How to Do High School Abroad in 8 Easy Steps

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Your teenage years mark a new era where the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” loses its light-hearted demeanor and starts becoming stressful. This is the perfect time to escape this anxiety-inducing question and decide to do high school abroad! High school programs abroad are daring, exciting, and call for boldness and enthusiasm that will invite you deeper into life. The road most traveled can keep you safe, but can also be detrimental. Don’t stay on the predetermined high school path just because it’s convenient; experience is the best of teachers. Make the decision to travel meaningfully and adventurously and learn how to do high school abroad!

There are a whole slew of study abroad opportunities for high school students available. The best way to get the ball rolling is to narrow down the when and the what. 

When is the high school program are you considering?

Girl in library reaching for book

Caught the wanderlust bug early on didn’t you? Start your research early on to best prepare!

Before you start your search for study abroad opportunities for high school students, you should know when is best for you to go.

  • Summer high school programs abroad are way more beneficial than settling for a burger flippin’ summer job. Plus, going abroad in high school will ensure that you will return to school in the fall with more than just an awesome tan.
  • High school foreign exchange programs allow you to leave behind the hallway drama for a semester or two, study high school abroad, grow exponentially as a person, and pave the way for even more studying abroad in college.
  • Short-term or two week high school study abroad programs give you the chance to get your feet wet in the whole going abroad experience and make the most of school breaks or holidays. Plus, a study abroad summer high school program or two week study abroad high school program is a great way to break your parents into the idea of perhaps a study abroad high school semester. 

These are just some of the popular ways to study abroad in high school. Have a think and then answer this next question… 

What type of high school program do you want to do?

Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy

Make your textbook come to life and see historic architecture right before your very own eyes!

Not all high school travel programs are made equal. Do you want to learn a language, rack up your community service hours, get ahead on some high school or college credits? You’re in luck—you can do all that (and more… just look!):

  • Community service high school programs abroad get you out of your bubble and make an incredibly positive impact on your future and in the lives of others.
  • Language immersion high school programs abroad are a great way to challenge yourself to see how language lives in its natural habitat—outside the pages of your textbook.
  • Adventure travel programs combine physical activity, cultural interaction, and an engagement with nature that will quench your thirst for adventure that makes your heart race and your spirit soar! 
  • Can’t decide? Want to do them all? DIY your own combo high school study abroad program!

On the bright side, the sky’s the limit when it comes to finding excellent study abroad opportunities for high school students.

8 steps to a badass, beret-wearing-you abroad

It is going to take some work on your part to make high school abroad a reality, but it can be done. Following these eight steps is a foolproof way to learning how to do high school abroad:

Step 1: Know your goals.

Before you jump into just any high school program abroad, it’s important to assess your goals. Why do you want to do high school abroad, anyway? What skills do you hope to acquire? Asking questions what you hope to gain from your experience will help you start to narrow down your options. 

You’ll also want to consider logistical questions. How much time do you have? Could you swing a whole year or a couple of weeks? How much money can you budget toward the experience? As you make these calculations, keep in mind all the benefits of doing high school abroad. Many of them, like fluency in a foreign language or falling asleep under the constellations of a different hemisphere, are priceless.

[Why do high school abroad? What’s there to gain?]

Step 2: Know where you want to go and what you want to do—find programs that match that.

Once you’ve sussed out your goals, needs, and desires and you’re ready to head down the path of going abroad in high school, it’s time to find programs that line up with those goals. So get down to business, make a spreadsheet, and be sure to consult GoAbroad’s online advisors and be sure to make use of MyGoAbroad to help narrow your search. 

Scenic view of buildings and water in Alesund, Norway

There’s Norway you would want to stay in a classroom with these views at your fingertips!

Step 3: Compare your programs. 

Now that you have a spreadsheet teeming with high school study abroad programs it’s time to compare and contrast and really hone in on which program is right for you. The best way to do this is by reaching out and talking to people. 

Talk to alumni, read reviews, understand what’s included, check dates align with your calendars, try to land some scholarships or high school credits, and all those other tedious tasks that are well worth the extra effort.

[MORE HELP: 7 questions to ask before choosing your high school program abroad]

Step 4: Start getting your money together.

While any international escapade can easily cost you an arm and a leg (and maybe a non-vital organ), it does not have to be financially impossible. Remember to look at your upcoming high school abroad voyage as an investment in your future and keep in mind that no one can put a dollar amount on this kind of experience! 

