Career Expectations, Experiences, and Outcomes of U.S.-Educated International Students: What We Learned


International students, especially those bound for the United States, are heavily driven to study abroad by one factor: improved career prospects. By coming to the U.S., they hope for a competitive advantage regardless of where they ultimately reside and work after graduating.

The current political environment in the United States has added urgency to the mission of international educators and those working on helping international students with career preparation.  An increase in increased xenophobic and nativist sentiments [2], coupled with proposed cuts to work opportunities for temporary foreign workers [3], namely the H1-B visa program, threatened to dampen interest among international students who hope to obtain work experience in the United States.

Yet, beyond anecdotes and stories in the mainstream press, we know relatively little about the career outcomes of international students who have earned degrees in the United States. And the anecdotal evidence that exists is mixed: There are plenty of stories of great success among international graduates. At the same time, there are troubling stories coming out of countries like China, where some returnees from the U.S. have faced challenges accessing the local job market [4] and are even at a disadvantage relative to locally-educated students.

In order to advance campus conversations and to provide a bird’s eye view on the topic, WES surveyed 1,067 current international students and 1,095 international alumni who have studied in the U.S. on an F-1, J-1, or M-1 visa. We were able to segment many of the results by most regions of origin, academic levels, and whether or not the field of study was in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field.

For the full findings, please download the free report available at www.wes.org/career-outcomes [1]. Below are some of the main findings of the study.

The Importance of Student Satisfaction and Career Prospects

Last year, research that we conducted on the international student experience illuminated a crucial finding: International students who are satisfied with their U.S. institution are much more likely to recommend it to peers. This indicates that international student recruitment and the student experience on campus are intertwined. We again asked respondents about their satisfaction levels this year and discovered a similar finding: The vast majority of both current international students and international alumni believed that their U.S. education was a good investment. A strong majority – 92 percent of current students and 89 of alumni – said that they agreed or strongly agreed with this notion.

However, we found that slightly fewer students, though still a substantial majority, felt positively about their career prospects. Eighty-five percent of current students and 88 percent of alumni agreed or strongly agreed with this. Luckily, most students seem to feel confident both about their education and career prospects, but the latter feels less certain for some.

Career Factors in Selecting a U.S. Institution

We learned that career factors involving returning home are particularly important to international students:


Employment Expectations and Outcomes

International students have a range of different options in terms of work once they have graduated. Among them, making use of post-completion work training programs – optional practical training (OPT) and academic training – remains the most popular choice. Gaining work experience in the U.S. in general appears to be highly desirable.

Overall, employment outcomes for alumni are reasonably good, but there are areas that could use improvement.


For those alumni who have remained in the U.S. after graduation, whether to stay short-term or long-term (if possible), the work authorization and visa regulations govern all aspects of career for those not (yet) permanent residents or citizens. These challenges start from the time students enroll through to post-graduation work in the U.S.


When it comes to deciding where to live and work after graduation, international students’ decision-making is highly nuanced.

We wished to capture these complexities, particularly for students who returned home. We classified factors in deciding to return home into two groups: work/visa-related reasons and lifestyle/relationship-related reasons. We asked respondents which of these groups weighed more on their decision, and we asked about specific factors within each group. It was found that:

Relatively few alumni respondents to our survey resided in a third country. Among those who were, the largest numbers were living in Canada (18 percent).

Career Services and Employment Experiences While Enrolled

The results in terms of international students’ use of campus career services offices are mixed.

Most international students came to the U.S. with at least some experience and gained more while studying:


Top-line Recommendations

International students come to the U.S. in large part to boost future career outcomes. If students are not, or do not feel, they are supported in this regard, they may choose to go elsewhere or even just stay home. We recommend some of the following for institutions – the Career Services Office, International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) Office, and other relevant services – to follow:

Recruiters and others in enrollment management can consider the following: