High School Study Abroad Programs: What to Know

Plan ahead, reach out to the adults in your life, apply for high school study abroad programs with scholarships — and consider alternatives.
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Written by Eliza Haverstock
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If you want to study abroad in high school, you’ll need to research programs, apply for scholarships and get permission from a legal guardian and your high school guidance counselor. Fewer U.S. students choose to study abroad in high school than in college, so there may be limited resources available for your search.

Here are some tips to get you started.

Choose the right high school study abroad program for you

Consider your study abroad goals. Do you want to improve your language skills? Do you hope to live with a host family abroad, or would you prefer an organized trip with peers from home? For how long would you like to study abroad? Answering these questions can help you narrow your study abroad program search.

Ask your high school guidance counselor about study abroad options. Your high school or school district may already support a study abroad program, which can be the simplest route. The U.S. State Department also offers free or low-cost study abroad opportunities for high schoolers.

Or, you may opt for a study abroad program run by a third-party provider. These programs can be more expensive, but offer plenty of length and location options. Examples include School Year Abroad, CIEE’s Global Navigator program and MEI International Academy.

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Apply to scholarships and grants to lower the cost

Scholarships and grants can help cover the bill for high school study abroad programs. Your program could even be free.

Start your search with the State Department, which offers study abroad programs covered by scholarships and grants for U.S. citizen high school students, such as:

  • FLEX Abroad. Full scholarships for high schoolers who attend a local school in Georgia, Kazakhstan or Poland for an academic year. 

  • The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) scholarship. Full scholarships for high schoolers to live with a host family and attend a local school in Germany for an academic year. 

  • The U.S. Youth Ambassador program. Full scholarships for students ages 15-17 to attend exchange programs in the Caribbean, Central and South America.

  • The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad program (YES Abroad). Full scholarships for high schoolers and recent graduates to live and study for an academic year in countries with significant Muslim populations, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, North Macedonia, Senegal, Thailand and Turkey. 

Private organizations and study abroad providers may also offer scholarships and grants. For example, local Rotary club chapters sponsor short- and long-term exchange programs for students ages 15-19; room and board and school fees are covered. CIEE offers nearly $6 million worth of scholarships to high schoolers each year.

Neither federal or private student loans are available to high school students.

Make a plan with the adults in your life

Your parent(s) or legal guardian must be on board with your decision to study abroad in high school, regardless of your age. Have a conversation about why you want to study abroad and what the costs could be after scholarships and grants. A legal guardian may need to sign paperwork giving you permission to study abroad.

Generally, a high school guidance counselor or academic advisor must also approve your decision to study abroad, if the program takes place during the school year. Schedule a meeting with them to discuss how study abroad could impact your graduation timeline.

Depending on your exact program, you may also need teacher recommendations, a health form signed by your doctor and proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

Consider alternatives to studying abroad in high school

If studying abroad isn’t the best fit for you right now, there are other ways to expand your horizons.

Domestic exchange programs

Explore a new place without leaving the country: the American Exchange Project (AEP) pays for high school seniors to spend a week in a hometown different from their own. Seniors who attend one of the 53 high schools in AEP’s network are eligible to apply to the program.

Enroll in an intensive summer language course

Scholarships and grants can lower the cost of summer language courses. Check out the National Security Agency’s STARTALK program, which hosts K-12 students and undergraduates for “critical need” language courses, like Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Persian and Russian. The courses are free or very low-cost and take place over the summer in locations around the U.S.

Reach out to foreign language teachers at your high school for more information about intensive summer language courses available to high school students in your community.

Wait until college

Studying abroad in college is more common than in high school, so you may have more options if you wait.

When thinking about colleges to apply to, look for schools that offer strong study abroad programs and scholarships. College study abroad programs can range from summer trips to a semester or year, and they may cost the same (or even less) than your future home university.

Travel independently

Traveling on your own — whether during a school break or a gap year after high school — is another way to get international experience. However, you and your family will foot the bill for personal travel; scholarships are reserved for academic pursuits.

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