You’ve been a Dora the Explorer kid since you could crawl, and now that you’ve hit your teen years you’re ready to vamos and do some adventuring yourself. You’re not interested in another run-of-the-mill summer or lackluster semester. You want to study abroad. Good for you! Studying abroad in high school is exhilarating, eye-opening, and quite overwhelming. Don’t let the daunting process of picking a program discourage you from pursuing this life-altering opportunity.
Before leaping blindly into the enticing and vast world of meaningful travel, ask yourself these seven questions to help guide and direct you in choosing the high school study abroad program that is right for YOU, you little adventurer!
1. What's your timeline?
This may be the most important place to start. Time. Depending upon how long you can (and want to) be gone, and when you can go, the first question to answer before choosing a high school study abroad program involves program duration. Luckily, there are countless program length options available to fit your individual timeline needs, including:
- 1+ week short-term programs
- Summer or winter break programs
- Semester-long programs
- 1+ Year long-term programs
If your timeline is not immediately apparent, questions #2 and #3 may help you decide if it will be best for you to go during the school year or over a break, and how long of a program you can afford.
2. Do you want to direct-enroll, or nah?
Depending upon how extensive you want the ‘study’ aspect of the study abroad program to be, this fork-in-the-road decision will take you in either down the direct-enroll path or searching for ‘other’ opportunities. Those whose primary goal of the experience is the combination of learning and immersion will find the most appropriate option to be direct-enroll. Those opting for the vague ‘other’ will find there are a variety of program types that branch off from here, including adventure travel, community service & volunteering, cultural exploration, and work experience.
Though it may seem like a separate topic, this question actually goes hand-in-hand with its predecessor. If you choose not to study for credit during your time abroad, choosing a program that takes place during a break in your normal schooling may be the most realistic option. However, If you do want to direct-enroll, a few more factors will help you narrow your search down even further, like:
- Your own availability (short-term, long-term, break, semester, or year)
- The academic calendar of where you will go (hold this thought, it will be revisited in question #4)
- What language you want to learn in (likewise, revisited in #5)
Because the seasons and/or school calendar may be opposite of your own in some of the destination options, the overlap of your own timeline and the timeline of the options in your saved queue will be important in finding the right program fit.
3. What is your budget?
Before jumping ahead to location and language, we need to first stop and consider your budget. I know, budget smudget, but it is important. How much you can afford to spend will influence:
- Your timeline (duration)
- Your destination (flight and cost of living)
Scholarships and fundraising are incredibly useful tools, and it is definitely worth noting since it may allow you to stretch your budget further than face value. Some programs also offer deals for lengthening your program. However, it is still important to know how much is just too much. If you max out somewhere along the generic 3 to 4 week program fee mark, fundraising enough for an entire year abroad may just not be that realistic.
Similarly, if you don’t have a dream destination you’ve set your heart on and you are operating on a budget tighter than Channing Tatum’s abs, you will get more bang for your buck by choosing a more cost-effective destination. Instead of spending all your money on two weeks worth of crepes and gelato in Europe, consider spreading your funds across two months in Central or South America (think of all the arepas!).
4. Where do you want to go?
There is a reason why this question is so far down the list. Unless you are absolutely certain this will be the only time in your life you ever get to go abroad, or there is a certain location tugging relentlessly at your heartstrings for whatever reason, the answer to this question shouldn’t be the first determining factor in your search for high school study abroad programs. Don’t begin your search by limiting your options down to one single country.
On the other hand, the answer to this question should actually be somewhat influenced by your answers to the previous ones. After all, it will impact (and depend upon) several already-mentioned factors, like:
- The seasons and school schedule happening during your availble timeline
- The cost of flights, housing, and meals
- The natively-spoken language
So, in summary, all these aspects should be taken into account, but, your location satisfaction is nevertheless just as important and helpful in deciding on the right program for YOU. So if there is a specific region of the country that has been on your radar, now is a good time to take that into consideration.
5. Do you want language learning included in your studies?
An enormous benefit of study abroad is, after all, language immersion. So while we say YES you should want to include language learning, the actual question will be, is it on your own personal priority list, and how involved do you want your language learning to be if it is. After all, language learning can take place in many different scenarios, including via:
- Classroom instruction
- Language lessons
- Immersion in a foreign-language speaking country
Though it may seem to be another this-way-or-that question, this one serves as more of a list-slasher than a direction-taker. The tricky part is, that even after answering the initial question, you can’t automatically domino a bunch of other decisions (such as location) in an effort to cut down your list of potential programs. It might be easy to assume that you must pick an English-speaking country to attend classes instructed in English, or that in order to learn French, you must study in a French-speaking country, but this is generally not the case.
Instead of basing your options off of language learning, use it as a qualifier for the final round after you compile your initial list of programs.
6. What are you interested in?
This is a question for those who either DO possess a specific area of interest, or are still struggling for direction after not narrowing much down with questions #1-5.
If you have a strong passion in a certain area of study, definitely look into it and base your final decision off of that. There are so many programs out there that there is bound to be some options geared towards even the most obscure, niche subject that fits within your answers to questions #1-5.
Those specific students who care most about WHAT they study, and are not restricted by timeline or budget, may actually choose to START, instead of end, their search based upon their chosen field. It likely won’t be that helpful in narrowing down other aspects such as location, duration, or cost, since one can find nearly any area of study that fit the full range of all those variables, but it will at least narrow the pool of prospects to only those most interesting to you.
7. Lastly, what do YOU need?
Maybe this is moot or maybe it’s the most important question of all. Only you can decide... (is the power going to your head yet)?
But really, YOU are in control of picking your own high school study abroad program. If there is something that you decide YOU need for a program to reach OTP (one true program) status, don’t be afraid to have a heavy hand. If this is your first time away from home, maybe you insist on a home-stay accommodation to make you more comfortable by living with a family. If your only care is that you see as many places as possible, maybe you limit your search only to traveling programs with multiple locations. If there is something stuck in the back of your mind fighting for a front row spot in your decision-making process, here is your excuse to listen to it.
Choose your high school study abroad program with confidence
Alrighty, it’s time! By answering these questions and reading so many program reviews and alumni interviews you know your top list of programs back to front, you should be able to get a better grip on all the options available to you and what will fit best within you own agenda, allowing you to make a confident decision. If you STILL can’t narrow it down enough, there are always program advisors. Luckily, once you do decide, all that left to do is plan, pack, and have the time of your life! (Cue the Cindy Lauper.)