- The decision to study abroad during high school isn't always an easy one and comes with both pros and cons.
- Studying abroad in high school can benefit you personally, academically, and in the future, professionally.
- Although studying abroad in high school can be pricey, there are scholarships available.
- Being away from home for an extended period of time can lead to homesickness and loss of the safety net of family and friends.
- Even if you aren't yet thinking about college, studying abroad now can boost the competitiveness of your university applications. It can even help you figure out what you want to major in.
- You parents may need some convincing to let you go but we're here to help!
Are you considering studying abroad while you're still in high school? There are lots of things to consider: the destination, the length of the program, the accommodation options... But, it might be good to step back for a few moments and consider whether it's really necessary to study abroad before you get to university.
As someone who studied in Japan at 15 and then in the Czech Republic while I was in college, I have seen the study abroad experience from a number of angles. For all the pros around studying abroad during high school, there are also a few cons to consider.
Read more: The Best High School Study Abroad Programs
Pro: You get international experience at an early age
Your first time traveling internationally is always a challenge, whether you're 15 or 35. So why not master this skill early in life, when you're more adaptable, open to new experiences, and a bit more resilient? While you're never too old to try something new, if you start traveling young the experiences and knowledge you gain will help shape you in your adulthood.
You have no idea how many travel options are open to you until you take that first step. One trip to Mexico leads to another to Spain. One year of studying abroad in Germany during high school leads to a college semester abroad in Australia. Slowly, you learn about all the opportunities this world actually has to offer you and you'll already have the confidence to take advantage of them.
Con: You may struggle more with homesickness
Anyone of any age can feel homesick and miss their friends and family. But this is likely to hit you harder when you're young and still reliant on your parents or caregivers (however much you like to claim independence!). Don't underestimate how much homesickness can ruin an otherwise perfectly good trip, so seriously ask yourself whether you think you'll be able to cope with it before signing up.
Read more: Top Ways to Reduce Homesickness Abroad
Studying abroad in high school can be a way to figure out whether you thrive in an unfamiliar environment. If you choose a shorter program (such as summer vacation) rather than a long-term one (like the whole year!) you have the safety of knowing that you’ll get to go home soon if you are homesick.
Pro: The benefits extend to your college career
Depending on the program, you may have the opportunity to earn college credits during your study abroad. Usually, general electives, which are required at all US universities, can be transferred to your university of study. It may seem far off now, but any preparation you can do to ease your course loads in college will be warmly welcomed by your future self. You can take a lighter workload for a semester, or take a totally random class in another field of study that interests you. You may even opt to go abroad again.
Studying abroad in high school can also help you narrow down your college major. There are so many exciting things you could major in at college, and it can be hard to decide on just one. Perhaps you excel at Spanish or are really fascinated by different styles of architecture. Maybe you love how math and science break down language barriers. Your future major -- and career path -- may reveal itself in unexpected ways while studying abroad during high school.
Con: High school abroad can be expensive
You may want to consider the financial cost that your desire to study abroad in high school will have on your parents. College isn't cheap, and some parents start saving for their kids' education as soon as they're born.
If you're dead-set on studying abroad, your parents may have to pay for it out of your college fund or other savings that were intended for something else. Everyone's financial situation is different, and parents often protect their kids from the realities of money. But, it's worth taking a mature role in this discussion and finding out whether studying abroad would be too much of a strain on your parents.
Pro: There are scholarships available
While studying abroad in high school can be costly, there are scholarships available to help offset major costs. Scholarships can range from a few hundred dollars to over $20,000. Applications may require a minimum GPA or they may be granted by the study abroad organization itself, meaning you'll already need to be enrolled in one of their programs.
There are also opportunities for free or cheap high school study abroad programs. Do your research to find the best option for you and your family.
If you can't secure a scholarship or find an affordable program to attend in high school, remember that you can get loans for study abroad in college.
Con: You might find it hard to cope without your familiar support network
Studying abroad in high school isn't like traveling independently, or even studying abroad in college: there will usually be some kind of support network to guide you through. Despite however much support you get while studying abroad, if things go wrong, you don't know how you will cope without your usual support network around you.
As a high school student it's understandable if issues like losing your wallet, getting lost, falling ill, or having an accident freak you out and disrupt your trip more than they would an adult because you don't have the same level of experience with being independent. If you feel you would struggle with such setbacks and that they'd ruin your trip, you may want to hold off on studying abroad until you're older.
Pro: You'll boost your college apps and/or resume
Many colleges and potential employers like to see a sense of initiative and an ability to think independently in their applicants. They also like to see life experience beyond good grades. Studying abroad helps develop these things, and may set you apart from other applicants who have never left their home state, let alone studied in a foreign country.
Universities across the USA receive millions of applications a year, so you really have to have an edge to get into the top-tier places of study. Travel definitely gives high school students that "something extra" on a college application. After all, spending an entire school year or even a term learning in a foreign country is not something many high school students can say they've done! Match that with your language skills and a strong sense of independence - you'll have a viable edge over the competition.
Plus, you may discover a passion for something unexpected while studying abroad, such as speaking Japanese or cooking French food. These passions could become a career if you let them.
Pro: Your experience will shape your worldview
We are at the mercy of the places and circumstances we grow up in, but that can easily be changed. Every corner of the world works differently from the others, but you won't realize that until you experience it firsthand. You’ll see how young people in other countries live and study and you’ll learn about their interests and priorities. You’ll realize that, while life throughout the world certainly is different, there are also many similarities that unite people.
Travel, especially when it's long-term, gives people a different perspective on how the world works and what is important. If you can learn about this at a young age, you're a step ahead of your peers in realizing what you want in life and what really matters. Studying abroad could influence the direction to go with your future career, with friends, even with where you want to live.
Con: You may have trouble convincing your parents
Even if you're 100% sure that studying abroad during high school is the right move, your parents/guardians may not be so sure, especially if this will be your first time abroad by yourself. Of course, they only want to keep you safe. They know that you'll benefit in many ways from the experience, but having you so far from home probably leaves them a little nervous.
Making your case will likely take some work. You'll need to be clear on major things like the program details, safety, cost, and transportation. Before you get started, make sure you understand the basics. We've got you covered here, answering the The 9 Most Popular (and Important) Questions About High School Study Abroad.
Need some help getting them on board? Share our guide for parents to ease their mind.
Pro/con: If you're not ready, you've got time
While life is short and it's important to make the most of opportunities if you really don't feel ready to travel abroad in high school, don't stress. There are usually study abroad opportunities available during college. If not, there's nothing stopping you from traveling abroad independently when you're a bit older or getting an internship or work experience abroad. It's not like you'll miss the travel-abroad boat if you don't do so in high school.
Sometimes studying abroad is lonely, scary, and hard -- especially if you try it in high school, which is earlier than most people have the opportunity to do so. But more often it is fun, exciting, and memorable. You don't know until you try it for yourself!