So, back to how the heck you are going to pay for this. Contrary to popular belief, the options are not as grim as they may seem. Make an informed and well-planned visit to The Bank of Mom and Dad, peruse scholarship options, do a little fundraising, or even get a part-time job, because at the end of the day, saving your money just makes the most cents…

Psst! This resource outlines steps for creating & sticking your study abroad budget. You’re welcome. 😉

Step 5: Pick your final program and apply, apply, apply!

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, figured out what you can afford, and decided which high school study abroad programs best fit your goals, it’s time to submit your applications! This isn’t the time for mistakes, so make sure that you’ve reviewed all of your application materials for errors. 

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear anything back right away, and try to be patient as you wait for your application to be reviewed. Instead of anxiously refreshing your inbox, do a Google image search of the country you’ve set your sights on and marvel at how magnificent your life will soon be. 

[Download your FREE Ebook for great Tips & Tales for First Time Teen Travelers]

Step 6: Now that you got in (because #duh, you’re awesome), you have to do your travel planning and logistics.

Don’t stride off into the sunset just yet. You still need immunizations, insurance, bank details sorted, spending money, tons of gear, passports, visas, flight tickets, etc. Now that you’re nice and overwhelmed, just take a deep breathe, make a checklist, and remind yourself why you want to do high school abroad in the first place (see: step one).

Five students spelling out Seoul with lights in the air

High school student by day, Seoulite by night! Be sure to add “K-Pop star” underneath your yearbook quote! 

Step 7: Pretend like you’re not gonna pack the night before or morning you leave.

If you suffer from packing paralysis, then you probably needed to start packing for your high school abroad program yesterday. To alleviate the effects of packing paralysis, research your destination to make sure you are prepared to dress properly and respectably. Also be sure to get a list of recommended packing items from your program advisor for a little guidance so you can travel light and be the light.

[Pro tip: Buy stuff from our 2018 Study Abroad Gear Guide in advance!]

Step 8: Go and have the learning adventure of a lifetime!

You did it! You made it through the daunting application process and got the parental signature! Once you’ve weighed your options and made a final decision, now the real fun begins. As always, keep in mind your goals and the ways you plan to make your high school abroad experience meaningful and go and have the learning adventure of a lifetime. How do you spell success? T-E-E-N T-R-A-V-E-L!

A handful of recommended teen travel programs to help you do high school abroad

There are hundreds of teen travel programs out there, but here are some of our top picks when considering how to do high school abroad:

SPI Study Abroad

SPI Study Abroad

SPI High School Study Abroad will provide you with an authentic, immersive experience combining serious academics with meaningful hands-on cultural experiences to help you gain a competitive advantage in college admissions and future job opportunities. SPI encourages students to do high school foreign exchange programs to enhance and develop lifelong skills while gaining global perspectives in programs where the traditional classroom takes a back seat to exciting activities around the city, conversations with locals, and weekend trips to places where history, art, and culture come to life.

Travel for teens

Travel for Teens

Travel for Teens offer a full range of enriching travel experiences you can choose from to create your own ideal high school abroad experience. Their motto is "Travelers not Tourists," and while you will have the opportunity to visit mainstream attractions, their programs focus on insider opportunities and experiences, giving you the opportunity to explore the culture beyond the tourist perspective.

Youth for understanding

Youth For Understanding

Youth For Understanding promotes intercultural understanding, mutual respect, and social responsibility through high school study abroad programs. They believe that full cultural immersion is the best way to gain the skills you need to thrive in an increasingly multicultural, interconnected, and competitive world. Their programs will give you opportunities to discover a new place, learn a new language, meet the unexpected, and conquer the unknown.

The Experiment in International Living

The Experiment in International Living

The Experiment in International Living provides programs for high school students who want to connect deeply and engage meaningfully with the richness and complexities of another country. They will equip you not only with essential cultural and language skills, but also with a deeper awareness of and sensitivity to global issues shaping the diverse communities and regions we visit. Through hands-on experiences in local communities, you will learn the diverse cultures and come away with invaluable new skills, connections, awareness, and knowledge to help you to thrive–and lead–in diverse, intercultural environments.

You’ve got the inside scoop on how to do high school abroad

High school is a period of concentrated self-development, a time where the realization begins to take place that there is more to life. There is nothing that can put into perspective the challenges and successes of your own high school experience like spending time abroad. Uprooting from familiarity and venturing out to experience life in another culture will prompt revelations yourself and the world as you know it. What are you waiting for? 

Start looking for the perfect high school program abroad now!