It’s never too late or too early to start thinking about the life-changing experience of a semester (or even an academic year) abroad. Studying abroad isn’t just for college students anymore; high school students with a thirst for adventure, you’re in luck.
There are so many great benefits to studying in a foreign country, from travel to learning and mastering a foreign language. Cultural exchange programs help high school students gain perspective, become more independent, learn from the student population in their host countries, and discover new passions along the way.
If you are thinking about pursuing a study abroad experience, here are our tips for choosing the right high school study abroad program.
Because high school is generally more rigid than college in term so how each semester is structured, high school students who want to study in a foreign country usually do so through a summer program or a full academic year exchange. Knowing how long you want to study abroad is just as important as narrowing down destinations, so all students need to be sure to think this step through carefully before committing to any a study abroad experience.
The first step in choosing the right high school study abroad program is identifying your study abroad goals. By knowing what you want to get out of your study abroad experience, you can better decide which type of program is the right one for you. Summer programs are less likely to offer academic credits, which frees students and gives them more flexibility in their focus.
For example, if you really want to spend your time developing new language skills, finding volunteer opportunities in a new community, or learning a local craft, you may want to consider a summer program. This option is a great option for students who have never traveled alone or traveled internationally.
For high school students seeking total language immersion from their study abroad experience, a full academic year of studying abroad might be the way to go. Students studying abroad for an entire academic year will get an unparalleled experience (and will likely be more well-adjusted as college students, too).
Summer semester and full-year study abroad programs can be found through a number of sources—like your school’s guidance counselor, a list of scholarship and financial aid programs, recommendations from family and friends, review websites, or a simple Internet search.
In terms of the actual program provider, this boils down to independent organizations/companies or U.S. high school exchange programs. In exchanges, you won't pay tuition because you swap with another student; however, you do pay for support. These high school programs have less flexibility, but they are more affordable and typically offer a comprehensive travel package (including a host family placement and school costs). Going through a U.S. high school also makes it easier to receive academic credit for your time abroad. High school exchange programs almost always involve a homestay or host family, which may make students feel more comfortable while apart from their own family.
Independent program providers give participants educational opportunities and support, and they are in the business of being more flexible about the details — where you want to go and what you want to do (volunteer? study?) while you’re there. If you are interested in gaining a specific skill or field experience while you’re abroad, this may be the option for you. Summer abroad is also a great chance to earn service learning credits if your school requires them.
For most high school students exploring study abroad opportunities, financial aid is important. Thankfully, there are many study abroad scholarships available to high school students, as well as need-based financial aid programs, and—wait for it—crowdfunding.
If cost is important to you, the U.S. Department of State offers high school exchange scholarships each year. These programs tend to have specific focuses and requirements, but they’re absolutely worth researching to see what’s offered.
Explore all types of program options before deciding which one is the right fit for you. Be sure you have a firm understanding of the program requirements — especially language requirements. Talk to your school’s guidance counselor, email questions to program providers, and ask questions of peers who have traveled abroad or alumni of a program in which you’re interested. Read firsthand accounts on review sites like StudyAbroad101.
Don’t forget that being away from home and from your friends can be challenging at times, and if that’s a concern for you, consider a summer program. But also don’t forget that new places mean new opportunities for friends. No matter which type of program or provider your choose (or when you choose it), studying abroad is a wonderful way to develop your global perspective, gain independence and maturity, challenge yourself, and make friends and memories that will last a lifetime.
Not convinced? Here are 10 Reasons to Study Abroad.
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