Oct 4, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

New York. Boston. Washington, DC. Chicago. San Francisco. What do these five cities have in common? They are all meccas for international students in the US. However, they are far from the only options. There are many other places more off the beaten path with significant pull factors to consider when deciding where to study abroad.

Read on for a roundup of four reasons to take the road less traveled as an international student in the US.

1. The cost of living is lower.

Living in a major American city will cost you a pretty penny. However, there are many areas -- both rural and urban -- where the cost of living is much lower. Consider Birmingham, Alabama, for example. Not only is this southern city counted among Forbes’ ranking of America’s Most Affordable Cities, but it’s also known for its beauty, diversity, and booming economy. Plus, it’s home to more than 70 foreign companies.

Other wallet-friendly cities making Forbes’ list? Knoxville, Tennessee; Buffalo, NY; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Cincinnati, Ohio; Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; Dayton, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Colorado Springs, Colorado.

2. The US is home to extraordinary scenery.

While urban settings may be the first to come to mind when you think of studying abroad, America is home to many stunning rural areas. Need more convincing? Check out Country Living’s list of 30 of the Most Beautiful Places in America. From Utah’s incredible Zion National Park to Harbor Town’s stunning South Carolina sea views, there’s an abundance of natural beauty to discover in the US.

And then there’s the fact that attending a school where nature is just outside your dorm door may also improve your academic performance in a variety of ways, including improving your short-term memory; reducing stress; and sharpening your ability to focus.

Another benefit of studying in a rural area? Smaller communities are often known for their friendly people and inviting atmosphere compared to larger cities which can sometimes seem overcrowded, overwhelming, and less welcoming. There’s even scientific proof of this: According to a study by Canadian researchers, people who live in rural areas tend to be happier than their urban counterparts. This may mean you’ll be happier, too!

3. Smaller cities can be big on charm.

While smaller cities may not be as big and well-known as the country’s big metropolises, smaller cities have a lot of charm.

Plus, you just made end up being ahead of the curve -- especially if you head to one of Thrillist’s Best Small Cities to Move to Before They Get Too Popular, such as Estes Park, Colorado; Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Portland, Maine; Northampton, Massachusetts; Missoula, Montana; or Wilmington, Delaware.

The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) also weighed in on the subject, ranking best student destinations by with groupings including “small metros” and “college towns.”

Take Ann Arbor, Michigan, for example, which claimed the top spot in the “small metros” category. AIER explains, “Ann Arbor is one of the most famous college towns in the nation. So it's unsurprising it has the highest percentage of college graduates in our small metro category, along with above-average diversity, many restaurant and entertainment options, and great public transportation access. Ann Arbor offers lower rents than coastal cities with similar amenities. Medical and technology jobs, along with the university itself, provide the highest employment levels in the innovation sector by far for its size category."

Top "college town" Boulder, Colorado, earned equal praise. AIER said it boasts first place in demographics, quality of life, and economic conditions, with perfect weather. It added that the area's creeks, trails, and mountains attract those with a passion for nature. Indeed, Boulder became the first American city to tax itself for the specific purpose of preserving its open space. Also, it is one of the most accessible college towns in the US, with many commuters taking public transport or cycling the Boulder Creek Corridor. AIER added, "The educated, relatively diverse, and fit populace enjoys a great bar and restaurant scene with the best fair-trade coffee and microbreweries in the Rockies.”

4. You’ll get a great education -- wherever you are.

America’s higher education system is among the best in the world -- the best in the world according to the SQ Higher Education System Strength Rankings.

So virtually anywhere you venture in the US, you will find high-quality higher education options offering a breadth and depth of programs, majors and courses of study.

While we’ve named several destinations here, the truth is that this is just the beginning of America’s offerings. From Albuquerque, New Mexico, (that one’s for you, Breaking Bad fans!), to Zanesville, Ohio, the perfect US international study spot is out there waiting.

Did you study in a less common city or town in the US? If so, please share your experiences in the comments section.

Read more about studying in the US.



Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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