Origins of College Students: Understanding Geographic Diversity

May 13, 2024

geographic diversity colleges

When students and their families explore college choices, the geographic diversity of the student body can be a key consideration. Understanding where students originate from can provide insights into the cultural mix, networking opportunities, and the overall appeal of a college as well as the extent to which a college prioritizes geographic diversity. This post investigates how selectivity impacts the geographic origins of students and allows you to explore specific geographic data for individual colleges and universities.

Relationship between Selectivity and Out-of-State Enrollment 

Colleges and universities exhibit varied patterns in attracting in-state versus out-of-state students, and these patterns are influenced by the institution’s selectivity:

Colleges across the US show a range of patterns in attracting in-state versus out-of-state students, influenced heavily by the selectivity of the institution. At less selective colleges, about 75.9% of the student body is made up of in-state students. These institutions tend to predominantly draw students from the local area, often due to more accessible tuition rates for residents and greater ease of access. 

As we move to moderately and very selective colleges, there is a noticeable decrease in the percentage of in-state students, with figures around 61.3% and 61.2% respectively. This reduction in in-state student representation as selectivity increases suggests a broader national appeal, possibly driven by more aggressive recruitment strategies targeting out-of-state students. 

Extremely selective colleges have an even lower proportion of in-state students, at 56.7%. These institutions attract a significant number of out-of-state students, likely due to their prestigious programs and strong national reputations that resonate beyond their immediate geographic area. 

The trend is most pronounced at most selective colleges, where only 18.9% of students are from the state in which the college is located. These schools demonstrate a substantial national and international draw, highlighting their global prestige and the broad appeal they have to students from a wide range of geographic backgrounds.

Why Geographic Diversity Matters 

Geographic diversity can enrich the college experience by: 

  • Broadening Perspectives: Students from diverse geographic backgrounds bring unique viewpoints and experiences, enriching classroom discussions and group projects. 
  • Expanding Networking Opportunities: A geographically diverse alumni network can open doors to job opportunities in various regions. 
  • Enhancing Cultural Exposure: Interacting with peers from different areas prepares students for global citizenship in an interconnected world.

Explore Specific Colleges 

To help you visualize and understand this data at an individual college level, we provide an interactive tool where you can select an institution from a dropdown menu and view the percentage of first-year students from each state, showcasing the geographic diversity of the student body. Explore the tool below:


The geographic origins of college students provide valuable insights into an institution’s reach and appeal. Understanding these patterns is crucial for students, parents, and counselors in making informed decisions about college selection and application strategy. Whether you’re seeking a college with a local community feel or a diverse mix of students from different states and countries, accessing this information is vital in choosing the right institution that fits your academic and social preferences.