenty-two 0f the 27 schools are at 30% or more, up from just nine schools, while only one school — No. 27 Georgia Tech Scheller — is below 20%. In 2020, five schools had that dubious distinction.


By 2020, three years of anti-immigration rhetoric coming out the U.S. government had already taken a serious toll on graduate business educators’ ability to appeal to international MBA candidates — though Donald Trump wasn’t the only obstacle in the overseas-to-U.S. B-school talent pipeline. But federal animosity toward any form of immigration badly compounded the ever-escalating cost of an MBA, and when the coronavirus pandemic swept in in 2020, the bottom fell out.

Covid-imposed travel restrictions and difficulties in obtaining student visas depressed the already sagging level of international students in a typical MBA class, with 41 of the top-ranked 49 schools reporting losses — and all but eight of those schools’ losses in the double digits percentage-wise. Some schools went right off the cliff in the period between 2017 and 2020: UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School lost 57.4% of its international student volume, the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business lost 41.5%, and Trump’s alma mater, Wharton, lost 41.4%. The pain was spread evenly across regions: In the West, USC Marshall School of Business lost more than 30%; in the Midwest, the University of Michigan Ross School of Business lost 29%.

From 2017 to 2020, the average loss of foreign student volume at the top 10 U.S. B-schools was 17.2% among nine schools; at the top 27, 14.1% among 22 schools.

2021 brought sweet relief, even as pandemic travel and other restrictions have hampered a full recovery. All 27 MBA programs examined by Poets&Quants increased their percentage of international students over their 2020 levels, and only three schools are still down from 2019 — none of them by as much as 2%. Fifteen schools saw double-digit year-to-year increases. In the top 10, all schools are up not only year-to-year but since 2019 as well, with Wharton’s two-year increase the biggest at 17 points (to 36%) and Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business’ three-year jump the largest at 12.3 points (to 41%). See page 2 for details.


Times were hard these last four years but they were hardest on Southern U.S. schools — making those schools' comeback that much more impressive.

For the 13 most prominent B-schools in that region — ranging from top-15 schools like Duke University Fuqua School of Business and the University of Virginia Darden School of Business to lower-ranked schools like the University of Florida Warrington College of Business and Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business — starting in the year 2016, the numbers went in one direction: down. The average international MBA enrollment at the 13 schools fell from 29.6% in 2016 t0 just 18.9% in 2020, a loss of more than one-third. Seven of the schools lost more than 30% in that span. Another school not included in the table above because we didn’t have enough data to include it, the University of Tennessee Haslam College of Business, saw its foreign MBA enrollment dip to 4% in 2020 — lowest of any school we looked at, giving Tennessee an estimated two MBA students from outside the U.S. in its fall 2020 intake.

Recovery is well underway. This fall, three of the 13 schools — Duke Fuqua, Virginia Darden, and Washington University at St. Louis Olin Business School — reached the 40% threshold in international enrollment; Both Duke's and Darden's marks are school records. Last year no school among the 13 had 40%. The average international volume for the 13 schools jumped more than 10 points in 2021, to 28.9%. In fact two of the biggest year-to-year jumps of any school occurred in the South: Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business leaped more than 18 points to 39%, and Darden jumped 16 points (the other was 17 points at Wharton). Duke had the biggest three-year increase of any school: 18.4 percentage points. Even Tennessee Haslam had a good year, growing its international cohort to 15%, quadrupling its actual enrollment to eight.

Only one Southern school continued to decline from 2020 to 2021: Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business, which dropped a further 5 points to 15%. That's about where Cox was in 2018. But Cox is not the only Southern school with work to do: Seven of the 13 schools are still down from their 2016 rates of enrollment.


From 2020 to 2021, the average percentage of international students in the MBA classes at the top 10 U.S. business schools grew to 40.8%, up more than 10 points from 30.5% (and up from 35.7% in 2019). Wharton, climbing out of a deep hole, and Northwestern Kellogg School of Management are lowest in the top 10, each at 36%. In the top 27, the average climbed exactly 10 points, to 36.3% from 26.3%; lowest is Georgia Tech Scheller at 19%.

Compare those levels to some of the biggest MBA programs outside the U.S. and it’s clear that European and other schools rely much more on students from outside the countries in which they are based. At most of the five Euro schools we have looked at over the years (see above), little has changed in terms of international enrollment in the full-time MBA. Four of the five have international enrollment in the 90% or higher range; only Spain's IESE, at 85%, is lower — but IESE has seen the greatest shift across six years, giving 4 percentage points in that time.

The biggest change over six years since 2016, however, has occurred at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, Canada, which had jumped 17 points in two years from 2018 to 2020 but last year dropped 10 points, to now sit at 58%.

See the next pages for breakdowns of MBA Class of 2023 international student enrollment at 27 of the top U.S. business schools.


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