Are you thinking of studying abroad in high school? While many students wait until college to study abroad, studying abroad in high school can be an amazing opportunity to learn about new perspectives and cultures, meet new people, and learn or gain proficiency in a foreign language if you are not a native speaker.

 

Travel abroad can also look impressive on your college applications, since it shows that you seek out new experiences, and gives you a great topic for college essays, as well as helps you gain independence and maturity as you navigate a unique situation independently.

 

There are also some drawbacks to studying abroad. Travel can be very expensive, although there are sometimes scholarships available. It may also set you back in terms of your schoolwork and high school’s curriculum requirements. You may or may not be able to fulfill your high school requirements abroad, so make sure you discuss this in detail with your guidance counselor, school administration, and parents; you need to know what you’re getting into before you take this step. It may affect your GPA, so again, you’ll need to discuss how your credits and grades will transfer with your high school.

 

A study abroad experience also takes a certain level of responsibility and maturity, which some teenagers just don’t have. This just means you should spend some time considering whether you’re prepared for what the experience entails.

 

If you do decide to study abroad, research all your options carefully. Keep in mind that many students hoping to attend elite colleges often travel to certain areas, particularly developing countries, to perform some kinds of service or start a nonprofit, so many colleges are beginning to discount certain kinds of travel when they look at applications.

 

Make sure you are committed to the country you choose and have ideas about why you want to pursue this route, what it can offer you, and why you want to do it now as opposed to in college. Make sure it’s for a valid and not superficial reason. For more tips on deciding whether to study abroad, check out To Study or Not to Study — Abroad, That Is: High School Students’ Questions Answered. If you’ve already made up your mind, read on for advice on programs that offer study abroad opportunities for high schoolers.

 

Study Abroad Opportunities for High School Students

  • AFS (formerly American Field Service) offers year, semester, and summer programs in countries all over the world and on every continent except Antarctica. During the program, you’ll live with a host family and attend a local high school. Scholarships are available.

 

  • CIEE has semester- and year-long programs in 11 diverse countries, including Australia, Chile, Italy, and Sweden. The organization also offers summer programs in 30 countries, including Ghana, Botswana, and Japan. You’ll live with a host family and attend a local school (during the semester and year programs). Scholarships are available. CIEE also offers gap-year programs.

 

  • Youth for Understanding has a variety of programs all over the world. The options include academic, summer, classroom (for groups), and specialty programs for art, music, film, and theater; language and culture; and sports and outdoors. Aside from students who participate in short-term programs, you’ll live with a host family and attend a local high school. The program also offers scholarships. Gap-year programs are available.

 

  • SPI offers two-week summer programs in Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, France, Italy, and China. The experience is intended to be a language immersion and college leadership program, and you may earn college credits. (If this is something you’d like to pursue, be sure to check with prospective colleges to make sure they’ll award the credits.) You’ll travel with a group and program staff and live with a host family.

 

  • CHI has programs lasting three, five, or ten months in eight countries, including Mexico, Spain, Belgium, and China. During the program, you’ll live with a host family and be placed in a local high school.

 

  • Quest Exchange has opportunities in eighteen countries, including Thailand, Germany, Ecuador, and Switzerland. You will attend a local high school, and depending on the country and program, you’ll either live with a host family or board at a school.

 

Interested in any of these programs? Check out their websites for details about the study-abroad experiences. There are also plenty of other opportunities that we haven’t mentioned, so be sure to do your research to find a program that suits you.

 

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Alternatives to Studying Abroad in High School

If you’re looking for an adventure while you’re in high school, but want to do something that’s less of a commitment, there are a number of alternatives available.

 

  • Take a gap year. If you take a year off in between finishing high school and starting college, you can spend your time in any number of fulfilling ways: backpacking around Europe, volunteering, and so on. Check out Should You Take a Gap Year After College? to help you decide if this is the right option for you.

 

  • Travel over the summer. Many of the programs we’ve described above offer summer options. You can also take a trip independently. You’ll still get to experience a new culture, but you’ll have more freedom to do the activities you want and won’t be making a commitment that will impact your schoolwork. You can also spin this trip into a resume-builder, as it likely required you to use independence and autonomy.

 

  • Host an exchange student. Having a student from another country live with you while studying abroad gives you exposure to people from other cultures just as studying abroad does. It might also offer you the potential to learn a new language. You can host students through many of the above programs, or check with your guidance counselor or foreign language teacher to see if they know of any students or programs looking for hosts.

 

  • Learn a language by taking an intensive class. If your goal is to gain proficiency in another language, you can try participating in a course through a local community college or continuing ed program, buying an online program, or hiring a tutor. Language teachers may know about other opportunities, in the U.S. or abroad, to practice using that language.

 

Studying abroad in high school can be a rewarding opportunity, but you need to carefully weigh the pros and cons before you make your decision. Be sure to discuss the idea with your guidance counselor and parents thoroughly, so you know what to expect when you’re there and when you get back. If you do travel abroad, take advantage of everything the experience has to offer!

 

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in publishing. She also writes, dreams of owning a dog, and routinely brags about the health of her orchid.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine