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THE USA: Destination Guides

The ultimate student guide to Washington DC

Our guide helps international students see what Washington DC has to offer them. From top unviersities, accommodation to culture and food.

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As the USA’s historic capital, the vibrant and beautiful city of Washington DC is the American dream for many people.


With a number of excellent universities as well as an exemplary culture and entertainment scene, the city is undoubtedly a top study destination. So if you are hoping to study in the USA, read on to find out more about what life could be like in the iconic Washington DC.


What is Washington DC like?


Location and demographics


Washington DC is located on the northeast coast of the USA on the Potomac River, between Virginia and Maryland. As the country’s capital, the city is in the District of Columbia rather than a state. Here, you’ll experience the best of all four seasons: hot summers and cool winters with occasional snow.


Washington DC aerial view with Thomas Jefferson Memorial building


With a population of 700,000, Washington DC is one of the most multiculturally diverse cities in the USA and is home to more than 170 nationalities and ethnic groups. 


Find out about the different types of American accents you could hear if you study in the USA.


Culture and history


As you might expect, Washington DC is a city packed with history. Over 200 years old, it is well-known worldwide for its stunning neoclassical architecture and iconic monuments. If you’re looking for the typical USA student adventure, studying in Washington DC will feel like a dream come true: here, you’ll have the Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court and the Washington Monument on your doorstep.



If history excites you, visit the city’s many museums and galleries. Some of the USA’s most precious historical relics are displayed in the National Museum of American History. Or for a more diverse learning experience, why not head to the Smithsonian Institution where you’ll find more than 150 million artefacts on display across 17 different museums and galleries.


For those looking for culture on a budget, simply stroll through Washington DC’s streets to take in the city’s vibrant street art or head to the National Mall to experience some of the free museums there, including the Lincoln Memorial.


When it comes to famous people and Washington DC, your mind might jump straight to presidents. But did you know Samuel L Jackson, Eva Cassidy and Bill Nye were all born in the city?


Explore what the USA has to offer international students.


What universities are in Washington DC?


If you’re hoping to study in Washington DC, you’ll be pleased to hear that a number of universities are based in the city. Here we list a few of the most popular, but it’s definitely worth researching others too, to be sure to find your perfect fit.


Georgetown University is a private university ranked 136th in the world by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023. This institution is highly competitive and its research teams have global reach. Famous for its political sciences majors, notable alumni include two American Presidents and two kings.



If you’re prepared to travel, other options include:

  • University of Maryland in College Park, ranked 104th in the world by THE 2023. This public university has international reach and impressive programmes across all subjects. Notable alumni include Larry David, Jeff Kinney and Sergey Brin.
  • George Mason University – a public university in Fairfax Virginia, ranked 137 in the  USNWR 2022


If you are hoping to apply to a community college to obtain an associate degree, consider the University of the District of Columbia Community College.


Discover more about the top universities in the USA.


What does Washington DC offer students?


What is transport like?


If you like to get around on foot or by bicycle, Washington DC is a great city for you. There’s so much to see here that is best observed at a slower pace and the city is well set up for pedestrians.


For the times you’ll need to use public transport though, there’s plenty of options, including buses, subway (known as Metrorail) and streetcars running from early morning until late at night.


The best way to pay your fares is to use SmarTrip, where you load money onto an app or smartcard prior to travel. If you are a fulltime student and your university participates in Washington DC’s U-Pass programme, you may be eligible for free travel on the bus and Metrorail.


From Washington DC, you can quickly reach Maryland and Virginia by bus and rail. The city is also well-connected both nationally and internationally by three airports.


Read more on the top student cities in the USA.


What about entertainment and food?


A regular feature in the annual Michelin Guide, Washington DC is a true foodie destination. Although the city may be famed for its hearty meals (think mega breakfasts and delicious steakhouses) there is far more to Washington DC’s culinary scene for you to explore. From local recipes and greasy bites at a diner to exquisite menus at high-end restaurants, this city has cuisines as diverse as the USA itself.


Washington DC also has a lively nightlife. For a sophisticated night with friends, visit an exclusive cocktail bar or one of the city’s speakeasies. Or for a night of dancing, visit one of its famous underground dance clubs. And although there’s hundreds of venues for nightlife around Washington DC, you’ll definitely want to visit U Street for its entertainment scene.


Are there public services for students?


Studying in the USA, you’ll have access to resources at government, state and university level to help you find your way through the country’s higher education system.


The US government provides free information to assist international students. Access student resources via the US Department of State website. Or explore financial aid options across Washington DC with Education USA’s helpful tool.


Your university’s international office will be able to assist you with any queries or concerns you have, from visa issues to settling into life in Washington DC.


Get more information on how to apply for a student visa in the USA.


How much does it cost to live in Washington DC?


The general cost of Washington DC


Studying in Washington DC, unfortunately, comes with a high cost of living. As one of the top 5 most expensive cities in the USA, you’ll need to be mindful of costs when you draw up your annual budget.


Discover the student living costs in the USA.


Student budget


Students moving to the USA do have to pay a number of upfront costs, such as visa and of course tuition fees. But once those are settled, Georgetown University suggests your annual budget should be in the region of USD 23,000 to live in Washington DC.


Get insights into the cost of tuition in the USA


What is accommodation like in Pittsburgh?


For many, if not most, undergraduates, it’s a dream to live on-campus at an American university. You’ll find that costs vary between institutions, with more prestigious universities often charging more. But the benefit is of course that your bills are typically included in your rent.


For an approximation of accommodation costs in Washington DC, Georgetown University suggests budgeting for an average housing expense of USD 12,000 – USD 13,000 per year.



Need to find out how to apply to study in the USA.


What are Washington DC’s main attractions?


There’s no doubt that living in Washington DC, you’ll find yourself surrounded by world-famous attractions. It’s not a case of what to do, but how you’ll fit all these exciting activities into your busy student schedule!


If spectator sports are your idea of fun, you’ll be pleased to hear that Washington DC has professional teams in NFL, baseball, basketball, ice hockey and tennis as well as one of the best soccer teams in the USA.


For those wanting to explore all the beauty Washington has to offer, wander its streets to take in the art and architecture, head north to Rock Creek Park to soak up some nature or simply explore the city’s picturesque waterfront. At District Wharf, you’ll be able to shop, eat and even take to the water, all with a stunning view.


In Washington DC you’ll never be short of culture either, whether you want to catch a show at one of its world-class theatres, support your favourite band at an iconic concert hall or a local one in a more intimate setting, the city is thriving with music and performing arts. And if you’re after something different you’ll never have to wait long for Washington DC to host one of its many annual, often exotic, festivals.


Study in the USA


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