High School Abroad

7 Free Volunteer Programs for High School Students

Anna Pedersen

Anna is a freelance writer and editor, currently based in Portland, Oregon. She has traveled to 40+ countries, lived on four continents, and called the United Arab Emirates home for over two years.

Volunteering overseas as a high school student or a recent high school grad is a fantastic way to gain some international experience. Whether you're looking to take a gap year before college or want to use your summer break to do something different, joining one of the volunteer programs for high school students is a fantastic way to start your adult life off on the right foot.

However, finding volunteer opportunities as a young adult, especially if finances are a significant factor, can be a lot more complicated than it sounds. Someone who participates in a volunteer program just as an excuse to take a vacation, or without really committing to a cause, can do more harm than good. It takes time and money to train and supervise volunteers, so the selection process is much more involved than it might seem, and organizations can be wary of accepting people without higher education or professional experience.

Finding Volunteer Programs for High School Students

Volunteering overseas, even as a high school student, is a great opportunity. It’s also quite affordable if you can do a little bit of fundraising. Airfare, housing, and food are usually things the volunteer is responsible for, and sometimes there is an application or program fee. But if you can find a program that has minimal up-front costs, you’ll be able to make this work easier.

Read more: Hidden Volunteer Abroad Fees to Watch Out For

Another step is finding a teen-friendly abroad program. Based on your personal and educational goals, as well as the causes you are passionate about, you’ll be able to choose from many options. Here are some of our favorite volunteer programs for high school students and recent grads.

1. Student Exchange Programs

Student exchange programs can be an excellent way for high school students to travel on a budget and promote cross-cultural understanding. These programs range in length from a couple of weeks to a full year of classes in a foreign high school. Exchange programs allow you the opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture fully. You might have a chance to host an exchange student too, giving a student from another country the chance to experience life in your home. Fees vary by program, but the student is often responsible for expenses like airfare and food.

Read reviews of Rotary International programs

2. Experiment in International Living

The Experiment in International Living is a Vermont based organization that offers summer programs for high school students, including volunteer opportunities in a wide variety of locations throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Programs have a registration fee (sometimes as much as $5,000), but they also offer several scholarships to cover part or all of the initial price. It's worth looking into to see if you qualify for a scholarship, and you could participate in a well-organized and high-quality program that usually costs several thousand dollars for free, or at a hefty discount.

Read reviews of EIL programs

3. Projects Abroad Argentina

Projects Abroad offers volunteer programs for high school students in countries like Argentina and Croatia. These programs are for teens interested in volunteer overseas to give them a taste of what it's like. While in Argentina, high school students get to learn about the culture and language while working on service projects for two to four weeks.

Read Reviews of Projects Abroad Argentina

4. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

Another great option with a low upfront cost is World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF. If you’re interested in working on a farm, you can do that with WWOOF in exchange for free room and board. Opportunities are available in over 50 countries, and the time commitment is negotiable, you can work that out with your host. Each country has its own set of rules regarding minimum age, but WWOOF German, Portugal, UK, and Italy accept those under the age of 18.

Read more about WWOOF

5. Virtual Volunteering in Nepal

While the idea of virtual volunteering might not sound quite as exciting as jetting off to new destinations, the reality is that volunteering from your own home can be advantageous for a number of reasons. Not only do you not have to worry about buying a plane ticket or paying for expensive housing, but you can also work a part time job while still getting an immersive international experience. GAP Year Nepal is offering a very cool opportunity for high school students to volunteer in Nepal from the comfort of your own home. Students can work on any number of projects, from English language education to community development.

Read reviews of Virtual Volunteering in Nepal

6. GVI: Volunteering for Teens

Specifically offering volunteer programs for high school students, GVI encourages students between the ages of 15 and 17 to explore the greater world. Offering programs in cultural immersion, marine and wildlife conservation, and community development, high school students can learn to become a global citizen. GVI programs are available in 11 countries and last one to two weeks.

Read Reviews of GVI Programs

7. Workaway

Similar to WWOOF, Workaway matches eager volunteers with hosts around the world. But with Workaway, you'll have a much bigger variety of projects to choose from. You can work on a farm or garden, help a family with English language learning, work on a ranch or animal farm, provide childcare, or do any number of tasks requested by your hosts. The world is your oyster when it comes to choosing a destination and the nice thing is that you can read reviews left by previous guests so that you get a realistic idea of what the experience will be like.

Read more about Workaway

Remember, Plan Ahead

With all of the different programs and information out there, choosing among the volunteer programs for high school students can seem like a daunting task. It's best to start planning as early as possible. For example, if you think you might want to spend the summer between Junior and Senior year volunteering abroad, start planning and fundraising during your Freshman year.

Read more: 21 Volunteer Abroad Scholarships & Grants to Apply For in 2020

The nature of international volunteer programs for high school students is that some level of fundraising will be required, and as a general rule, it's always best to have more money saved than you think you will need. So, start planning now, and when the time comes, your experience will be that much more rewarding!