Since 2002, USC has enrolled more international students than any other school in the United States. According to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors Report, published last year, USC was ranked No. 1 in international student attendance with a total of 9,840. As recently as 2010, the number was just 7,987, indicating a 23 percent increase in international student enrollment at the university.
A number of factors have contributed to USC’s growing international student population. USC’s strong reputation both nationally and internationally, along with the university’s global recruiting from USC offices in regions such as Beijing, Brazil, Hong Kong, India, Korea, Mexico, Shanghai and Taiwan, have kept USC a popular option abroad. Alumni living overseas also regularly hold luncheons, happy hours and professional mixers for admitted students in different cities around the world.
On campus, the Office of International Services is a resource center that helps international students achieve their academic, personal and professional goals, and make the most of their USC experience.
Anne Kaufman, assistant director at the OIS, said the OIS supports international students during their transition to full-time students in the United States.
“OIS provides a wide range of social, cultural, immigration and career-related services and programs to meet the needs of the international student and scholar population at USC,” Kaufman said. “For example, each year, OIS matches over 200 students with families in the Los Angeles area to share a traditional Thanksgiving dinner together. Families invite students into their homes and teach them about this typical American experience. This program is a highlight for students during their time at USC. Many of the students and families remain friendly after the event.”
Kaufman also said that the office organizes multiple social events throughout the year for international students.
“OIS also participates in the U.S. Department of State’s International Education Week,” she said. “During this week, OIS collaborates with the International Students’ Assembly to provide cultural programs and events. In 2013, OIS hosted an International Fashion Show where students modeled traditional dress from their country, as well as a henna event, in which students from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh demonstrated the beautiful art of painting henna designs on the hands and arms of other students.”
Apart from OIS, each year the International Student Association hosts its annual International Food Fair, which brings together fine cuisine and culture from an array of different countries around the world.
In recent years, as the international student body continues to grow, a few countries have stood out significantly in terms of growth. China has grown by dramatic leaps and bounds to become the leader in international student enrollment at USC, taking the top spot from India in 2010. The university is also seeking ways to expand in Latin America, having opened an office in Sao Paulo, Brazil last year.
“The University of Southern California community is eager to build even stronger ties with Brazil and to lay a solid foundation for long-standing, mutually beneficial collaborations,” said University President C. L. Max Nikias in an official statement following the opening. “Brazil will play a particularly vital role in these partnerships, given its strategic location in the Pacific Rim and USC’s ambition to attract the world’s most talented and creative students.”
The top majors for international students in 2013 differ between the graduate and undergraduate levels. Graduate enrollment was very high for international students in computer science and engineering while undergraduate’s top choices for majors were business administration, accounting and economics. This only offers a glimpse into the most common majors for international students, while a wide variety of concentrations include international students as well.
Nigar Rasulova, a native of Azerbaijan who is a first-year graduate student at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and pursuing a graduate certificate from the Marshall School of Business, enjoys the campus environment.
“I like the fact that international students are being treated on the same terms as domestic students and are required to comply with the highest standards of the university. For example, one will be required to not only write grammatically correct but also stylistically as well,” Rasulova said.
One issue that international students must face is the reality of what to do following the completion of their studies. All international students are entitled to a 12-month work authorization following graduation, with STEM majors getting an additional 17 months for a total of 29 months given the demand for employees with these degrees in the United States.
The real challenge is one that many domestic students find themselves in right now as well: finding and obtaining a full-time job. Being an international student, however, can provide more barriers.
“In order to remain in the U.S. long-term you need an employer to sponsor an H1-B visa, which can be difficult in the current job market,” said Huaye Deng, who graduated in December with a bachelor’s in accounting. “However, the benefits of a USC degree cannot be understated and I was able to find a full-time job only two months after graduation in Beverly Hills.”