High School Abroad

Complete Guide to High School Study Abroad & Exchange Programs

Wether you want to study, volunteer, or travel abroad, here's the complete guide to high school study abroad and exchange programs!

Friends by the sea in Cape Town

If you’re a high school student looking to pursue experiential learning abroad, we’re sure you are brimming with questions. It can be overwhelming pursuing your education and personal development in a foreign country, at a young age, and especially if it’s your first time traveling or your the first of your peers to plan a hands-on learning experience like this!

Whether you’re looking to study, volunteer, learn a language, or go on a gap year style adventure abroad, here’s the complete guide to planning your high school abroad trip.

What is high school study abroad?

A high school study abroad program offers teens the opportunity to travel together and pursue experiential learning, before entering college or the workforce. It doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of study abroad – it’s any form of experiential travel where the student develops skills, independence, cultural awareness, and knowledge.

There are many different types of high school abroad programs out there, all of which can benefit you academically, professionally, and personally!

  • Study abroad: This is the most common form and is often known as an exchange student program. You’ll take classes at a high school in the country of your program, live with a host family, and get to experience the day-to-day routine of the students and locals who live there. It can be the length of a semester, full academic year, or a summer abroad!
  • Volunteer abroad or service learning: Students can lend a hand working on specialized service projects such as wildlife conservation, community development, and much more! With certain volunteer projects, you may even be able to gain academic credits.
  • Immersion programs: This form of group travel is a combination of sightseeing and cultural learning. The program will organize workshops, language lessons, and field trips for participants to better learn about the history and culture of the country, as well as show a firsthand
  • Language learning: A popular form of high school study abroad is learning a language at a language school or a summer camp. This is also an effective way to gain insight into a culture, which will optimize language development.

Benefits of high school abroad

The benefits of high school abroad are numerous! Here are some of the most prominent benefits of going on a high school study abroad program:

  • Fosters personal development: A high school study abroad program allows students to develop a range of personal skills such as independence, confidence, and self-assurance. This is achieved by navigating foreign landscapes, taking on new challenges, and widening your perspective.
  • Boosts college applications: Not many people have international experience, especially at such a young age, giving you a competitive edge in the market. Traveling abroad can improve your resume and personal statement, displaying layers of independence, social skills, cultural sensitivity and appreciation, and much more which will boost your college application and impress future employers.
  • Develops leadership skills: Many high school study abroad programs place emphasis on developing leadership skills. Whether or not your program directly focuses on this, you’ll be sure to thoroughly develop a range of leadership skills such as independence, proactive communication, organizational skills, and so on.
  • Access to specialized education: High school study abroad programs give you the chance to take classes you’d never be able to take at home and go beyond the typical textbook curriculum. Imagine your art class actually visiting the Louvre in France or getting to learn about ancient Roman history directly in Rome!
  • Hands-on and unique way to travel!: An obvious benefit of a high school abroad program is the ability to travel the world with other teen travelers your age! You’ll be able to witness breathtaking new landscapes, taste a variety of new dishes, and integrate with other cultures abroad, in a way that is totally different than the typical vacation or family trip

Best countries for high school study abroad

There are a number of popular study abroad destinations for high school students, including Spain, England, France, Australia, Japan, and Ireland, just to name a few!

When choosing where to do your high school abroad program, you should consider a number of factors, including:

  • Tuition and program fees: Tuition fees and the cost of living vary drastically from one country to the next. Be sure to research these factors to take into account your high school abroad budget.
  • Your interests or academic goals: Consider traveling to a place that supports your interests! For example, if you’re passionate about marine biology or sustainability, look for programs in coastal locations like Australia, Costa Rica, or Thailand!
  • Language: Some programs are taught in English, whereas other programs are immersions into a foreign language. If there is a language you’re excited to learn, head to the country where it’s widely spoken, like going to Spain to learn Spanish and doing a homestay with a local family!
  • Program reputation: Be sure to research the reputation of the program by reading alumni reviews and experiences right here on Go Overseas in order to understand the vibe of the program.
  • Culture & climate: Do you want to travel somewhere which offers tropical sunshine, or a snowy backdrop? Consider how the climate will affect your experience, especially during the time of year that you are studying abroad.

Cost of high school abroad programs

 Are High School Study Abroad Classes Taught in English?

Generally, you can expect a high school abroad program to cost anywhere from $2,000 - $10,000 USD, which typically includes accommodation, tuition, activities, and more. However, the cost of a high school abroad program will vary according to a number of factors, such as:

  • Program length: A high school abroad program can be as short as a few weeks, a summer, or as long as an academic year. This is also one of the key factors when it comes to high school study abroad program costs.
  • What’s included: Each program is different, so be sure to check out what’s included. Typically, most high school abroad programs include accommodation, activities, transportation, tuition, and more. A multi-country gap year program, for example, will likely be more expensive than a volunteer program.
  • Country: Higher costs of living will typically increase the price of a program. Program providers will use this fee to cover costs such as housing, activities, tuition, and more. Students will also need to take into account the cost of food and activities that they want to take part in outside of the program.

How to apply for high school abroad programs

The process of applying for a high school study abroad program can seem overwhelming. However, once broken down into steps, the process becomes simple.

  • Third-party program or direct enrollment: You’ll either apply through a third-party program provider or directly enroll. A third-party program will likely cost more, but will cover most aspects of the program for you. Direct enrollment will be cheaper but you’ll have to put more time and effort into researching, house hunting, visa applications, and more.
  • Write a statement of intent: Your statement of intent should not only explain what you hope to get out of the program, but also what you can bring to the program. Be sure to include why this program and country intrigues you most, and what skills you’re hoping to gain.
  • Submit your application: Make sure that all of your documents are valid, and apply as early as you can to avoid any issues or missing out. You should double check that your passport isn’t expiring, and that you have enough time to get ahold of documents such as references, academic transcripts, and more.
  • Apply for visa (if necessary): Depending on which country you’re going to and for what purpose, you may need to apply for a visa. Your program will help you determine the next steps you’ll need to take.

What to expect during a high school abroad program

High school study abroad varies from one program to the next, so be sure to research what exactly is included in each program. However, here’s what you can expect during a high school study abroad program:

  • In-country support: Support is integral throughout high school study abroad programs, especially when considering that this is often a person’s first time traveling independently. You’ll receive emergency assistance and 24/7 in-country support from academic advisors and program coordinators.
  • Semester, year-long, or summer study abroad programs: Depending on your unique goals and budget, you can choose to study abroad for a few weeks, a summer, a semester, or even as long as a year.
  • Cultural immersion: While you’re able to travel and see the world, a high school study abroad program is much more than a holiday. It’s a form of experiential travel, and you’ll be able to stay with a host family, integrate with locals, meet new people, participate in cross-cultural exchange, and learn the customs of a new culture.
  • Group travel: You won’t be alone on your high school study abroad program. There will be other like minded travelers who you can connect with in order to make new friends and ease the transition into a new country.

Curious about what a HS abroad program’s itinerary looks like? Travel For Teens offers programs in 45+ locations, and every program features sightseeing, workshops, and cultural activities to better understand the history and people of the place you’re visiting! For example, in their Costa Rica program, participants did a combination of adventure and service learning activities, such as zip lining, surf lessons, hiking, and teaching English at a local school! Not only will you learn new skills, but you’ll also be on an adventure.

"TFT undoubtedly left an indelible imprint, igniting within me a desire to continue exploring and contributing to the world in meaningful ways"


Other commonly asked questions about high school study abroad

How Do I Talk to My Parents about Studying Abroad in High School?

With so many program types, countries, and unique program details, it’s only natural that you’ll have questions. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about high school abroad.

Is high school abroad worth it?

Yes! If you're wondering if you should do a high school abroad program, you should ask yourself whether you want to see the world, gain new skills, meet new people and to experience a completely new culture. If your answer is yes, high school abroad will absolutely be worth it!

Should I study abroad in high school or college?

It’s a common misconception that students need to wait until they are enrolled in a university to participate in a study abroad program. In fact, there are many options for students in grades 9th-12th who would like to travel.

However, it’s ultimately down to your personal preference. If you would feel more confident studying abroad as a college student, you should wait until you feel more comfortable doing so. If you’re eager to study abroad as soon as possible, there’s nothing stopping you doing so as a high school student!

Read more: When is the Best Time to Study Abroad? Pros & Cons

What year of high school is best to study abroad?

It entirely depends on your unique circumstance. While many people also opt to study abroad as part of their college or university degree, you can typically study abroad or go on a high school study abroad program from the grades of 9 to 12.

If you’re interested in a short gap year or volunteer program and don’t want to interfere with academics, you can do summer programs between school years.

Are there scholarships for high school abroad programs?

Yes! There are many ways to fund your adventure through scholarships and grants. Depending on the program provider, you may be able to get financial aid directly through them when you submit your application!

You should also consider the type of program you’re planning to do. For example, there are a ton of scholarships out there specifically for volunteer or gap year programs!

Surprisingly, many scholarships go unclaimed because people don’t apply for them. However, the trick is not only knowing where to look but also how to apply for study abroad scholarships.


Start your study abroad adventure with confidence!

High school study abroad is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the world, yourself, and to develop new skills! Ready to take the leap? Start comparing programs and read reviews written by teens just like you who went on these programs, right here on Go Overseas!